“Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.”
— Saint Francis de Sales
You’d have to live under a rock (or be consumed by your social feed) to not know about the zillions of benefits meditation and mindfulness provide. Research has shown that this simple practice positively affects everything from blood pressure to academic test results to relationships. Google created a mindfulness training program for its employees and meditation is even incorporated in weight loss programs these days.
As Deepak Chopra has been pointing out for years, “Meditation makes the entire nervous system go into a field of coherence.”
Yet as obviously beneficial as it is and as widely accepted as it is, many of my students still find it difficult to incorporate a meditation practice into their lives.
It’s hard for me to relate. I begged my parents to teach me to meditate when I was five years old. I was thrilled to get to sit with Baba Muktananda when I was in grade school. Meditation and mindfulness have always been part of my path. To me, it’s as natural and necessary for my mind as food is for my body.
I came to realize that for many Westerners the idea of meditation still seems mystical or foreign. They think it’s some sort of alternate reality space you go to, a discipline that takes decades to master.
The truth is that no matter what form of meditation you practice, it’s basically about being fully present.
One of the best descriptions of this I’ve seen was in an interview that Anderson Cooper did with Jon Kabat-Zinn in December 2014 about mindfulness:
Jon: “When you’re in the shower next time check and see if you’re in the shower.”
Anderson: “What do you mean, check and see if you’re in the shower?”
Jon: “Well, you may not be. You may be in your first meeting at work. You may have 50 people in the shower with you.”
Great image, right? There you are buck-naked sudsing up while negotiating a salary increase with your boss or chatting up that new guy in the mailroom!
And that’s how many of us live our lives. While we’re at the office, we’re thinking about the kids or what we’ll throw together for dinner. While we’re having dinner with the kids, we’re watching the news and wondering how that latest stock market blip will affect our retirement portfolio. We can’t even run on a treadmill without some form of outside stimulus to keep us not there.
We’re rarely, if ever, simply where we are.
We’ve become addicted to being plugged into what’s going on out there. Which is weird considering the only thing we can control, the only thing that can make an impact on our lives and help us achieve the things we want to be, do and have is what’s going on in here!
For those of you who have resisted meditation or have tried some form of mindfulness and felt like you couldn’t get into it, here are a few suggestions:
1. Use something you love. Mindfulness is a state of active, relaxed attention on the present moment. When you are doing something you love — listening to music, walking in nature, or even petting your cat—it’s easy to focus attention and just enjoy. Schedule in a few uninterrupted minutes every day to do what you love with the intention to thoroughly enjoy it!
2. Use routine tasks. You can use doing the dishes, taking a shower (without the other 50 people!), vacuuming. As you do the task, pay particular attention to it. Notice the feel of the hot water on your hands, how the light glistens off the dish, or the pitch of the vacuum’s hum. Appreciate the way your body moves and the temperature. Allow yourself to just do what you are doing, nothing more.
3. Make up your own mantra. Sit quietly, relax your body, and pay attention to your breathing. As thoughts pop up —and trust me, they will!—simply notice them without judging them as good or bad and let them go. Some people find that it helps to say something to themselves like, “hush” or “release” or “peace, be still.” Others use the image of thoughts floating by like leaves in a stream.
4. Give yourself reminders for mini-moments. I have a student whose phone chimes every 15 minutes to remind him to simply breathe and let go. Another student has a sign on the door where he enters from his garage to his house: “Pause here. Breathe. Appreciate this moment.”
Whatever you use to get yourself started, rest assured that your moments of mindfulness will reap incredible benefits.
“Mindfulness helps us freeze the frame so that we can become aware of our sensations and experiences as they are, without the distorting coloration of socially conditioned responses or habitual reactions.”
To your TOTAL empowerment!
(For those of you who like lots of data, here’s a good resource for recent research on meditation and mindfulness: http://liveanddare.com/benefits-of-meditation/ )