Meditation is a hot topic. In recent years, this ancient practice has begun to re-enter the spotlight, and for good reason. The proven benefits continue to pile onto a growing list. Following modern science’s newfound understanding of what exactly it is that meditation does for the mind, we are seeing high performers and truth-seekers alike diving into the practice with open arms. For myself personally, I have found incredible relief from stress and anxiety by simply adding meditation into my daily routine as a form of morning and sometimes afternoon ritual. I’ve come to see the practice as a form of mental hygiene that is not only a responsive cure for momentary stress but a proactive tool to enhance the minds ability to overcome or handle high-pressure situations at any given point in time. This ability has helped me remain level headed in my workplace, my relationships and my creative projects, and has helped me gain more clarity on my personal experience of the world.
“YOU SHOULD SIT IN MEDITATION FOR 20 MINUTES A DAY; UNLESS YOU’RE TOO BUSY, THEN YOU SHOULD SIT FOR AN HOUR.” — Old Zen Saying
Needless to say, meditation is a method of achieving a whole new level of calm and consciousness in any one person’s life. Both of which are qualities that allow us to function with more emotional and rational maturity in our professional lives, personal relationships and whatever other possibilities we choose to create in our world. Not to mention, the relief from anxiety and depression that comes along as part of the package. However, with all of this considered, how do you start meditating? And what can they expect while learning how? In this article, we are going to dive into what meditation is, how it is done, and some of the most common questions new meditators ask when first starting their practice.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not necessarily the act of remaining thoughtless, it is the practice of honing one’s focus. In the process of taking undistracted time and moments throughout the day to focus in on the sensations of our body, the sensation of our breath or any desired emotions we would like to experience more of, we are actively sharpening our blade of focus. In taking time to hone in on the feelings and experiences that place us in the present, we are actively ignoring the endless chatter that is an inherent aspect of the human mind. Meditation is the simple practice of catching ourselves whenever we lose this focus, bringing our focus back to whatever our anchor of choice may be, whether we have selected the breath, the sensations of our body, or a subset of emotions. Even the most experienced meditators experience prevalent and constant moments of distraction. With time, you will see that focus is a skill, and meditation is one way to enhance this ability for the sake of all aspects of our lives. The belief that proper meditation involves having a perfectly clear mind is simply a myth. Dedicating a few moments to simply experience, acknowledge, and focus on the moment is all we need to bring more stillness into our life.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I MEDITATE?
This is one of the most common questions asked by individuals when first starting meditation. I believe the following old zen quote says it best: “you should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day; unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour”. When it comes to routine, it took me a few years of meditating before I realized the true power of implementing one. Although meditation is powerful as a tool to alter your state in any given moment, it’s true power lies in daily practice. Daily practice strengthens the physiology of the mind, enhancing our ability to process information, remain resilient against stress, and think creatively. In Emily Fletcher’s book: Stress Less Accomplish More: Meditation For Extraordinary Performance, she outlines the scientific benefits of a meditation routine consisting of 15 minutes twice a day. As she puts it, by using 2% (30 minutes) of our day to meditate, we get much more out of all the remaining 98%. From my experience, this is absolutely true. Meditating daily has improved my sleep and therefore my energy, my work life, completely relieved my anxiety, and improved my relationships. The mental resilience it fosters through both practice and the creation of a new positive habit is truly priceless. Thoughts are indeed the building blocks of action, and they are most certainly another form of habit. In learning to control and improve them, we improve all areas of our lives. Just like brushing your teeth, meditation is hygiene for the mind.
WHAT IS THE SCIENCE BEHIND MEDITATION?
Though the age-old practice has been utilized for thousands of years, the real science behind meditation is only beginning to fully emerge alongside new learnings about the mind. The benefits of meditation have been proven time and time again, reasserting the need to bring this practice to the public sphere. The proven benefits include resiliency to stress, strengthened attention, improvements to mental health, enhanced quality of sleep, lengthening of the telomeres in DNA meaning a longer lifespan, improved productivity and multitasking, memory recall and emotional regulation & self-control. Put simply, meditation is a workout for your mind. In the same way, your muscles grow with weight training, mindfulness strengthens the cortical walls and grey matter of the brain. All of this serves to enhance cognitive resilience in a variety of ways. At the very least, we know the body functions optimally when it is free from stress. This is indeed the baseline for much of these added benefits.
HOW DO I START MEDITATING?
Starting meditation will initially feel quite strange, that is the truth. With time this feeling will almost certainly shift to a sense of enjoyment and relaxation. I would recommend downloading or listening to guided meditations on YouTube to begin. There are also several great meditation apps where you can access a wide variety of high quality guided sessions. For myself, I followed guided meditations between 10–25 minutes in length for the first year of my practice. By taking this approach, you are able to begin by simply focusing on the voice of the teacher, following directions as they come. These recordings generally guide you on breathing pattern, visualization of imagery, or acknowledgment of physical sensations within your body. Their voice becomes your anchor, and you can simply return to their words with each moment of distraction or thought. This process functions as an excellent foundation for eventually replacing the voice in a recording with your own anchor of choice once you are ready to amplify your practice. Relax your musculature, take a deep breath and focus on the moment at hand. The art of connecting yourself back to the present amidst wavering distractions is a skill and a process. This in and of itself is perhaps the most impactful lesson of meditation. There is, after all, nothing that exists outside of the eternal present moment. Being right here, and right now, is what life is all about. Instead of thinking, planning, and organizing about life, let’s meditate, and BE about life.
“THE THING ABOUT MEDITATION IS: YOU BECOME MORE AND MORE YOU” — David Lynch
In the highly stimulating world of modern-day society, mindfulness and meditation prime our mind for presence, happiness, and performance. In time, most longterm meditators rank their practice as one of the most important aspects of their day, and many would tell you openly that it has changed their life for the better. From enhanced mental processing to the simple state of peace and calm it allows us to operate within, meditation is sure to bring a sense of ease to anybody who is truly willing to give it a chance. For myself personally, meditation is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. It has changed the way I approach challenges, the way I approach my relationships and it has changed my results in nearly everything I do. Rational thinking and reduced stress have brought stillness to my life and effectiveness in my actions. If you are new to meditating or are interested in giving it a shot, I recommend starting slow, with a routine that is right for you. As the old proverb says, it is the slow and the steady who win the race, and you will surely gain a lot of insights along the way.