Are you in, or are you out?
Meditation. When you read that word, what comes to your mind? Is it: This is something I do. Something I think I want to try to do. Something I know that others do and like but it doesn’t seem like “me.” Or, something kind of new-age’y, baseless and silly.
How about this? Read the next few paragraphs, see what you think, and then maybe… you’ll join Helen Jon as we try a 14-day Meditation Challenge. I mean, really… there are 14-day sugar detoxes, fitness challenges, workshops designed to keep you on the paleo-train, juice fasts, you name it. Why not a 14-day meditation challenge? Three minutes a day, every day. But just for 14 days. Unless, that is, we decide we love it, love how it makes us feel quieter, more centered, healthier, more patient, even nicer. Then, who knows, maybe we’ve just made ourselves a little bit better, just by giving this a go.
We have all evolved. If I were to be writing this five, ten years ago, I would assume that many of us might have not really thought much about meditation, let alone actually tried it. But now, let’s face it, we’re in 2016. Meditation is part of our vernacular. But is it a part of our actual experiences or lives? There are Meditation “Bars” (think Blow-dry bars, but for a quick, polish and shine of our inner selves); there are week-long retreats at amazing spas designed to help you get your best “om” on; seminars, classes, studios all dedicated to practice this ancient art. There must be something to it… right?
And then you may ask yourself: How can we straddle that line of feeling totally pop-zen and inauthentically modern with this notion that “maybe sitting, quieting the mind, just be-ing” might have some true merit, some honest health and wellness benefits. You might tow the line and think, maybe I am curious, excited even. Maybe I’ve wanted to do this but just never “made it happen.” Well, what do you say, we apply a 2016-spin to this? Let’s try it, but for 14 days?! That’s how we seem to like to do things. A definite starting point, and yes, with that nice, outcome-based, easy-to-see finish line.
What is all of the buzz about meditation for, anyway…?
Research suggests that meditation can:
- lower your blood pressure
- rewire your brain
- improve your focus, sense of calm and happiness
- decrease stress and anxiety
- improve your sleep
- improve your memory
- increase your awareness
- improve your productivity
How do I even do it?
Let’s break it down so we know what we’re trying to do. And… let’s start small. Let’s begin with an at-home, try this anywhere, 3-minute focused meditation. Sitting. Breathing. That’s all.
- Find a quiet place to sit. Let’s just keep it easy. Maybe you begin your meditation right exactly where you are right now.
- Sit up tall. Relax your shoulders. Close down your eyes (this is important, so for real, close down your eyes.)
- Relax the muscles in your face, your jaw, even your tongue. soften your shoulders. Now you’re ready.
- Let’s start with the “Take 5 Method.”
The Take 5 Method:
- Draw a deep breath in to the count of five. Breathe in through your nose and into your abdomen. Feel your abdomen expand. 1-2-3-4-5.
- Hold your breath at the top for five. 1-2-3-4-5.
- Slowly let the breath go for a count of five. Breathe out through your nose and feel your abdomen contract. 1-2-3-4-5.
- And repeat.
This will start to feel and become very rhythmic, very relaxing, very, well… meditative. Notice where your breath rises and falls. Is it in your chest? In your belly? Up in your shoulders? Be aware of the breath. Draw it out, make it smooth and long and balanced. You are your own metronome. Be with that incredible pause at the top of the breath, before it heads back down. Focus on your breath; hear your breath. And when thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them, and then just let them go. Back to your breath. Back to the 1-2-3-4-5 breath in. Back to the 1-2-3-4-5 hold. Back to the 1-2-3-4-5 breath out.
The whole of meditation practice can be essentialized into these 3 crucial points: Bring your mind home. Release. And relax. Or, more simply: Sit, Breathe deeply in, Pause, Breathe deeply out. You will let thoughts come and let them go. Thoughts out; space in. Tune in by tuning out.
That’s all. Do this for 3 minutes. Every day. For 14 days. Are you ready? No time like the present… And we’ll check back in with you in 14 days…!
Below is a list of books and apps and tips that you might enjoy… It’s a rabbit hole, really; once you start reading and listening and looking for more on Meditation, there is no end to what you might find. And don’t forget, what resonates for me, may not for you, so continue to look for that spark of what catches your interest and imagination.
- 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story, by Dan Harris
An ABC News reporter, after an on-air panic attack, is forced to reexamine his ways and his life. Reluctantly and intellectually, he approaches the idea of Mindfulness to see if it can make a dent in his ego and/or improve his life. He surmises that, in fact, yes, meditation and mindfulness can and does make him happier. A funny, disarming, intelligent read.
**He also has a podcast with the same name. And a guided meditation app that you might want to check out.
Free of trendiness, the book presents meditation as a natural, attainable activity that can be practiced anytime, anywhere, without any trappings. Warm and witty - and unpretentious, the Manhattan-raised, M.I.T. educated, Kabat-Zinn is a great voice to listen to and learn from.
A great, albeit more “serious”, introduction to the wisdom and beauty of a meditation practice, from the mind, heart of a true Vietnamese Buddhist monk. Decidedly less Western in tone and ethos.
Based on 2,500 years of Buddhist meditations, mixed with a healthy dose of common sense, a book designed to help readers with the difficulties common to all people. And, it’s written by the Dalai Lama. Enough said.
- A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, by Thupten Jinpa, PhD
The highly acclaimed Stanford and Oxford-trained thought leader and English translator of the Dalai Lama shows us how compassion works as a powerful inner resource that can yield surprising and compelling benefits—not just for others, but for ourselves. A Fearless Heart shows us that compassion can be a path through suffering, a key to robust health, and even an effective way to reach our goals.
- Headspace: an on-the-go guide to starting mindfulness and breathing exercises, specifically tailored to fit into our busy, modern lives
- Happify: places meditation in the context of other happiness boosting exercises
- Karmic: music suited for meditation, cutesy karmic phrases, and even a feature that shows the color of your aura, post-meditation (think: 2016 mood ring)
- 7 Second Meditation: Daily Mindfulness Reminders and Affirmations: meditations and little reminders to pause, take a second, be present. (Of course, the reminder comes from your smart phone! The ironies are everywhere… )
Websites / Podcasts:
- Chopra Center Meditation: Oprah & Deepak 21-Day Meditation Experience
- The Meditation Podcast: self-explanatory, with 20-30 minute meditations and musings.
- Meditation Oasis: an offering of guided meditations, both with and without music
“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
― T.S. Eliot