When I tell someone I meditate, there are generally two types of responses. The first is accompanied by a slightly raised eyebrow and an amused half-smile. The other comes with a look of confusion, as though the person possibly misunderstood me. Both expressions tell me that meditation is not a common practice for the other person. Most likely, they consider it something rather foreign, something veiled in Eastern mystery. It may be nice for me, but it is certainly nothing they would ever try.
That never surprises me. I used to hold similar views about meditation. I thought it involved incense, buddhist robes, and awkward sitting positions. And while all that can be true, it is certainly not a requirement. In fact, one of the best things about meditation is that you can do it anywhere without any accessories. Okay, if you are sitting on the floor, a cushion is awfully nice but that is just a personal choice.
So why meditate? For me, it was all about stress. My world moved very quickly and I constantly worried about keeping all the balls in the air. Anxiety was just a normal part of life, one I had come to accept almost as a badge of honor. After all, all Type-A people suffer from anxiety, right? It is part of being successful. While part of that may be true, it is definitely not a very healthy way to live. So I decided to try meditation.
Studies have shown that meditation reduces stress and anxiety. Stressful situations trigger the fight or flight response in our autonomic nervous system, namely increased heart and breathing rates. For many people this can be a chronic condition, especially if work involves daily confrontations or problems. By focusing on the breath, meditation actually helps to lower the heart rate as well as slowing breathing. This gives the body a chance to heal itself. And if your heart rate is functioning normally, it is much more difficult to stress out over an email from the boss or a difficult client.
Meditation also helps improve concentration and memory function. It is almost like taking the brain to the gym. Just as a physical workout increases muscular strength, a regular meditation practice builds better mental clarity and focus. However, like any exercise, it is best to start small and work up to optimum levels. Start with just a few minutes a day, then increase the time to what you are most comfortable with. Remember, it is not the quantity, but the quality that counts.
One of my favorite benefits of meditation is being able to accept a situation for what it is. Very often we try to change something because we don’t like it. Meditation helps us to see that not everything is in our power or control. It opens us to a more mindful way of looking at the world. Once we recognize that we not responsible for everything that happens to us, it becomes much easier to accept certain things. And with that acceptance comes a type of serenity or happiness. It is a very liberating feeling, and goes a long way in reducing stress.
This type of mindful outlook can have a positive effect on mental and emotional health as well. A regular practice has been shown to cause structural changes in the brain that have a positive effect on those suffering from depression.
Those are some pretty good reasons to start a meditation practice. However, my main reason for meditation is pretty simple. It makes me feel good. I find that with a daily practice I am more focused, more patient, and better able to fend off the negative voices in my head that love to tell me how things will never work. In fact, if I stop practicing due to a busy travel schedule or such, I notice a tendency to become more nervous than if I sit for just ten minutes a day. For me, and others I know, it is definitely a good use of ten minutes.
Want to try meditation? It’s pretty easy. Find a comfortable place to sit and focus on your breathing. Don’t try to block out thoughts. Just notice how the breath feels as it moves in and out of your nose. If thoughts come into your head just notice and acknowledge them. Let them leave your mind as easily as they entered it. Don’t try to hold onto any thought for later action.
It sounds pretty easy. And it is–but it does take practice. And there is no test at the end of the session. No real right or wrong. There are many ways to meditate. You can do it sitting or lying down (though I tend to fall asleep). You can even meditate while walking. It all comes down to concentration and acceptance.
Meditation allows me to deal with life’s difficult situations with more ease than I thought possible. Friends from my corporate days always remark that I look much more relaxed and happier than when I was playing in their jungle. And I think it’s true. I am happier and more relaxed. I credit my meditation practice for a lot of that mindset.
If you are stressed out, you might want to give it a try. After all, it’s only ten minutes. It could be the best ten minutes of your day.
Do you meditate or take time during the day to simply be still? How has it improved your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts.