Recently, a friend asked for some advice on meditation. Specifically, any apps that I would recommend. And I was like, “um, what’s an app?” (Just kidding. Mostly.)
So I did some research, but the thought that I kept coming back to was that even with the right app, it’s still hard to see the benefits of meditation and hard to put it into practice. I could talk all day long about how meditation has transformed my life (and it has), or how meditation allows me to really answer the deeper questions of my life (also true), but you’ll still be thinking, “um, yeah, but what’s in it for me?”
You’ve probably read about how great meditation is for helping us to focus, or to relieve anxiety, or to help insomnia, and even to reduce the risk of certain diseases. So why don’t most of us feel more motivated to include it in our day?
Because our lives tend to already be filled with a lot of “should’s”: I should eat better. I should spend more time with my kids. I should be more present. I should meditate. I should work harder. I should be nicer to people. And meditation is often seen as just one more “should”.
We know that fear is never a great motivator. Telling someone that they “should” do something (as I talked about in my earlier post about behavior modification) never works, even on ourselves. The best way to form a new new habit is to really dig deep and think about our “why” – why do we want to include meditation in our lives?
And even though I’m going to list some helpful “why’s” below, I’m also going to say something a little radical about meditation here. You’re probably going to just have to start doing it before you discover that why. So while you may want some of these amazing benefits, what you’ll discover for yourself is way more important than anything you’ll read on a blog (even mine. ahem.)
- focus and clarity
- answers to important questions
- more presence in your daily interactions
- better sleep
- more energy
- Zen-like nirvana and a blissed-out state
What meditation actually is:
Meditation can be many things to many people, but at its heart, it’s simply sitting in silence and letting go of all thoughts. And while I did find some great technological helpers out there (yep, there’s an app for that), you really don’t need anything special in order to meditate. You can do it in a quiet conference room, your car, your closet, or out in nature. You can do it in the morning, at night, on a lunch break, or during a break in your day. (Would you, could you, with a fox?)
The way I first started meditation was through guided visualizations, and I am a big fan of these, especially for beginning meditators. There are so many amazing ones available on Itunes and the web that you can really just pick anything that speaks to you. Just typing in meditation on Itunes will give you hundreds of choices. Here are some of my favorites (I like to have music in the background as the speaker is speaking, so all of these feature some form of music or an Indian tanpura- a sort of melodic drone) :
- 8 Minute Power Meditation by David Harshada Wagner
- Guided Meditation by David Ison
- Root Chakra by Greg De Vries
- Grounding, Connecting to Source by Brad Austen (he’s British – bonus)
- Dropping Into Stillness – Crystal Bowl Meditations by Sam Jackson (these are the only ones listed here that are not true guided meditations, but these will put you in a very, very deep state – love crystal bowl meditations of any kind!)
And, though I haven’t used the app Omvana (back in the day it was only CD’s!), it looks to have many different guided meditations from lots of great experts, for everything from more focus to better sleep. UCLA’s Mindfulness program also has about 10 free meditations available, some of which also have beautiful music in the background (always a bonus).
There are also many, many others versions of meditation, like mantra meditation (where you repeat a simple sound or phrase – like “Om” or “Love” or “I am a radiant being of divine light”), or focusing on a simple object (like a stone or candle) in order to clear your mind. If you’ve tried yoga, you might find focusing on your breath (breathing in deeply through your nose and then releasing slowly) to be a good method.
Don’t let any of these options confuse you, though, or allow your meditation shopping to grow so overwhelming that you forget what we’re talking about: just a simple practice of sitting and letting go. So allow my guidelines below to be simply that…guidelines, and then experiment with what works best for you.
Guideline Number One: If there are meditation rules, then the number one rule is simply detachment. Whatever is coming up during the meditation, whether that’s anger, or worry about your to-do list, or even a blissed-out state, whatever it is, we must let go of that thought, too. As thought leader and coach Robin Crawford recently said, we must even detach from the bliss.
So you received an answer to your question during the meditation? Cool. Detach from that. You saw an amazing vision? Cool. Detach. You had a great idea for a story or your business? Awesome…you get the point. (And I promise you that you will still remember these ideas and insights after you come out of the meditation. Promise.)
Guideline Number Two: Sit up straight, yet easefully. While it’s nice to lie down after a yoga class, meditation is best done while sitting up straight (except in the case of pre-bedtime meditations, which is another whole blog of its own). This can be in a chair or on the floor, and contrary to popular belief, doesn’t need to be done in that cross-legged yogi position (I use a kneeling stool myself – these hips don’t love that yogi style!)
Guideline Number Three: Quiet. As mentioned before, you really can meditate anywhere, but it’s best to do it where (and when) you won’t be disturbed. For me, this means getting up earlier than the rest of my household so that no one will wander in to my little space. I like to think of this quiet time as my gift to myself.
Guideline Number Four: There is no “wrong” way to meditate. Every single person who sits down is focused on the same objective: quieting the monkey mind, the mind that is continually chattering at us with our endless lists, our projects, our goals, our insecurities, our hopes, dreams, wishes, unfulfilled desires, everything that keeps us up at night and won’t let us be truly present during our days. So when you first start meditating (or even after many years!) and you find that you can’t quiet your mind, know that you are not alone, and you are not “doing it wrong”, and that the entire practice is based on letting go of that thought, too. And then the next thought after that. (That’s why a guided meditation can be so helpful…no time for thinking!) As a corollary to this rule, let me add that whatever happens in mediation is exactly what is supposed to happen.
How to make it a habit:
My dad often likens meditation to exercise. Some days, you really don’t want to go out there and do it. You’re tired, you’re grumpy, and you don’t seem to be getting anything out of it. But even on those days, and maybe especially on those days, if you can still commit to the practice of meditation (even if doesn’t seem to be “working”), then you will still be receiving a benefit.
And, like exercise, the only real way to make meditation a habit is to start doing it. Try perhaps ten minutes per day to start; that would be only setting your alarm clock back by fifteen minutes (time to get settled) and then having a ten minute meditation. A great mediation can be just ten minutes long, so allow yourself to have just those ten minutes each day. Maybe set a goal of doing this for the next thirty days and see what happens. Thirty days seems doable and manageable and gives you a definitive timeline. (After that, you can try increasing up to twenty minutes per day, if you like.)
Like all other habits, you might want to experiment with an accountability partner, rewards, or a public commitment (hello, Facebook) to help you with your goal of meditating for the next thirty days.
Let me know how it turns out!
Do you meditate? If so, how has it helped you? And if not, would you like to?