Who has time to meditate? Monks? And also, people who want to stay sane.
If you want to achieve next level fitness, the mental and spiritual element is a huge part of it. I am going to give you a simple guide to meditation, because I know you are too busy to meditate. And so am I.
“Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.”– Ajahn Brahm
What’s the skinny:
- Meditation is like going to the gym – you may feel very uncomfortable doing it, but you will feel great afterwards!
- I will point you to some of the best guided meditations, both free and apps.
- I will help you set up for success. You can make time by taking time away from indulging other people’s priorities (OPP)>
What do Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Ariana Huffington, Lebron James, and Jack Dorsey have in common? Besides wealth and success…they all swear by meditation as a way to get to the next level in their careers, AND deal with the unthinkable amount of stress we are under.
Just because you are not a CEO, though, it doesn’t mean you are not stressed out. 40% of workers reported their job was “very or extremely stressful.” And I will take a guess that you are in that camp. I will also guess that the level of stress in this survey was severely underreported. I am not aware of a stress-free job. I even have a good friend who runs a meditation program, and SHE gets stressed out.
I used to think meditation was for the birds, or for people who had too much time on their hands. Until I met more and more people who meditated, and discovered that this wasn’t true at all. In fact, meditation gives you MORE time.
If you play tennis or golf, you may be able to relate. Do you remember your last great swing or backhand? Didn’t it feel like the world slowed down, and you had endless time for your backswing? You were focused, you were calm, and you were confident.
That is what meditation does for life, especially at work.
From an aspiration to a habit
It’s about making it a habit.
In our discussion on action, we reviewed that having daily, small habits that you can easily repeat is the key to changing your course when it comes to fitness. This extends to mental fitness as well. Making meditation a daily habit that you do at the same time every day will help you make it a part of your routine.
I will make the case that the easiest time is right when you wake up. This is also the best time, because your brain is still processing your dreams and you are in that semiconscious state.
Invest in you – Not in OPP (Other people’s priorities)
This is a much better option that what most of us would default to doing in the morning – checking emails or social media. That’s “OPP” – other people’s priorities, and other people’s pictures. This is a time to invest in YOU. Think of everytime you meditate like putting 100 dollars in a savings account. It’s not much at first, but over time it will accrue interest and amount to substantial wealth. It will give you the reserve you need for unexpected situations, just like a monetary reserve does for unexpected expenses.
While the morning is recommended, that doesn’t have to be the case. If winding down before you go to sleep is a better time, you can do it then. Watch 10 less minutes of TV before bed, and there you have your time.
Meditating on the go
You don’t even have to consciously carve out a space meditating. You can meditate in the shower. You can meditate while you are washing dishes. In fact, you ARE meditating while you are doing that. Do you notice, because your hands are full and you literally cannot do anything else, you are totally in the moment? That is meditating.
Walking meditation is also possible. Just take the airpods out, and be in tune with what’s around you. You will notice the most beautiful things. The way the leaves shake on the trees when the wind blows. The layers of clouds in the sky. Children laughing. That’s all meditation.
Having an accountable meditation outlet to suit up and show up really helps some of us especially who thrive on teaming. One consideration is to join a zoom meditation group. These have popped up during COVID and are likely to stay around. For example, there is the meditate together group. You might even find a meditation group at your place of worship, or even band together with colleagues to form a weekly meditation group. It’s a great way to just check in and force yourself
Just like with exercise, if you are new to meditation, you should start and work your way up. You can start with guided meditations or in silence for as little as 3-5 minutes. Which brings the next question, How long should you meditate?
How long should you meditate?
Which is really a way of asking, what’s the bare minimum I can do and get #goodvibesonly? I wish I could give you a magic number. It’s not like washing your hands for 20 seconds, or brushing your teeth for two minutes. It’s a personal need.
Like exercise, you can get a lot of bang for a little buck (i.e., the seven minute workout). So the answer is really how much you can tolerate at first, and then how much you can do as it becomes a habit. The more you do it, the easier it will get, just like going to the gym. Once you get into a rhythm, 15, 20, or even 30 minutes may not seem as daunting. But 5 minutes a day will get you a 100 percent better of a return on your investment than zero minutes a day.
General guidelines for meditating successfully
1. Silence your phone and put it out of view, unless you are using it for an app. If so, activate the do not disturb function and silence all other notifications.
2. Silence all computer notifications, including gchat and calendar
3. Find a quiet place and a comfortable place to sit
4. Once comfortable, sit with alertness and up straight (but not rigid)
5. Dedicated a spot or a “nook” for your meditation space. It can be a certain chair, a spot on the floor, even in your bathroom, but it needs to be a place where you can always take refuge.
Dealing with the thoughts that come up
This is often what makes people quit. Your mind is racing, so you think, this isn’t working, right? WRONG. Accept that thoughts will enter your mind. Do not fight them. Keep still and detached from those thoughts, like a third-party bystander. Imagine that you are at a bank of a river and those thoughts are just little boats floating by until they disappear from view. Or if you the thoughts are worrying, imagine that they are rocks and you are loading them up into a hot air balloon that is about to take flight. Now once you have all the rocks in there, pull the string, and let it go. Be confident that with a regular form of this practice you will learn how to guard your mind. It is important to do so, because all of our actions flow from what is in our minds and our hearts.
You can’t stop negative thoughts – that’s like trying to stop a sneeze. But you can learn to let them fly by.
Listen to this very short video to find out what kind of “automatic” negativity you tend to gravitate towards; this gives you the power to identify it and then use meditation to guard against it (I am a classic “catastrophizer”).
A good start for beginners, this is one of the best apps out there. It is user-friendly, and you can adjust the background sounds in each meditation. The meditations are broken down into easy to identify feelings/states of mind, like anxiety, or by goal, like deep concentration. They have sleep stories, including by Matthew McConaughey. Another celebrity appearance is LeBron James, who has his own mini-series. You don’t have to go scrolling through a bunch of options – you can just do the daily calm that pops up every day, that is usually lead by Tamara Levitt, who is the lead narrator for the app. Her voice is the definition of calm. You can also use the app to meditate in silence, with light guidance, or use the “breathing” bubble which essentially shows an expanding and contracting bubble and sound to guide your breath. Calm suggests meditations based on how you rate your previous sessions Here is a guide to getting started on Calm.
In my post on Equinox+ and Peloton, I explained why the Headstrong meditation is first in class. It can’t be beat for the quality of sound and the unique approach to categorization. For example, it has a meditation for “overcoming loneliness” and “focus on the bigger picture.” It also has meditations for focus, release, gratitude, early in the day while you are still getting out of bed, and for sleep. You can filter for the type of meditation you want, as well as the time. They have meditations that are as little as three minutes. You can listen to some examples for free, here.
This app is specially designed for the workplace. It is similar to calm but has more of a master-class sequence style around different challenges, like “facing stressors,” or “relaxing the nervous system.” You should check and see if your employer offers this app as part of their employee well being program, because in that case, it would be free. The stated goal of the app is to help professionals live happier and healthier lives. Of course, happier employees are more productive employees.
Best YouTube Channels
The Honest Guys – two guys from the UK, one amazing meditation channel. The guided visualizations are so great if you want to be “taken away” during your meditation. For example, this meditation for relieving anxiety and worry has you on a boat, facing a beach, with magical birds and beautiful stones.
Power thoughts meditation club – now this one is on a level, I will say, but is probably the best channel for meditations with positive affirmations, like this one. There are also a lot of meditations on here to listen to DURINGsleep, which may help people who have trouble staying asleep. These are supposed to help with shifting your mindset as you sleep (e.g., away from negativity).
A good way to connect with these forces is a mantra. Here are several suggestions, both secular and non-secular:
Ma-ra-na-tha: Meaning “O come Lord” in aramiac. “Ma-ra” on the inhale, “na-tha” on the exhale
Be still (on the inhale) and know that He is God (on the exhale)
I am a warrior (on the inhale), not a worrier (on the exhale)
The universe has got this (on the inhale), it has my back (on the exhale)
Om Mani Padme Hum (first two words on the inhale, last two on the exhale) – meaning Hail to the Jewel of the Lotus in Buddhism