When you fit meditation into your day, you bring much more of yourself to all the other hours of your day — you bring your whole self rather than your stressed-out self. — Jeff Kober
But what is meditation?
Mention meditation to someone and you might hear one, or many, of these responses:
“I’ve tried meditation, it doesn’t work for me. I can’t turn off my thoughts.”
“I’m not a yoga person.”
“That’s just woo-woo stuff — not for me.”
“I don’t have time for that, I am way too busy.”
“I’m religious, I don’t do that weird stuff, it isn’t part of my religion.” and many others…
Have you encountered any of these, or thought them yourself, when you hear the recommendation to meditate?
Many of us have these thoughts. Most people say or think at least one of these when they start or hear about meditation.
Meditation is not about the elimination of thoughts, as most of us commonly believe at first, but more about the awareness of your thoughts.
Meditation is part of the eight-limbs of yoga, yes, but you don’t need to do the physical practice to yoga to benefit from meditation.
Meditation can help us use our time more effectively, making it vital for the busiest of folks.
Meditation doesn’t have any weird “magic” or “channeling” or “woo-woo” involved. It is a science-based training of the mind.
If you belong to a religion and are scared that meditating is heretical, think of this. God asks you to pray. Meditation is taking the time to listen. All good conversations require this two-way street.
Most of us have what is commonly referred to as a “monkey mind”. What is a monkey mind? Think of a monkey, always darting here and there, never still, always curious, always looking.
This is a metaphor for our minds, always on, always thinking and searching for answers and asking those questions which our minds just never seems to stop generating.
Our thoughts are like these monkeys, running here and there, always on. Meditation is about learning to calm down our monkey minds.
Many meditation teachers speak about this wandering mind. We can think of our mind wandering as training, the more it wanders the more times we can practice bringing it back.
It is the act of bringing your mind back to the present moment that teaches and calms your mind.
The practice of meditation is simply becoming aware of our thoughts wandering and bringing them back (again and again) to your breath.
Over time you will find that your thoughts wander less. But they will always wander. You are human and that is the way the mind works.
Meditation brings attention to our thoughts. We can start to have more control over them, to a point, and thus over our emotional states.
Many books and articles have been written about meditation and I encourage you to read a few. These can help start and deepen your meditation practice.
Some books I recommend are:
- 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — by Dan Harris
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life — by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life — by Thich Nhat Hanh
- The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment — by Eckhart Tolle
- Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha —
by Tara Brach
and many more.
Meditation is the conscious effort to slow down and listen. It is a way to change your mind. It will help you become more aware and focused.
Learning to meditate can be a lifelong endeavor and the goal isn’t a perfect meditation practice, but merely the act of practicing meditation that gives the desired benefits.
People think meditation is a huge undertaking. Don’t think of it like that. Deepak Chopra
How does meditating regularly make our life better?
What’s in it for me?
One of the reasons that meditation is a healing practice is that you must be fully present — in this moment only — which can prevent us from worry, guilt, fear and a host of other potential negative emotions. This living in the present moment can enable the body/mind to heal itself, regenerate and allows the brain to rest. Practicing mindfulness, a lifelong pursuit, will pay you back tenfold.
Some benefits of meditation are:
• Improved sleep
• Decreased blood pressure
• Decreased cortisol release (a stress hormone — flight or fight response)
• Increased concentration and ability to focus
• Increased positivity and a decrease in negative feelings
• New outlook on stressful situations
• Increase in ability to deal with stress
• Better awareness of oneself and one’s thoughts and actions
• More present moment awareness
• Improved patience and more able to tolerate others
• Enhanced creativity
Meditation may help people manage symptoms of:
⁃ Chronic pain
⁃ Heart disease
⁃ High blood pressure
⁃ Irritable bowel syndrome
⁃ Sleep problems
⁃ Tension headaches
The benefits of meditation have been written about for many years and are well documented.
Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work. — Thich Nhat Hanh
Many studies have shown the various benefits and many physicians, health clinics, and agencies now recommend a regular meditation practice for their patients.
Ok, so meditation is good for me, but exactly How do I meditate?
There are many ways to meditate.
Find a comfortable position; sitting is the most common. Make sure your position is comfortable and sustainable. Don’t think you have to get yourself into the full lotus position here!
I often meditate just sitting comfortably with my legs up on my couch.
There are no rules. Just be aware that lying down and trying to meditate can be difficult as we usually will just fall asleep! But hey, maybe you needed more sleep!
Here are some of the most common techniques for meditation:
1. Breath awareness meditation.
This is one of the most simple ways to withdraw the senses and start a meditation practice.
Simply feel the breath as it enters your nostrils, cool and fresh. And then be aware of the warm breath leaving your nostrils. Keep your focus on the breath in and the breath out.
As a variation, some people find counting the in and out breaths helpful. For example, counting ten breaths and then resetting to zero and then begin again, counting to ten.
If your mind wanders, which it will, simply bring your attention back to your breath. It is the bringing back of our attention that is the actual training and calming of our minds.
Just begin again.
2. Mantra meditation.
A mantra is a sacred or meaningful word, words, syllables or sounds that are repeated to elicit a feeling or response. This is most useful when you partner it with a breath meditation.
On the inhale, you say the first part of your mantra and the exhale on the second part. Then the mantra is repeated over and over while you keep bringing your focus back to your breath or the words.
Some examples of mantras:
“I am” (or “So-Hum” in Sanskrit)
“Peace — Love”
“I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”
“Aum (Om) (Sanskrit — vibration of universal consciousness)
Countless others — make up your own meaningful phrase.
Pick a mantra that works for you, is positive and has personal meaning.
Work on just that one mantra for a few sessions, it takes consistency and time for meditation benefits to work. Mantra meditation is often less about the actual words and more about the vibrational benefits of calming sounds repeated over and over.
3. Guided meditation.
There are countless apps and YouTube videos that offer guided meditations.
Find a comfortable position and listen and follow along with the guidance.
Some apps I like are Insight timer, Calm, and Omvana. There are many others, find ones you like, relate to and resonate with!
The important thing with meditation is just to keep on beginning again. Don’t be hard on yourself, all minds wander, just bring back your awareness.
Aim for a daily practice, it doesn’t have to be long. Try 5–10 minutes at first. You can work up to longer sessions after a period of time if you want. It’s important not to let this be a chore or a burden. It is training for your mind and the benefits far outweigh the efforts.
Meditation is a habit that will impact your life in a positive way. And remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Ever.
There’s no substitute for the practice of meditation. — Wayne Dyer
Just keep bringing your mind back to the moment. That is the training. And that is the practice.