On a recent visit to a nail salon, I had an interesting conversation with one of my beautiful, 85-years young neighbors about meditation. She was very interested in how to practice and said, “I tried mediation and it was so difficult. I just couldn’t sit there and shut off my mind!” We laughed, and spent the next few minutes of our pedicures discussing some more friendly instructions for the practice.
Why meditate? The explosive growth of yoga, which includes meditation as an integral practice, has driven much interest in meditation and its benefits by millions of individuals, including many celebrities and thought leaders who tout meditation as the key to their success or improved health and happiness. Numerous research institutes, like Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, and The National Institute of Health have poured millions of dollars into researching the benefits, and their findings are astounding.
Just 20 minutes of meditation a day over 8 weeks has been scientifically proven to:
- Lower high blood pressure, comparable to that of prescription drugs for moderate hypertension;
- Reduce chronic pain by 50% or more;
- Help long-term insomniacs fall asleep in 20 minutes or less;
- Improve focus and memory;
- Lessen feelings of anxiety;
- And boost immune system by turning on genes which create infection-fighting T-cells.
The list of benefits continues to grow with more research. Yet, even with such compelling evidence many people are hesitant to try meditation either because they can’t (or won’t) make time, or because of misconceptions that surround the practice.
Meditation is meant to be practical and relatable. It isn’t some existential practice where you leave your body and float around in space, nor do you sit down and stop your mind from thinking, not in the beginning anyway. To prove that point, I invite you to try that now. You’ll probably find how busy the mind actually is thinking about many things, anything, and everything!
The problem isn’t actually the thinking but instead when we attach to a passing thought causing our mind to wander away from the present moment and activity at hand, like the book you’re trying to read, conversation you’re trying to have, or project you’re trying to complete. When this happens it’s like “our mind checks out” and we don’t know where we went. Sometimes we even say things like, “my mind is driving me crazy, I can’t stop thinking.” Meditation gives us the tools to redirect the mind, becoming more focused and productive, more present for relationships, and more calm by learning to “let go” of negative thoughts that perpetuate adverse emotions, sour moods, or unhealthy habits.
So how do we do it? The following technique can be a helpful and approachable way to get started. If you’re interested, give it a try, and feel free to contact me to let me know how it goes or ask questions!
The ABCDs of Meditation
A – Stands for “anatomy.” Find a comfortable seated position, either in a chair with both feet hip-width flat on the floor, or sitting cross-legged, spine straight, and palms face down on thighs. Close your eyes and relax your face.
B – Stands for “breath.” Begin to concentrate on the sensations of your normal breath in and out through your nose. Just feel the breath along the inner nose or deep in your abdomen as it moves when you breathe. Choose one point on which to focus and the one most vivid to you.
C – Stands for “count.” To aid the focus on the breath count each round of breath. After each exhale count one, then two, up to ten and back down to one, repeating for the allotted time you plan to sit.
D – Stands for “distractions.” You will notice other thoughts come into your mind. Rather than see these thoughts as enemies, see them as friends. Try not to attach to these thoughts or begin thinking about them. Each time you direct your mind away from a distraction and back to the breath you’re lifting the weight of concentration, developing your ability to stay focused over longer periods of time.
I recommend you set a timer and start with ten minutes, and try to sit at the same time and in the same place each day. When that 10 minutes starts to go by relatively quickly, then increase in increments of two minutes, building up to twenty minutes over time.
Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Life throws many challenges our way, and through meditation we can learn to observe the changes before reacting, practice acceptance of those things we cannot change, let go of those that are not serving us, and choose more appropriate, healthier ways of responding to life.