How to medidate
Meditation: Even more important in a high-stress, high-intensity lifestyle
David Michie, high-energy corporate communications consultant and novelist, thought he had found the answer and achieved his life's goals. But despite the high-level job, the luxe apartment in London, the BMW and the loving relationship, a small voice was telling him otherwise. A chance remark sent him to his local Buddhist center, where he began the most important journey of his life. Not only did he learn to become enlightened and more mindful, but he has successfully fit it in to his seemingly nonstop lifestyle.
If you have been reluctant to meditate because you thought it would entail too much learning, Michie says that understanding is not the hard part (mediation is really quite simple); the hard part is putting it into practice.
And if the simplicity of it isn't enough to motivate you, then maybe the benefits will. In addition to the calmness, relaxation, reduced stress and centeredness that meditation can bring, it can also result in mental clarity, improved quality of life, increased production at work, the realization of true happiness and improved mental and physical health. Daily meditation is a small segment of your day that yields big results.
Steps for meditation in action
Michie says it's important to get into a posture that conduces concentration. "As mind and body are interdependent, in a certain pose, the mind naturally becomes calmer and more stable," he explains.
Before you meditate, put yourself in the seven-point meditation posture. Sit cross-legged, supported by a cushion if necessary (you can even sit in a chair if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable). Rest your hands in your lap, right hand in left with thumbs meeting, ideally with your thumbs at navel level.
Keep a straight back and relax your mouth, jaw and tongue – place the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth. Tilt your head slightly forward with your eyes half-closed or gazing unfocused on the floor in front of you. Keep your shoulders level and arms jutting out comfortably allowing air to circulate around your body.
You make goals at work and resolutions at the beginning of the new year, so making objectives for your meditating should come naturally. Michie says, "Buddhists begin each meditation session by reminding themselves exactly what it is they're trying to achieve." For the beginner, a good objective is to become more calm and relaxed. Who doesn't want that?
Choose an object of meditation
Though you can choose from mantras, visualizations or external objects, the most widely-used -- and most easily accessible -- object of meditation is the breath.
"As a meditation object, the breath has a number of powerful advantages. It can always be accessed," says Michie. Even in stressful moments and regardless of where you are, you can always breathe. "What's more, the simple act of focusing on the breath has a marked systemic effect."
When you pay attention to your breathing, your body naturally begins to slow down, triggering a chain of physiological events that result in you being more calm and relaxed. Once your body becomes relaxed, it will be easier for your mind to follow.
Two techniques for meditation
Since your breath is easily accessible and can be used as an object of meditation at any time, here are two techniques for you to try.
Technique #1: Breath counting
"The idea here is to mentally count each breath on exhalation, typically for 10 breaths, before repeating the exercise," says Michie.
Before you think this is going to be effortless, be warned that you will find all manner of thoughts arriving, uninvited, in your mind. Michie says that there is every chance you will be so distracted by them, you won't even make it to a count of 10; however, when you realize you have lost your object of meditation, simply refocus and start back at one.
Exercise: Place the focus of your attention at the tip of your nostrils, like a sentry, and observe the flow of air as you inhale and exhale. As you breathe out, count the number "one" in your mind, then on the next breath out, count "two" and so on and so forth. Don't focus on anything else, simply keep your mind focused on the tip of your nostrils.
If you can't make it to 10, aim to stay focused on your breath for four counts, then slowly, with practice, make your way to 10. Over time, the result of your meditating will be slower breathing, slower heart rate and an overall sense of calm.
Technique #2: Nine-cycle breath meditation
This is a slightly busier meditation technique than breath counting. And if you thrive on "doing, doing, doing," this technique may be easier for you to achieve simply "being."
Exercise: Focus on inhaling through your left nostril and exhaling through your right nostril for three breaths. Then focus on inhaling through your right nostril and exhaling through your left for three breaths. Then focus on inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils for three breaths. Michie explains, "The point here is not, physically, to breathe only through right and left nostrils, but to practice focusing one's attention on the process."
End your meditation reinforcing your initial objective. For example, if you started meditating with the objective of finding calm and relaxation, simply end your session affirming that you are practicing meditation with the aim of calmness and relaxation.
Get the most out of your meditation
The good news about focusing on your breath is that you can meditate anywhere. But it takes more than just knowing how to focus on your breath, you have to make meditation part of your daily routine.
"Finding a good time of the day to meditate, and sticking with that time, is very important," advises Michie. Don't brush it off as being something you will do when you find time. Make the time. Every day. Michie adds, "Ten minutes every day is better than two hours on the weekend."
The most important point is to make meditation a normal and enjoyable part of your everyday life. Look at it as an investment of time that will improve your mental and physical health and the quality of your existence.
Meditate to become more mindful of the many positives around you
With practice, you will find that you are far more aware and mindful throughout your whole day, not just when you are meditating. The outcome will be reveling in the positive aspects everything in your life has to offer.
If you are consumed with worrisome thoughts while you walk to your office or while working out at the gym, you will inevitably miss the sunshine warming your face on your walk or the fortune you have that you are healthy enough to work out at all.
Keep in mind that meditation does not yield immediate life changing results. But it will help you achieve positive results for the long-term. You may be busy but you are never too busy to breathe and, only when you tune in to your breath, will you realize the value of truly being in tune.
Pick up Michie's book Buddhism for Busy People for more ways to integrate Buddhist practices into your busy life and find that profound sense of well-being and heartfelt serenity that comes from connecting with your inner nature.