Often when I suggest to my clients to find time for daily meditation, the response is: “No, I don’t have time for that” or “We don’t meditation in my religion” or “Meditation seems weird.” Fortunately I’ve gotten quite good at reading between the lines, because I’ve come to realize that more often than not, what the client is telling me is “I don’t know how.”
Preconceived notions about meditation:
Though Eastern philosophies are more prevalent and widely accepted in Western culture than possibly ever before, many Westerners still picture a Ghandi-like figure sitting in full lotus position, wearing nothing but a loincloth, and chanting “OMMMMMMMMM.” Familiar?
Another image might be that of a Buddhist monk wearing an orange toga-like garment, holding mala beads and chanting mantras over and over again in a temple full of other people, with the thick scent of incense wafting through the air.
While these images are certainly real–meditation has long been associated with Buddhism, Hinduism, yoga, and other Eastern religions and practices, but it’s done in the West too. The difference is that most Western religions use a different word to describe it: prayer. Think about it–are rosary beads really that different from mala beads? Is reciting prayers in a church or temple really that different from chanting mantras? Not really.
You don’t have to be religious to meditate.
While meditation is often associated with spiritual and organized religious practices, it most definitely applies in everyday life–and benefits everyone regardless of spiritual or religious beliefs. It doesn’t have to cost anything either.
While a posh cushion, candles, crystals, music, and other meditation swag might enhance one’s practice, it’s not mandatory. All you need is somewhere quiet and comfy to sit–if you lie down you’ll likely fall asleep. Comfortable clothes are helpful, but if you had to close your office door at work and meditate on your desk chair in your business suit, you’ll still benefit.
Meditate for good health:
Meditation has a myriad of benefits to the mind, body, and spirit. I could go on for days listing them, so I’ll keep it brief:
- Meditation reduces cortisol (AKA stress hormone) levels in the body
- Improves the appearance of the skin by relaxing facial muscles
- It helps the body recover from a stressful situation
- It helps people learn how to gain better control over thoughts and their reactions to stressful situations
- Helps you clear out negative old thoughts and make room for positive, creative new ones
- Improves one’s mental health
- Improves quality of sleep
- Improves intuition and creative inspiration
This article in The Huffington Post lists more benefits with great links to published studies about the benefits of meditation if you’re someone who likes studies.
There are many different ways to meditate!
If you’re someone who doesn’t yet meditate, or who has preconceived meditations about what’s required to meditate, we’re going to get over that right now! Meditation doesn’t have to mean just one thing. Meditation methods differ for everyone, and I guarantee you, there’s a meditation method out there for everyone. Trust me–meditation is a HUGE component of my PhD program, and I can tell you for good that it’s improved my life immensely.
Here are 5 ways to meditate:
- Close the door in whatever room you’re in, dim the lights, turn on some calming music, close your eyes and sit comfortably, and just be still and silent. Try staying still and silent just for one song at first–then add another. You might want to make a playlist of your favorite relaxing music–it can include classical, new age, jazz–whatever you like that relaxes you. Some people do really well with Tibetan chanting and singing bowls, others do just fine with Sade. It’s up to you.
- Go outside and find a tree. Hug it if you want–and then just sit against it comfortably and close your eyes. Focus on the sounds of nature around you, and then focus inward on your own breath and heartbeat. Don’t focus on any one thought–just bring your focus back to your heartbeat or breath if you get distracted.
- Sit at a table and light a candle. Stare at the flame. Watch it dance. Watch the tendrils of smoke. If your vision goes double, just go with it. Focus on nothing but the flame. Close your eyes–you’ll find that you can still see the flame in your mind’s eye. Keep your focus on the flame–once it fades, keep looking at the spot in your mind’s eye where it was and observe any images or thoughts that pop into your mind. Slowly blink your eyes open when you feel ready.
- Use a guided meditation CD or podcast. There are many available free online–you can even meditate for free with Deepak Chopra and Oprah. Browse YouTube and see what resonates with you. Get in a comfy (not too comfy!) place, dim the lights, press play, close your eyes, and follow the CD.
- Practice deep breathing. Try Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-9 breathing technique. It only takes a couple of minutes and I find it’s much easier to let go of nonsense thoughts and clear my mind after I do this exercise.
The whole point is that it’s a time to slow down–actually to stop doing for a few minutes a day–sit quietly and just be open. Don’t expect, don’t try–just be. You can start with 5 minutes a day and work your way up to longer periods of time. You can split it up throughout the day if you have to–the important thing is to just do it.
“You should meditate for 20 minutes everyday–unless you’re busy–then you should meditate for an hour.” –Old Zen Adage
Focusing too much on being busy, will only create chaos and make you busier. I found that when I started meditating, my days became less busy and more productive. Give it a try. Trust me.
Do you meditate?
Please share your favorite meditation or guided meditation method in the comments below.
*Image 1 credit Jean-Marie Hullot, image 4 from OkyDay.com