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) Locate a place that is relatively free of noise and distraction. Any time of day or night is fine.
- 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) 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) 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!
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