In celebration of Wold Meditation Day on May 21, I want to share an old Zen proverb, and it goes something like this: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
Good grief, like I’m not busy enough and now you tell me I have to meditate too?
Well, no, you don’t HAVE to meditate, but here’s the thing – meditation will make your life easier. Meditation cultivates mindfulness and it’s this mindfulness that we can use throughout our day to manage our thoughts, our responses to situations and our everyday tasks. Not a day goes by when I don’t read about some new clinical study touting the advantages of meditation. While some of this research is biased, it’s clear that mindfulness meditation benefits most everyone (with a few exceptions). If meditating is a foreign concept to you, here’s a little help to get you started.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is the practice of quieting of the mind. It is in meditation that we cultivate mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
The closest word to describe mindfulness is awareness, but it is so much more than that. Mindfulness is the state of “thoughtless awareness” as opposed to an act we are actually doing. Another way to say it is it is bare attention, attention without adding anything to it – no judgment, worries, fears, fantasies. We focus on the present moment, letting go of anger or regret over the past and worry over the future. In mindfulness we are free to explore the mind, objectively and non-judgmentally providing clarity and insight. Things are not bad or good, they just are. We use mindfulness to bring our minds back to our object of focus (the breath). As we use meditation to cultivate this mindfulness, we are better able to apply this throughout our day. Read on for my “10 Ways to be Mindful Throughout Your Day.”
Remember, mindfulness is all about being aware and in the present moment. So, use every opportunity to do so. And remember, a regular meditation practice is what gets you there.
Why should I learn to meditate?
In a nutshell, because it good for you! Just as a regular exercise routine is good for your heart, a regular meditation practice is good for your soul, brain, body. It literally transforms your brain, and most importantly is allows you to experience life more positively. Here are just some of the many medical benefits that have been documented in clinical studies:
- Reduces anxiety
- Reduces depression
- Improves your sleep
- Helps treat addictive behaviors
- Improves concentration
- Strengthens your immune system
- Manages pain
- Makes you more resilient
- Increases memory – both short & long term
- Slows the aging process
- Improves concentration & attention
- Improves relationships
- Creates more compassion
- Creates a happier world (my personal fave)
- Reduces stress
So, Do you I have to sit cross-legged for hours?
In my opinion, and as I teach my students, all the old rules are out the window. You can meditate for as little as 5 minutes a day, sitting in a chair, sitting on the floor or even standing up, whatever is easiest for you. The point is, just do it, and do it regularly. While you’re at it, try different types of meditation to find one that resonates with you. And remember, the more consistent your practice, the easier it gets – they don’t call it a practice for nothing. Find a regular time each day and a special place that works for you and just do it!
Ten Ways to Make Meditation Part of Your Everyday Routine
- Find an instructor trained in teaching meditation – NEXT! But seriously, you will benefit a lot from someone who 1) has experience meditating themselves and 2) who can help answer your questions. It’s also helpful to learn and share with other people in the class.
- Find the right practice for you – There are so many different meditations out there and many different resources. Try them all on, mix and match, it’s YOUR practice.
- Set aside a regular time each day – Whether it’s the Chopra method of RPM (Rise, Pee, Meditate), or at the end of your work day, pick a time that’s good for you and stick to it. It’s easy to put it off if you don’t have a regular time set aside.
- Set up your space – Set aside a space that evokes a feeling of calm conducive to meditation. A comfortable (but not too comfortable) chair or meditation cushion, a candle, soft colors or some plants can help capture that calm you’re looking for. It may be in a separate room or in a corner, wherever you can find the space. And if it’s open to the rest of the house, you might consider a screen.
- Talk to your family/housemates/pets – Let everyone know what you’re doing so they respect your time. Hang a sign on the door, or better yet, invite them in to join you!
- Meditate with others – You may have noticed that meditating with others enhances your experience. Keep that going after the class with a meditation group or family members. It helps to keep your practice going.
- Go on a retreat – Retreats are a chance to get away from all the things that usually fill up our lives. They vary in length: you can find day retreats or residential retreats for a weekend or longer. Just being quiet and meditating several times a day lets everything settle down so your experience can go deeper. On an intensive retreat you don’t do much apart from meditate, but there are less demanding options as well.
- Take your practice off the cushion/chair – While a formal meditation practice is important, don’t forget to look for ways to be mindful throughout the day. If you find yourself in a stressful moment, just breathe…
- Reflect on your values – It can be hard to maintain a meditation practice. Over time, and with consistent practice, you’ll find that you actually miss it if you don’t do it. But when you do run into a bump in the meditation road, remind yourself why you are doing it. Better health, increased compassion, better sleep, ____________________________(fill in the blank).
- Be patient and persistent – You will have your ups and downs, you’ll miss days, you’ll get discouraged. The key thing is to keep going. Know that the ups and downs are normal, just like a plateau on a weight loss program. Try different techniques, a different setting or a different time. Back off the amount of time you’re doing it. Change things up and soon you’ll be right back on track.