As stated in previous articles, meditation is the way we practice being mindful. Much like hitting golf balls on the driving range improves your golf game, meditation will enable you to stay present through the rest of your day. Meditation has a whole host of mental and physical health benefits (which I will dive into in another article), but there are also many non-scientific improvements you’ll experience, lower stress, a feeling of having more time in your day, emotional balance and mental clarity instead of mental noise.
Today I’d like to just share a very basic form of meditation. As mentioned in a previous article, doing meditation perfectlyisn’t the focus, the focus is to just make a habit of doing it. Don’t worry if this exercise is difficult, most people find it challenging their first time. We want to go easy on ourselves and practice self-love and self-compassion. Understanding that as with most activities, no one is great on their first try, that is why we practice.
Starting basic meditation
Find a time in the day which will work for you to consistently practice at roughly the same time every day. Studies have shown that it’s easiest to begin a habit when the activity is performed at the same time each day. I highly recommend starting at the beginning of the day, within 15-20 minutes after waking up. This gives us the most opportunity for clarity throughout the day and eliminates distractions (such as email, text messages, social media or to-do lists) from taking away our ability to discern the important from the trivial.
Early work schedules are NOT an excuse! There is nothing career-related that can’t wait 5-10 minutes in the morning. If it really can’t wait, wake up 5-10 minutes earlier as the benefits of the time spent meditating will greatly outweigh 5-10 more minutes of sleep. Saying “I just don’t have time to meditate” is a lie. We all have the same 24 hours each day. 5-10 minutes of meditation in the morning will lead to far greater productivity throughout the day.
Chi tip: If you have children or pets who wake you up and require immediate attention, it may be helpful to meditate later in the day (for example after taking them to school, feeding or walking them).
Rants aside, meditation has been so transformational in my life that I can’t stress its importance enough. I’m writing these articles just to share my experience with other people because I believe there is so much potential benefit for the world. It has helped me deal with my “busy” job (I used to get up every Monday at 4am to catch a flight) and deal with life on the road, (in 2015 I spent over 280 nights in hotels).
So, find a time to meditate and then do it, it’s that simple.
I learned to meditate with phone apps but below is a very simple meditation that combines techniques from various sources and is one that I use if I don’t have my phone with me (in a steam room, for example)
Set up: find a place where you’ll be uninterrupted for five to ten minutes (ten or more minutes is ideal but you can start with five if it will help you maintain a more consistent practice). Eliminating background noise isn’t necessary once you have the hang of it but for your first few tries, I recommend trying to find a quiet place (and turn your phone on silent).
Position: Sit in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. I recommend using a chair with a pillow on your lower back for support. Keeping your spine straight will help with posture and enable you to keep from slouching, which makes me feel lethargic and unfocused.
Breath: keeping your eyes open to start, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can use a breath count (for example breathe in for 6-10 seconds and breathe out for slightly longer). This counting helps you focus on the breath but also to slow your rate of breathing to three to five times per minute (which will considerably reduce anxiety)
Close eyes: after a few in-out breaths, close your eyes as you exhale. Try to focus on the other senses, smell, hearing, touch. Feel the weight on your body on the chair or the floor.
Body scan: a helpful (but not required) component of meditation is a body-scan. I like to pretend a screen is passing through my body from the mind down sifting and pulling out negative thoughts and stress out through my toes as it passes through. This also helps to reconnect with your body and get in touch with how you really feel. Sometimes we distract ourselves so effectively from what we’re really feeling (muscle tension, tiredness, anxiety)
Chi Tip: Often times new meditation students will express that meditation makes them feel tired. This has definitely happened to me too. My opinion is that it’s not the meditation that makes us tired, but taking a break from constant stimulation and distraction makes us realize that we are tired.
If you’re constantly feeling tired after meditation it may mean that your body needs more restful sleep. Try meditating before bed to quiet the mind and calm the body so that you’re more able to rest at night.
Breathing (passive): Remember that your body knows how to breathe naturally on its own. It’s not necessary to focus on telling your body when to breathe in and out. Instead, we are just paying attention to how our body is naturally breathing at the moment. This can be tricky at first, so it’s not necessary to do this 100% correctly. Count the number of breathes which pass, using odd numbers on the inhale (1,3,5 etc.) and even numbers on the exhale (2,4,6 etc.). Count just up to 10 and then restart. If you lose count, just start back at 1. If you feel frustration at having to restart often, try to let that feeling go as you exhale.
Focused Breathing: an alternative to the above way of breathing is to eliminate mental noise by giving ourselves another exercise to focus on instead. A few ways of doing this are to breathe in for a certain number of seconds (breathe in for 6) and then breathe out for slightly longer (out for 8). An effective way to reduce stress is to lower our number of breaths per minute to 3-5. We can do this by making sure we keep the counts high enough to slow our breathing. Accentuating our out-breaths (that is, exhaling longer than we inhale) gives us the mental feeling of letting go. This can be letting go of stress, worry or fear that comes from life but also letting go of discomfort, frustration and anticipation that occurs during the meditation session.
Closure: It’s important to cap off our meditation session by slowly coming back to the present moment. There are number of ways we can do this but I have found it easiest to just repeat the first two phases in reverse. That is to come back to what we can hear, smell and feel, then slowly opening our eyes. Some meditation coaches I have listen to suggest moving your fingers and toes to get some sensory stimulation and circulate the blood.
To end the session, sit back and take a moment to realize how you feel. Has your heart rate slowed? Do you feel less anxious? Do you find your sense of focus refreshed? Usually I can answer “yes” to each of these questions, but not always. We won’t feel measurably better every time and that’s okay. The best analogy I can think of is the way that the tide comes in at a beach. The waves come in and out and so the water level fluctuations often, but over time the overall level steadily rises. This correlates closely with meditation. Some days we’ll feel like we did a “great job” and some days we’ll feel like we made no progress, but over time, we’ll find that we become more emotionally balanced, more “even keel” and more relaxed and comfortable.
Hopefully you found this useful. There are a vast number of different types of meditation and I will attempt to cover as many of them as I can in later articles. As mentioned before, I’m by no means an expert on this but my goal is just to share my experience in the case that it can help others.