Meditation has recently entered the realm of going mainstream. 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.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy this episode of my podcast where I dive into how exactly to start meditating. I explain the common misconception about the practice, how it’s done, as well as a few of the benefits it has on both our bodies and brains.
For those who prefer digesting content via the written word, please find the transcription of this podcast episode just below:
All righty. Thank you for tuning into this episode. My name is Sean Grabowski. This is The Mindful Steward podcast. I started a website called the mindful steward years ago, and it’s all about meditation and mindfulness, and I know a lot of you have probably already heard some of my other episodes, but I talk about meditation here and there. I ask a lot of my guests about it. A lot of them meditate. It’s something that I’ve been seeing more and more among just creatives and people who are really free thinking, especially through having the opportunity to interview a lot of them. But I have had this website for a long time and in all honesty, I haven’t been meditating for years, but it wasn’t until, I don’t know, maybe eight months ago when I set up a very serious routine of meditating daily, and I meditate every single morning. I meditate again at some point in the evening, often through the day. Generally I would say I meditate probably between 30 and 45 minutes a day. Sometimes if I really want to relax, I will meditate for an hour. It’s a really amazing way to start your day. If you spend a good half hour really slowing down your brain and just taking it all in, it kind of puts you in that state for the rest of the entire day. And you’d be surprised how powerful your mind is when it doesn’t react and it just can respond to everything accordingly. And just living with those characteristics has done amazing things for my life and it has completely rid me of anxiety. And uh, I’m hesitant to use the word depression, but you know, I used to have ups and downs that I really just don’t experience very much anymore at all. And that literally stopped when I started meditating every day doing this routine.
It started from a book I read from Emily Fletcher called Stress Less Accomplish More. And it was all about how meditation is a tool of high performers and why exactly that is. And she goes through a huge amount of household names of people who have openly said that they meditate every single day and they have a routine. And then she goes into the science of how it improves your mind. And it’s just absolutely mind blowing. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but meditation is exploding at the moment. Um, it’s one of the fastest growing Google terms along with mindfulness. And you know, I would say that that is because for the first time ever, our logical thinking society is receiving the opportunity to learn about the science behind all of these things. And it’s quite interesting to, to notice that this practice that is thousands of years old has a very scientific benefit. Because clearly, way back in the day when these ancient societies were doing this, unless they were scientifically advanced and actually could measure these things in the brain, you know, there’s a lot of speculation around that conversation these days. But unless that was the case, then they probably just intuitively figured this out on their own where they meditated and were just so in tune with their bodies and their minds that they could see and they could experience the benefits and just recognize, Oh, this is a good thing and we should do more of this. Um, you know, there’s a lot of even thought that the modern interpretation of what prayer is is actually another form of meditation. And anyways, before I get too far off topic, I just want to talk about a very basic thing here and just put out a quick little episode about how to meditate. Because I think that a lot of the interpretation of what meditation is by most people I talk to haven’t read it or aren’t actively practicing it or have been taught it is very misleading. And I can understand why because from an outsider’s perspective, you get the impression that meditation is totally clearing your mind. And if you’re not doing that, then you’re not doing it right. And that is just actually not the case. There are expert meditators and they don’t have clear minds when they meditate and they will say this, and these are monks who have been doing this for 10 years straight in a monastery somewhere. And that is just the reality. The whole process of meditation is just accepting that you’re a human being and thoughts are going to come and go. But it’s kind of a practice of just allowing those thoughts to happen and not letting them mean anything. So, what most people do, especially the beginner meditators, which is almost everyone, including myself, you know, it takes years to become advanced, but meditation is just the art of focus. And it does not mean that you are doing it incorrectly. When you lose focus, it’s just the art of catching yourself and bringing yourself back to focus. And we do that by choosing an anchor. Many people choose the breath as the anchor, so it’s not just that you’re breathing, it’s either that you’re doing circular motions of breath, where it’s five seconds in, five seconds out, and you’re focusing on that count. And every time you lose focus on that count, you just say, Oh, I’m thinking again. And then you go back. You just label the thinking immediately and then you go back to the breath. What I like to do is think about the sensations of the breath, what the air feels like going through my nostrils, what my chest feels like going up and down. And there are many different ways that you can emphasize this focus. A lot of people do sensory, just sensations of the body where they will think about the sensations on the bottom of their feet, on the soles, on the, on the tops of their feet and their big toe, on their ankle, the calf, the thigh, their hips, what it feels like sitting down, what does the, whatever they’re sitting down on feel like. And they’ll just go through their body.
Focusing on the sensations, and this seems quite small, but in focusing on something such as this, you’re actively not focusing on the chatter in the back of your mind. And we live in such an overstimulating society that most of the things that we utilize are designed with psychology in mind to catch your attention and stimulate your brain and have reward loops, even checking your emails, checking Facebook notifications. Most technology in general is doing this and it almost creates a habit of needing stimulation. It also creates a habit of always listening to the chatter in the back of your mind because the chatter is what’s telling you, Oh, do this. Oh am I worried that person’s not going to message me back? Oh, am I worried I’m going to get fired at work? Whatever it is. In those times, what we are doing is we are listening to the chatter in our brain instead of listening to the decisions and listening to our intentions for what we want that day to be. So thoughts are habits. Bad thoughts are habits too. That’s where affirmations come in. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them. It’s where you wake up in the morning, you say the positive things that you want to feel, even if you don’t feel them. It’s part of reprogramming your thoughts, but I’m not going to go too much into that. That could have a whole separate episode on its own and I will probably do a separate episode about NLP, neuro linguistic programming, but essentially in training our minds to meditate and just focus on the present and just ignore something that we don’t want to be paying attention to, allows us to take those abilities into all other areas of our life and, sure, it just becomes a habit of thought where when you’re at work, you have a problem to solve. It just becomes what’s so. You become very profoundly related to reality instead of profoundly related to the thoughts in the back of your mind and the worries and that is powerful. That’s super, super powerful. That’s why people like Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, huge names have said that the foundation of their career success is meditation and you know everyone has their different practices. I’m not saying that this is for everyone, but I’m saying this works for me, works for a lot of people. It’s scientifically proven to thicken the gray matter in your brain, to allow your brain to be more plastic and create pathways quicker. There’s a reason it’s exploding right now and it’s because the science is very, very real. So that is a very simple guideline of meditation. You know, it’s about taking a few minutes, practicing the focus and getting on with your day and it just is what it is and it isn’t. What is it? If you have a really distracted meditation that day, that is just what happened. It just is what it is, and then maybe the next day you’ll have a different one, but in time you become better at this, you become better at focusing, you become better at ignoring mental chatter and that is where the true power of all of this lies. So thank you for tuning in. While we are on topic, I have free guided meditations on my website. I have a couple of little eBooks about journaling and mindfulness. The guided meditations are actually led by my friend Michelle Point who I have an episode with, she’s a premier executive coach and meditation teacher and they’re recorded by my friend Max who I have an episode with who is a professional music producer. Um, so they’re pretty awesome and they’re free. If you want to sign up for the newsletter, I’m not going to spam anyone, I’m just going to send out meditation resources. I’m just trying to grow a cool community where I can share the information about all of this as the industry continues to explode. So that is this entire rant of mine. Thanks for tuning in. I hope you do share your thoughts about this episode somewhere. If you have any ratings, help me get this podcast in front of more people, so please do rate it. Thank you so much and have a wonderful day.