Are You Putting Meditation on a Pedestal? How to Meditate in 4 Simple Steps. Plus Tips, Tricks, and a Hack!

Meditation has a recorded history of thousands of years and has been a component of every major religion to varying degrees. And now with numerous scientific studies, even most atheists and skeptics seem to agree there is something to it. Some of the purported benefits include:

  • Lowered stress and anxiety levels (and related cortisol levels).
  • Greater focus, memory, and concentration.
  • More patience, empathy, and compassion.
  • Increased self awareness.

Depending on your beliefs and practices, meditation may even be the primary path to greater spiritual realization, mystical realms, and even enlightenment (that sounds pretty impressive).

There are hundreds of different styles of meditation from dozens of different traditions so it’s easy to see how it could be a bit overwhelming to know where to start. Also, most “experts” will tell you that you have to have an experienced teacher, go to a class/retreat, or least read a few books by the Dalai Lama to learn. And while it can be helpful to have some direct instruction and feedback from a live person (and read books by the Dalai Lama), the basic common denominators of meditation are relatively simple.

How to Meditate in 4 Simple Steps

  1. 1) Locate a place that is relatively free of noise and distraction. Any time of day or night is fine.
  2. 2) Sit on the edge of a chair with your hands comfortably on your knees or in your lap. Do your best to sit up straight and keep good posture (sometimes it helps to slightly tuck your chin inward).
  3. 3) Set a timer (preferably not one with an obnoxious alarm) for the desired amount of time you want to meditate. If you are just beginning or are short on time, go with ten minutes. With practice, you can gradually increase your time. A good goal to reach would be somewhere between a half hour to an hour (per day).
  4. 4) Then close your eyes, take a few breaths, and try to relax. When the timer goes off, you are done.

My kung fu teacher would say, “just sit there, don’t move, and shut the f**k up.” And really he is right, that’s all you have to do. Sometimes your mind will feel calm. Sometimes you won’t be able to stop thinking. Sometimes your back or an old injury might be hurting and other times you’ll feel fine. Sometimes you’ll feel super bored or tired and other times relaxed and content.

The important part is to just relax and “let go” as best you can in whatever state of body and mind you are in. Don’t get hung up on achieving anything.

Meditation is a lot like exercising. At first, it’s often slightly unpleasant and it can be hard to motivate to get started. With time, you’ll begin to notice benefits and get into your groove. And even when you have a regular schedule and are generally doing well, you’ll still have good and bad days (but you’ll still be glad you did it no matter how you felt during the session).

Tricks and Tips

Most of the unpleasantness of meditation comes from the racing thoughts, emotions, boredom, and physical pain. There are a few tricks of trade that can help.

Mantras, chanting, and focusing on your breathing are the most common. A mantra (in case you don’t know) is a word or short phase that is repeated constantly in your head. Often they are assigned to you by some sort of teacher and have some sort of spiritual significance. Chanting is similar but it is out loud and is often done in groups. The idea behind these two and the breathing exercises are to focus your attention on one thing instead of letting your mind wander on ten thousand different things.

A good portion of people that meditate use these practices so they must be effective, but I personally find them aggravating. Trying to constantly focus on one word or my breath doesn’t relax me at all. And while chanting does seem kind of cool, I sing, and apparently chant, out of tune which makes me feel insecure (I often resort to “silently mouthing” my chant at the occasional yoga class I attend).

The best thing I think you can do to get the mind to chill out is a few deep breaths and to relax the face muscles. You’ll be amazed how hard it is to think if you can completely let go of any facial expression.

If things get particularly intense with strong emotions, pain, or boredom, I find the technique of “Naming” to be the most effective. The first thing you do is to identify what it is you are feeling.

Let’s say you are feeling anxious. So begin by saying softly (quietly aloud or in your head): “anxiety, anxiety, anxiety” and continue this as long as it lasts. More often than not, the state will not last longer than 10 to 20 seconds. But, it will often turn into another state, at which point you would name it. For an in-depth explanation on Naming check out my post, Name Your Demons: A Path to Liberation and Wisdom.

How to Hack Meditation

One day in a magazine I saw an ad for Holosync® meditaiton CD’s that had a headline that went something like: “Meditate Like a Zen Master in Minutes.” Being a long time meditator (17 years now) I took the bait and read on although very skeptically. Apparently this company developed or improved upon a technology that uses sound waves to affect brain wave patterns. I got the free demo CD, put on my headphones, and within seconds was in deep meditative state – it was pretty impressive. I immediately bought the full length meditation CD’s and have been using them just about daily since (over 3 years now). If you’ve ever liked the idea of meditating but just couldn’t get into it or couldn’t quiet your brain enough, give this a try.

Do you meditate? What has been your experience? Any tips or words of advice? Please leave your comments or questions below!

Photo by oddsock

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14 Responses to “Are You Putting Meditation on a Pedestal? How to Meditate in 4 Simple Steps. Plus Tips, Tricks, and a Hack!”

  1. torbjorn says:

    Yes! I really like this. I’m a fan of posts that break things down – and even the things that are already simple! Meditation doesn’t have to be a far-off place that only the “special” can reach.

    I wrote a small post on this a few months back … I hope you don’t mind if I share. Importantly, meditation doesn’t have to be done sitting down, and meditation doesn’t have to be done in complete silence.

    http://thinkwest.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/meditate-sometimes/

    Cool cool. I’ll be back,
    Torbjorn

  2. Corbett says:

    Meditation is one of those things I never regret doing and always wonder why I don’t do it more often.

    I had actually never tried until a year or two ago, and finally gave it a try after my wife shared a really simple book about it.

    It doesn’t need to be difficult at all, and can really pay off in mood, clarity, focus, lower stress, etc. Anyone reading this article who hasn’t tried to meditate before should take 10 minutes today to learn how. It really could change your life, or at least your day ;)

  3. Doug says:

    @ Torbjorn- I’m glad to hear that you feel the same way. Thanks for sharing your post, always feel free to contribute anything that might help.

    @ Corbett- How did I not know you guys meditate? Take it from Corbett, he is the jedi master (just read your post with Steve Kamb) of clarity, focus, and low stress.

    • Corbett says:

      Like I said, it’s not a regular practice, but I’m always happy when I do. Sometimes I substitute “quiet contemplation” for full-on meditation. Either way, regular time out from conversations, internet, TV, etc., etc. is essential.

  4. TheUglyKoala says:

    Really good post Doug. It comes just after reading this post by Jason Fitzgerald. (Hope it’s not spammy to link to someone else, feel free to delete)

    http://strengthrunning.com/2011/07/the-standard-warm-up-video-demonstration/

    Jason’s post was about how to do a decent warm up. Which exactly like meditation is one of them things I know I should probably do, but never get round to.

    Never been sure what to do with meditation i.e quiet all thought, examine thoughts then let them go etc. So in the end I just don’t bother.

    So in future I am going to take this advice. The single best line I’ve read all week.

    “My kung fu teacher would say, “just sit there, don’t move, and shut the f**k up.”

    Jim

    • Doug says:

      Hey UK (JIm?),

      I’m sure you can fit in an extra 20 minutes a day – 10 for that warm up before your run and 10 min before bed for meditaiton (now that you know how).

      Even though that link had nothing to do with meditation, it looked like an interesting warm up. I’m going to give it a try next time I do my sprints.

  5. Sarah O says:

    Hmmm, super interesting about the Holosync CDs. Going to have to give that a try. I’ve been meditating (or attempting to) on and off for years – but mostly off. I never seem to make it a priority to schedule it into my day, even though deep down I know that if I take the time to do this I will feel less stressed about everything else I have to do. My “monkey mind” is always so distracting, even more so than the various bodily discomforts. I usually don’t even feel like I’ve actually meditated. That’s why the CDs are so intriguing to me.

    You’ve inspired me to get back “on” with meditation. Thanks!

    • Doug says:

      Hi Sarah,

      Glad to hear you’re getting back “on” with meditation! It’s a worthy endeavor. Let me know how you like the CD’s.

  6. Dave says:

    I have been practicing for well over fifteen years, and would agree that some sessions are easy, some are tough. I realized after a couple of years practice how much more organized and peaceful I was. But it was not until I quit practicing that I saw myself becoming more agitated and out of balance.

    Have been back doing twenty minutes twice daily, and the change (for the better) is dramatic.

    The key here is ‘practice’. That is the goal. Stay with it, breathe and relax.

  7. Benny says:

    I definitely want to give it a shot. Is there an optimal time to do it during the day? Or just anytime? Thanks!

    • Doug says:

      Hey Benny,

      A lot of “experts” talk about doing it right as they wake (it’s a good way to start the day) or before bed to help calm the mind before bed. But really anytime is a good time. Keep us posted!

  8. Armi Legge says:

    I lie in the grass and stare at clouds for at least ten minutes every day. I don’t get in any fancy postures or anything, but I just sit and listen.

    I’ve noticed such a difference. It’s like having that small window of time relieves a ton of the pressure. It allows you to focus on what matters.

    I often like to put something under my back or throw my feet up against a wall too. Kind of like restorative yoga.

    Awesome job man.

    -Armi

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