Meditation has moved to a more “normal” thing theses days. Lot’s of people do it, it benefits are well know, there are multiple ways to learn and practice with a myriad of books, classes and apps. When I learned nearly 30 years ago this wasn’t the case, I certainly was teased for do it sometimes or had quizzical looks when I shared that I was a meditator. Of course, I did the same thing to the friend (thanks, Greg!) that recommended it to me until a few months later I finally decided to try it. Although I had a good very “feeling” first meditation that kept me wanting to continue to practice it everyday at the beginning, many people struggle these days starting and keeping a practice going.
I won’t mentioned all the physical and health benefits because you probably have heard them all. If not, a quick search reveals a pretty impressive list of them. For me, less stress and more energy are my favorites. I practice in the morning and when I finish I almost always have more energy and feel clearer mentally than when I started. Another powerful skill that comes with the practice is learning how to let your thoughts “go”. Most mediation practices involve following a mantra, your breath, someone else’s voice (guided) or just being aware of your senses and thoughts (mindfulness). The practice of all of them is essentially the same as whichever you choose as while meditating you will have thoughts and other senses come up that you will have to practice letting go of and returning to the meditation practice. This happens over and over and acutally never stops. I still today get caught up thinking about something and sometimes catch myself after minutes of thought. I have learned that this is the practice, just when I catch myself go back to the meditation practice. I guess that’s why is a practice, right?
Being able to watch your thoughts and not hold onto them so tight is a helpful skill. We can all get so caught up in our thoughts, especially negative ones that can really take over how we are feeling. I think it’s impossible for anyone to control their thoughts or keep certain ones from coming. Like the mind game, don’t think of a white horse. Pretty hard not too, right? But, wouldn’t it be great to have a bit more control on how long the negative or distracting ones stay around? How about changing a negative thought to a positive one? That would definitely led to less stress.
To me, its amazing how much time we focus on training our bodies to be strong, more flexible, eat better, look better and spend so little, if any, time “training” our minds. In away, you could make a case that our physical focus is really backwards. I feel most stresses and many illnesses come from the negative thoughts we repeat over and over to ourselves. Think a a negative story you have been repeating in your mind. How many times have you thought it and for how long? Minutes, days, years, decades? That has an impact. That negativity goes into the body, just like a knot you have in a muscle that you can feel. So, it almost makes more sense to make mind “training” more of a priority.
Certainly meditation won’t solve all one’s problems and talking about mind training is not what typically comes up in discussion of meditation. I just wanted to offer another way of looking at mediation and have it be another reason to give it a try now. These days its pretty easy to try different ones. A lot of people use apps on the phone like headspace, which seems real easy. Other sources such as Deepak Chopa’s series, 10% happier and Waking up apps mix in discussions and lot’s of good information about meditation. If you are new to meditation try a few and see how they feel for you. Download some or head to a book store. If you want to start right now. Take a few minutes and just breathe. Close your eyes and take a big, deep, long inhale and kind of follow/visualize your breath coming through your nose and then staring to feel your belly filling up and going up into your chest and then the reverse with a long relaxed exhale. If you have time, do it for 5 minutes. If not, take three breaths like this. When you get sidetracked with thoughts, just breathe again. That is meditation, simple and no technology needed!
Remember to not be discouraged if you don’t “feel” something right away. The important part is to keep practicing. I would also offer not to worry about how long you practice, just do something as close to daily as you can. Most people find mornings best, though I practiced after work for many years and found it was a great reset for my evening. Meditation is often subtle and feeling different or its benefits may take some time, just as a physical training goal might take. Both take a bit of effort, but well worth it.