"How can I learn how to meditate?" Every day we are asked that question by clients and participants of our anger and conflict management classes. New articles sprout daily describing the benefits of meditation. But where do you start? Most major religions have some sort of meditation, or meditative prayer practice, but is that going to give you the same beneficial effects you've been reading about? If you're not a Buddhist, you don't necessarily want to start attending a Buddhist temple to learn how to meditate. And maybe you don't live close to a center that teaches Mindfulness, or Transcendental meditation, the two forms of meditation with enormous research data touting their benefits. So what do you do? Before I tell you how to meditate, and believe me, it's really easy to do, I should tell you my qualifications for writing this post, so you can decide if this will work for you. Back in 1971, as a young teen, I was very curious about meditation. The Beatles were doing it, and a few of my friends started meditating and they seemed happier. With a mixture of curiosity and skepticism I signed up for the class in Transcendental Meditation. This technique uses a mantra, or sound that you think to yourself as a point of focus for your meditation. The mantra was provided by a teacher who determined the right Sanskrit word for me to think while meditating. From the first time I meditated I immediately noticed a difference in consciousness. The relaxation effects were similar to the feeling one might experience after receiving a massage, or acupuncture treatment. My skepticism vanished, and I meditated twice daily for more than 10 years. After having children, I meditated less regularly. After obtaining a doctorate in psychology, I attended a training on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and added mindfulness as a tool in my meditation tool kit. Recently I completed a 9 week course called Compassion Cultivation Training developed at Stanford Medical School's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. This training, based on Mindfulness meditation techniques, specifically cultivates a compassionate mind. You can find studies supporting the many benefits of this type of meditation here. So before I tell you how, I still recommend that you take a formal course in meditation for two reasons. First, having a teacher gives you the opportunity to ask questions, find out if you're doing it right, and learn how to deal with anything that makes you uncomfortable. Second, you can benefit from meeting other meditat0rs. There is something very powerful about the experience of shared relaxation and meditation. It can help you form a support system to talk about the process, benefits and difficulties of maintaining a daily meditation practice. But until you can find the time to take a class in meditation, here's an easy way to start right now: First sit comfortably with your feet on the floor. I recommend that you start with 15 minutes as a target time, gradually increasing it to 20 or 30 minutes as you can tolerate it. It's ok to recline, but you might fall asleep, and that's ok too because if you fall asleep while meditating you probably need sleep. But if you just want to take a few minutes to refresh yourself and meditate, it's best to sit. Next begin to settle your mind a little by inhaling through your nose for six counts, holding your breath for six counts and then releasing your air out of your mouth for six counts. You can do this cycle, (inhale, hold, exhale) six times to slow your breathing down a bit and settle yourself. Counting your breath can help you quiet your mind down a little and give you something to focus on, similar to a mantra. After the breathing exercise, gently draw your attention to your normal breathing. Notice the sensations in your nose, through your airway and into your abdomen. When your mind drifts, like it always does, gently draw it back to your breathing. When you notice that your attention is not on your breathing, do not judge yourself, or criticize yourself for doing it wrong, just notice where your mind is focusing and draw your attention back to your breathing. Continue until your designated time is up. Then let yourself sit quietly for a minute or two to adjust before you get up and start moving about your day. It's that easy! If you just can't sit still for 15 minutes, just do it for five minutes. Set aside time every day to meditate. A client of mine likes to meditate in the car before he goes home from work. This helps him relax and keep his work stress from infecting his home life. Other's like to start their morning with meditation to obtain some mental clarity and calm. Another client likes to meditate in the mid-afternoon for an energy boost. If you prefer a guided meditation we produced two guided meditations to help you easily and effortlessly relax. Click on either the Mp3 or CD links below and start relaxing now! If you've always wanted to try meditating but just kept saying, "maybe later," then this time just stop and give it a try. Your own breathing can become a portable best friend to make you feel better fast. Let me know how it goes!
Images courtesy of toxel.com, and cesarsway.com.