We recently moved to Victoria and, while we’re loving it in this beautiful Vancouver Island city, the move itself was stressful. So have been the renovations to our new house. That’s not surprising or unexpected, as anyone who’s moved would attest.
Living in our digital world on a daily basis is stressful, too. Whether we realize it or not, the continual bombardment of email, texts, phone calls, tweets, and on and on has a profound effect on our mental and physical health. No matter how cognizant we may be of all the “techno-noise” we still get exhausted from it. The question is whether we do something to mitigate the negative health effects. One way you can take care of yourself, on a regular basis, is to meditate.
Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to go all “new agey” on you. You don’t need to join a cult or even eat alfalfa sprouts; just take a small amount of time in your day for yourself.
I’m not going to delve into the history of mediation or the different types, but before we get started, just a bit of encouragement.
Benefits of Meditating
There’s a myriad of scientifically researched advantages to be had from meditating. Here are just a few:
- improved immune system
- increased energy
- reduced blood pressure
- decreased muscular tension
- increased mental focus
- reduction in depression and anxiety
- any many more
Are you convinced yet? If not, just try it once and see how you feel. But really commit to doing it before making up your mind whether it’s for you or not.
But Isn’t it Boring?
Well, it’s not really supposed to be exciting. Neither is sleep.
Here’s how I look at it. You know when you’ve been working really hard outside in the hot sun for a few hours (or doing other intense physical labour) and you’re really thirsty? Even though you might normally drink a soda or juice or beer, at that moment, plain cool water tastes amazing. Similarly, when you’re feeling really stressed out you’ll find that taking in some really good, deep breaths can feel incredible. That’s kind of the essence of meditation, to actually enjoy breathing. It might not happen every time, but when it does, you’ll love it.
How Long and How Often?
Ideally – again, just like sleep – you’ll get the best benefits if you make the time to meditate every day. Most experts suggest a minimum of 15-20 minutes, if you can swing it. When you think about it, that’s only about 1% of your day. Surely you can find that kind of time, considering the long-term benefits. Some days you really won’t have that much time, but squeeze in as much as you realistically can. Even two minutes is better than nothing.
Likely the first time you set to meditate, you’ll find it feels like it’s taking forever and you’ll get antsy quickly. Start small – maybe five, or even two, minutes and build up to 15 or 20. You’ll start to get used to it.
How to Meditate
As I mentioned, there are many different ways to meditate, but we’ll just focus on the basic, standard version, that anyone can do. Here’s all you need to do:
1. Find a Quiet Place
This may seem easier said than done. Unless you’ve got a completely sound-proof room in your home or office, it’s really relative. “The Peaceful Warrior” Dan Millman meditated under a Hawaiian waterfall for an hour, so it can really be done just about anywhere. But do your best to find as much of a quiet, distraction-free space as you can. Ideally this means no one else (aside, possibly, from other meditators) is in the room, there’s as little noise as possible, and – hopefully it goes without saying – no cell phones or other interruption devices are present.
2. Get Comfortable
You probably envision meditating in the cross-legged pose of the woman in the photo at the top of this page. That’s certainly one option, if it works for you. For some, that’s not comfortable. And, if you’re not comfortable, you won’t succeed with your meditation. Many people like to sit on the edge of a firm cushion. Others like to sit on a cozy chair or even lie on their back. The main idea is to have the body relaxed, but alert enough that you can breathe fully and that you don’t fall asleep.
You’ll probably want to have a quiet clock or timer nearby, so you’ll know when your time commitment has ended.
3. Close Your Eyes
Turn off (or down) the lights (again, as much as possible) and shut your eyes. Take a quick moment to let go of anything going on in your mind. Again, easier said than done, but do your best. It usually helps to take a deep breath and let out a big sigh. Feel the tension in your muscles melt away. Don’t focus on being “perfectly” relaxed or focused, just consciously do the best you can.
Try to calm your nerves as best you can and breathe deeply from your diaphragm. In and out through your nose. Don’t worry about having the perfect inhale and exhale, but just let your breath naturally slow down and deepen.
This is where the “work” (or fun) begins. Since you have nothing else to do now, your job is to simply focus on your breath. Sounds easy, right? Not so much. You’ll quickly find your mind will start to wander. The trick is to keep bringing it back to the breath, especially before it starts thinking about a million different “important” things. Something that helps is to have a “mantra” – i.e., a simple word or internal sound that you say in your head with each exhale. Different mantras work better for different people. I find saying the word “one” in my mind with each breath out works. You might try “the” or “om” or whatever simple word/sound works for you. Another option is to count to four – one number per exhale, so it’ll take four breaths to complete a cycle. Even though you’re “talking” to yourself, it’s just enough to keep your focus on your breath.
Inevitably, your mind will wander. It’s just a matter of how soon and how often. This is where the beginner gets frustrated and gives up. Know that it happens to the most experienced meditator. I’ve been meditating for 20 years (not non-stop!) and my mind still wanders – not as much at first, but it still happens all the time. The challenge is to keep coming back to focusing on your breath. You’ll start to think about a project you’re working on, what’s for dinner, what somebody said about you at work, etc. As soon as you notice that starting to happen, gently tell yourself, “Later.” As important as the thought may seem, it can wait a few minutes. You’re on a break ’til then.
Judging yourself for not doing a good job of meditating only exacerbates the frustration, so go easy on yourself. Meditation (at least for most people) is never something you perfect. You just try and do your best. If you’re truly feeling harried and anxious, get done what you need to first and then do your meditation when you’re ready. But once you commit to taking the time, really allow yourself to enjoy the mini-vacation.
6. Ease Out
If you’ve set a timer, it’s best if you can have it end your session with a soft sound that doesn’t jolt you back to full consciousness. Or if you have a clock in the room, the occasional peek to see if time’s up is OK. In any case, when your session has ended, ease out of it. Slowly open your eyes, stretch your limbs, yawn or sigh if that feels good and thank yourself for taking the time to give yourself such a nice gift before returning to your regular activities.
Some days you just may not feel like you have a chance to do a full and proper meditation, whether you’re traveling, swamped with work, or doing holidays with family or friends. Here are a few ideas to get you through such circumstances and still get some of the benefits:
1. Do a Walking Meditation
If you have a chance to sneak out for a quick walk, spend it focusing as much as possible on your breath. If someone joins you on the walk, ask if they mind if you just have a few moments of quiet.
2. Sneak Away
Find a room where you’re lucky enough to get a few minute’s privacy and relax. You can even go sit in the bathroom for a few minutes and close your eyes and breathe, before people start becoming suspicious.
3. Four Sets of Four
This is what I do when I really feel rushed. If the day has gotten away from me and I need to head out or get dinner going, I just give myself a few minutes to do four sets of four breaths (16 in total). Even that helps centre and ground me.
4. Even One Breath Helps
When you’re sitting and waiting for someone or standing in a checkout line, just take a single, focused deep breath (close your eyes if you can). Maybe you can take one more… It’s all beneficial!
Well, there you have it – Meditation 101. Really anyone can do it. There’s no excuse not to work even a small amount in on a daily basis. Your mind and body will thank you. Your friends and family may even notice that you seem a bit more relaxed. Just give it a try and see how you feel. If you notice that you do feel better, make it a point to integrate it into your daily routine.