My brother has been bugging me for awhile now to write something for his Sunday Shakedown. I’ve been wanting to break my writers block and Taylor thought what better way than to write something for his newsletter that hardly anyone reads anyways (just kidding). I decided to write my first article on the one thing that has had a daily impact on my life and mind. Meditation.
Meditation has become popular in Western culture through the growing trend of yoga. Some might associate it with Buddhism or Hinduism and if attached to a specific religion of their own, may shy away from the act or ban it all together. I’m here to shed some light on what exactly is meditation, the reasons one might meditate, and my struggles and commitment to maintaining a daily meditation practice.
Meditation is a practice of resting the mind and turning your awareness inward to attain a different level of consciousness, beyond the critical mind and experiencing such feelings as peace, happiness, and bliss, or to seek clarity from our inner wisdom. I’m constantly reading articles that share “10 things the most successful people do daily” and almost every list includes meditation (and getting up at the ass crack of dawn to exercise), but if you’re going to cherry pick from those lists, meditation seems the more realistic option.
The benefits of meditation are endless. Here are some actual science based benefits for all the people that need to see the actual proof in the pudding before believing or trying something as radical as sitting quietly with the mind.
Reduce stress/lower blood pressure - the most common reasons to meditate
Less stress = less anxiety (this was my main reason for getting into meditation and I can personally attest to this benefit)
Enhances self-awareness (does wonders to disrupt the ego)
Increase patience and tolerance (what the world needs more of)
Improve depression and cause a more positive outlook on life (reported to be just as effective as depression medications without the side effects of having to take a drug)
Lengthens attention span and may reduce memory loss (like a work out for the brain)
Helps control pain. A study looked at the effects of habitual meditation in 3,500 participants and found that meditation decreased complaints of chronic or intermittent pain (source: Natural Institute of Health)
And a 1,000 other benefits that you can find if you research more.
I first experienced a few of the benefits of meditation through my exposure to the practice in yoga classes. I believed so much in the power of meditation that I would always promote the practice to other people albet I didn’t have a routine meditation practice myself. You see, I (used to be) not very good at breathing...I found myself holding my breath or breathing really shallow. I had asthma as a child and have dealt with anxiety most my life. To sit still, deeply breathing trying to quiet the mind while my thoughts ran rampant seemed an impossible task. I also didn’t have a routine practice because I’m not so good at habitual practices. I want to be that girl that makes her bed everyday but then after 4 days I retreat back into my laziness of ignoring the messy exposed sheets because I’m running late.
But I knew and believed strongly in the power of meditation and was determined to get better at it. I enjoyed the calming effect on my nervous system even after only five minutes. I signed up for an 8 week mindfulness and meditation class at our local Mindfulness Center. We learned different meditation and mindfulness techniques to help slow our breathe and keep us in the present moment. They would send us home with printed exercises I would place on my fridge. But just like my bed, the routine of those meditation techniques fell off too.
It’s one thing to know and believe in something but another thing to actually practice it and walk the walk. For example, we know that eating raw vegetables is good for our health and sugar is terrible for you and attracts cancerous cells, yet we still would choose the chocolate cake over the kale salad. We ignore facts and signs from our body for instant pleasure. If something takes too much time or doesn’t fit into our routine, we typically don’t keep up with it. It has to be a priority. It has to be just as important as the other things in your life you are making time for.
We all make promises to ourselves and then we let ourselves off the hook when we break them. You know the feeling of anger and disappointment you feel when someone breaks a promise to you? You should have that same reaction when you break a promise to yourself. I’ve started to become more competitive with myself and everything is a challenge. I challenged myself to meditate every day at least once a day even if it was only for 5 minutes. I haven’t missed a day of meditating since January 3rd. Some days I only have 15 minutes and at the end of meditation I feel like I got nowhere but I still am grateful to myself for taking the time to just be still with my mind...even if I'm unable to get into a deep mental state. My body still feels relaxed and I experience the positive effects of slowing the breath. Some days I can meditate for an hour and it won’t feel like it was long enough!
Meditation is free, accessible to everyone, anywhere at anytime, and requires no props or tools other than our breath and our inward focus. And yet the majority of people do not meditate or have a regular meditation practice. Because even though sitting still and being quiet doesn't seem like the hardest thing to do, it doesn’t come easy for a lot of people. It may feel like a “waste of time”...sitting doing nothing while you’ve got a million to-dos on your list. Our society has programmed us to think that being busy is better and doing nothing is unproductive and that is a negative thing (in our society). We (especially in American culture) are go go go. However, through mediation we aren’t just sitting doing nothing. We are coming to a relaxed state, giving the loud mind and active ego a rest, and tuning in to our intuition.
Consistency is key with anything you do and no exceptions in meditation. It is important to meditate everyday, preferably at the same time for at least 5 minutes, although my minimum is 20 because it takes at least 10 minutes for me to settle in. I will either choose to sit in silence, utilizing the breathing and visualization techniques I’ve learned in guided meditations or if I feel too distracted I’ll just YouTube a timed guided meditation for what I’m feeling that day or depending on how much time I have. Setting a timer is helpful too so you can let go of the distraction of worrying the amount of time has gone by. Sometimes I meditate with an intention, other times just to ground myself and prepare for the day ahead. Lately I’ve been trying various recorded guided meditations to hone in on my intuition. A lot of times our minds are so full of egotistical thoughts and other people’s voices that we can’t hear our intuition clearly. We are constantly seeking outward for the answers when they exist within. The more we learn to sit still in silence with our mind, the more in tune to our intuition and inner voice we will be even outside of meditation.
You don’t have to be sitting on a meditation pillow in formal lotus pose with incense and candles around you in order to meditate. Eventually everything you do will become a form of meditation. Mindfulness is a form of meditation. Being mindful is all about being aware and in the present moment. Being mindful while eating your food can help control the quantity of food we actually eat and slows down every moment so that we are able to savor it and experience it fully. My favorite quote by Thich Nhat Hanh (Zen master and global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist. If you haven’t read his writings, do it!):
“When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you are drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole world revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life.”
Practicing mindfulness meditation with simple daily chores like washing the dishes, brushing your teeth or face, can help you to consistently stay present in life’s bigger and more precious moments like quality time with a loved one or traveling. Being able to fully soak in the view from your hotel balcony while not thinking of work emails and already feeling sadness from thoughts of the trip ending will allow you to experience deeper joy from these moments.
So really, you can meditate all the time, anywhere! If you make everything a meditation, especially the tasks or chores you resist (the laundry basket full of clothes waiting to be put away or the dishes piling up in the sink) and just focus on your breath, taking a mini vacation from the noisy thoughts in your head, then before you know it, the task is complete and you feel more relaxed and accomplished.
Meditation doesn’t just benefit the individual meditating. Did you know that groups of people meditating have the power to change the frequency and positivity on those around them? A known experiment was performed in Washington D.C. in 1993 to demonstrate the effects of large group meditation. The violent crime rate decreased by 23 percent during the 8 week study. There are more recent studies and stories out there on the mass impact of meditation, and they all are impressive but not unbelievable. If everything is energy, including our thoughts, then our thoughts have the ability to manifest the reality and frequency of our world.
“Don’t just do something, sit there.” - Sylvia Boorstein
So what are you waiting for!? Don’t hesitate...meditate!
Here are some more easy tips to get started or to inspire you to increase your already existing meditation practice: