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
Meditation: The Secret Weapon of Executives
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.
Why Meditation is a Game Changer For You
Think of meditation as exercise for your brain. Just like physical exercise can change your body composition, so too can meditation change brain composition.
In fact, according to a Harvard study done on meditation. MRI scans show that after just EIGHT WEEKS of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress. What’s more, as the amygdala shrinks, the prefrontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker.
The bottom line – Meditation turns worry into trust. And it can actually rewire your brain.
From an aspiration to a habit
Meditation can go from a vague aspiration to a habit if you make it a regular part of your routine, just like brushing your teeth or making your bed.
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.
Personally, my best time for meditation is when I wake up. This is also the best time, because your brain is still processing your dreams and you are in that semiconscious state. However, some people prefer to meditate mid-day, to take down their stress, or late at night.
The key is to pick a regular time of the day and tie it to a regular part of your existing routine, like getting ready in the morning, drinking coffee, taking a lunch break, or getting ready for break. This will then “prompt” you to do a meditation, so that it eventually becomes like a reflex.
What meditation does for your mind
MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress.
As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker.
The “functional connectivity” between these regions – i.e. how often they are activated together – also changes. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.
The scale of these changes correlate with the number of hours of meditation practice a person has done, says Adrienne Taren, a researcher studying mindfulness at the University of Pittsburgh.
Invest in you – Not in OPP (Other people’s priorities)
Checking your email first thing in the morning is like taking poison. Don’t do it! Why?
When you go straight to outside sources of communication – the news, social media, or email -that’s “OPP” – other people’s priorities, and other people’s pictures. This is a time to invest in YOU. Think of every time 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.
If you don’t think you have time to meditate, watch 10 minutes less of TV, or scroll less on social media. That 10 minutes, over time, will make a huge difference. You will naturally be able to focus and filter out the “noise.”
Meditating on the go – including in the shower
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.
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.
Best Meditation Apps
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.
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 good for beginners and for no-nonsense professionals. 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