The term “meditation” has become a popular word in the English vernacular lately. Previously reserved for monks and free-spirited hippies, it’s become more and more a part of our mainstream culture as we’re seeing everyday people embrace the practice and tout the benefits. So, what’s the big fuss, anyway?
What does it mean to meditate? Webster has two definitions for meditation and funny enough, the first is not the one I’m referring to here. The second states that to meditate is to “engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” I would argue that this definition is too narrow. Besides spirituality, there as several reasons why people choose to meditate.
There are several tangible (and clinically proven) benefits of meditating.
According to Healthline, there are 11 science-based benefits to meditation.
Science-Based Benefits to Meditation
- Stress reduction (couldn’t everyone with a demanding job use this?)
- Controls anxiety
- Promotes Emotional Health
- Enhances Self-Awareness
- Lengthens Attention Span
- May Reduce Age-Related Memory Loss
- Can Generate Kindness
- May Help Fight Addictions
- Improves Sleep
- Helps Control Pain
- Can Decrease Blood Pressure
As an added bonus, they point out that you can meditate anywhere (on the train, in your office, in bed, outside, just not while driving :/)
Is there anyone who can’t benefit from one of the above? I can think of ways the above would help my two-year old all the way to my 90-year old grandmother. Meditation is not just for hippies and monks anymore!
Here is a Short List of well-known people who Meditate:
Athletes: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter
Business people: Richard Branson, Rupert Murdoch, Arianna Huffington, Marc Benioff, Jack Dorsey
Actors: Hugh Jackman, Angelina Jolie, Eva Mendes
Singers: Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, Madonna
How Meditation Changed my Life
We’ve learned that there are significant health benefits to meditating and we’ve seen how common it’s becoming among well-known people in our society. But how about hearing a before and after story? I’ll share a personal story to illustrate how effective meditation was (and is) for me.
As many of you know, I initiated a major career change a couple of years ago. I enjoyed my role in healthcare marketing but it always felt like something was missing.
- It also felt like there was never enough time to get everything done.
- I was frequently stressed and had trouble staying present with my family in the evenings and especially on Sunday night when I knew the work day was looming.
- I was short-tempered and inpatient.
- I didn’t think I had time to consider other people’s feeling when there was SO MUCH TO DO.
- I was so wrapped up in my own stress that I barely had the capacity to be there for others.
- I doubted myself, a lot.
- I often felt angry and guilty.
- My self-narrative was largely destructive (I had no idea).
- All of this was completely against my core values.
- I was stuck in a dangerous and viscous cycle.
I sought help externally because, deep down inside, I knew there was a better way to tackle this angst. And I also had an inkling that another career path was calling me. I hired a life coach who was also a hypnotherapist. And she taught me a different approach than my Type-A personality had ever taken in my life.
She taught me to SLOW DOWN
During our sessions together, she would take me through a visualization exercise. This helped my mind escape the story that I had created in my head and took me to a place of ease and happiness. She recorded these verbal visualizations so I could practice them at home. After a few weeks of religiously practicing this meditation, I felt:
- More relaxed
- At peace
- I started to pay attention to my surroundings (i.e.- I got out of my head)
- I had more patience
- I was kinder to myself
- I started to have the capacity to be present for others and crossed things off my to-do list weren’t a top priority (i.e.- I stopped being busy just because I felt like I needed to be busy)
- I limited my time on social media and instead, started to read books about subjects I was interested in
- I felt more spiritually aligned than I had in years
- And finally, the big one:
I finally had clarity about how I wanted my life to unfold, what my true gifts were, and what I wanted to do with my career.
It felt like someone had lifted a veil and for the first time in years (maybe ever) and I was able to see the endless opportunities around me. I was hopeful and optimistic and felt so peaceful.
My capacity to take on work and do it well likely doubled because I removed the wasted energy of the anger/destructive self-narrative/time needed to vent and recuperate.
I felt like a changed person. I built my coaching business and never looked back. And I’m so, so happy today.
Your change doesn’t have to result in a major career pivot, like mine did. Meditation, paired with introspection, will give you the clarity needed to decide what changes you want to make. For most people, it appears incrementally like being happier with what you have in your life. Sometimes, it results in a job change, a friend reshuffle, a new partner, etc. You’ll know what you need to do when meditation allows you tap into your inner wisdom.
The Experienced Meditator
Those who really learn to master meditation can make unexplainable transformations. For example, legend says that Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in Nepal anywhere between 400-566 B.C. (historians differ on the exact dates), spent years in deep meditation. His most powerful day of meditating allowed him to achieve Enlightenment, which is the state of unconditional and lasting happiness. He then became known as Buddha.
Others who have mastered meditation have reported embarking on deep spiritual journeys, where they encounter spirit or angel guides. People detail connecting with those who have passed and hearing messages that help them solve earthly problems (or messages that just don’t make sense at first). While the vast majority of people who meditate may not reach this place (or may not want to), it’s a body of work that has been reported by those in deep meditative states.
How to Get Started with Meditation
The wonderful thing about meditation is that you can do it (almost) anywhere. Zenfulspirit has some great tips about how to get started.
Here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Prepare your space– Find somewhere peaceful where you won’t be disturbed. It’s helpful if your surroundings are neat and clean as clutter can make it harder to relax. It can help to light a candle or incense and play some soft, ambient music.
- Set a goal– Decide upfront how long you’re going to practice and stick to it. Distractions will happen and that’s ok. The biggest challenge in the beginning will be to quiet your mind. Don’t succumb to your to-do list. You’ve committed to this so see it through.
- Get comfortable– Posture helps you breathe easier and deeper and help with your blood flow and energy. Find a spot where you can be comfortable for the entirety of your designated time. You can sit on the floor, on a cushion, on a chair, or even lay down.
- Follow the breath– Bring your attention to your breathing. Focus on the sensations of air flowing in and out of your mouth and nostrils, the rise and fall of your chest and your belly. No need to control your breathing, just pay attention to the ebb and flow.
- Just relax– Become aware of any places in your body where there is tension or discomfort. Each time you breathe out, imagine that tension flowing out of your body. Release and relax with each breath until you feel entirely comfortable and at ease.
Now… ease your mind:
- Thoughts will naturally pop into your mind. That’s normal and it’s ok. Just observe the thoughts as they float in and out of your head. Keep coming back to focusing on your breathing if you get distracted.
WARNING: This is REALLY HARD at first. It feels like an exercise in futility because your mind strays every few second. This can feel hopefully, frustrating, and boring. It’s also COMPLETELY NORMAL. You’ll see progress sooner than you think.
- Expand your awareness– Now that you’re concentrated, practice mindfulness. To do this, simply let your awareness expand and grow. Feel your breath and let it spread throughout your body. Then to your other senses. Then to you mind, your thoughts and emotions. When a thought pops into you head, just notice it and let it go.
- Practice non-judgement– Observe the activity of your mind without labeling it. Listen to your thoughts like you’d listen to the birds, the wind, or the ticking of a clock. Watch your memories and fantasies unfold like you’re watching a movie. It doesn’t define you- it just is.
- Make friends with your mind– The goal of meditation is NOT to silence the mind. The mind is not an enemy to be overcome. With the right approach, it can be an ally and a powerful tool. Over time, you will start to observe the same thought patterns repeating. Pay attention– these recurring thoughts are here to teach you and hold the keys to your mental prison- the deeply held beliefs, crippling fears and subconscious programming that keeps you from realizing your infinite potential. Befriend each thought and withhold judgment. Ask it what it has to teach you. The goal of this is to make the unconscious, conscious.
- Let go of your stories– Your fears, judgments, and limiting beliefs, all those recurring though patterns that reveal during meditation, for your basic concepts of “self” (Who you think you are) and “other” (the rest of the world, the way it works, what it wants or expects from you). But they are not true. They’re just stories and you have permission to stop believing them.
- Shift your identity– When you observe thoughts and beliefs that are destructive, remember that that’s not you. You are not your judgments, your labels, a product of your worrying, planning, remembering, etc. You are free. When you realize this, a tremendous sense of freedom will flood your being. You are not defined or limited by the thoughts or stories that are swimming in your head. You can do anything.
- Surrender– Meditation is about letting go, surrendering your fears, your destructive beliefs and ultimately surrendering your “self.” Every time you sit down to practice, surrender the ideas you have about what meditation is, what you should do and how you should feel. Just be. And be open to whatever arises. Let your practice work its magic.
Sometimes it’s easier for people to hear a guided meditation (this was how I started and how I still meditate). There are many affordable and easily accessible apps that will allow you to meditate whenever you have access to the internet.
There are several out there and more popping up each day. Here are the ones I’m most familiar with:
- Insight timer (the only one that allows you to access a large library of meditations for free as of this publication)
- Simple Habit
If you commit to a little bit every day, or even a few days a week, and stick to it consistently, you’ll be amazed at the small, welcome changes you start to see in your life. Good luck!
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