My mornings can go a little something like this:
- Check email: NY Times Daily Briefing - Oh god, not again, what is going on?
- Check Instagram: Am I doing enough? I wish I could reach more people. Damn, so and so has incredible content, wish mine could look like that.
- Check Facebook: Ugh, not enough people liked my post. Did it suck?
- Life: Will I have enough time to eat breakfast, make coffee and work on my site before the kids wake up? What if they don't sleep late enough? What will they have for breakfast? And on and on...
This is all in the first 2 minutes upon waking. Sounds awful, right?
Technology is a life changing tool. It's allowing me to reach people and talk about what I love and connect with like minded people who inspire me every day. But I find that starting my day scattered and worried keeps me in this anxiety loop pretty much all day.
I think everyone, regardless of what they do for a living, feels harried and restless in today's world. We're consistently interrupted by emails, text messages, Instagram and Facebook alerts. Our minds and bodies are stuck in overdrive. This creates a lot of extra stress - stress that most of us haven't quite figured out how to process.
Like everyone else, I find myself caught up in the storm of emotions resulting from social media use (see first paragraph) and even though some of the negative feelings are inevitable, motivation, inspiration, deep respect for other's work, admiration, have just as much a place as the other not so favorable ones. So I find that stepping back for just a little is helpful in realigning me with my life.
So this brings me back to how I would rather start my day. The alternative to the obsessive media consumption and lengthy to do list is simply sitting. That's right, sitting quietly on the floor, couch or chair and just simply paying attention to my breath. When I sit and meditate for even 5 minutes, a lot of space opens up. I find can return to the present moment and be mindful of everything that goes on around me. I'm able to process every aspect of my life differently, I have more patience, understanding and an overall balance that is noticeable when I sit and meditate. I notice a lessening grip of anxiety.
Many people have a skewed view of meditation. More often than not, it is associated with yoga or a particular religion. While that's absolutely true and meditation is a key component of yoga and also at the heart of Buddhism, none of those are prerequisites in order to meditate. And the act of simply sitting quietly has nothing to do with religion. It's a secular practice that can be incorporated into anyone's life, whether religious, agnostic, atheist or whatever else.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years in Eastern traditions but didn't make its way into the main stream until the 1990s, when it picked up momentum. Numerous studies have shown significant improvements in overall well being in various areas of life.
Once upon a time it was considered "weird" to meditate but in today's world, meditation has become quite commonplace with everyone from google employees to executives to school children reaping its benefits.
Benefits of Meditation:
- Increased Focus - one of the key components of meditation is to simply pay attention to the breath. Sounds very simple but our minds are by design distracted and move from thought to thought to the next activity, etc., so learning to simply pay attention to the breath can increase focus in all areas of life.
- Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Meditation strengthens one's ability of regulating emotions. In our high intensity lives, our stress response is always on high alert. Our ancestors used the flight of fight response in order to prevent being attacked and eaten by wild animals. In today's world, we don't have that problem but we invoke the flight or fight response over missed deadlines, cars cutting us off, long lines at he grocery store and so on.
- Reduced Heart Disease: The topic of meditation having a direct impact on cardiovascular health has been extensively studied. By lowering stress and anxiety, we are able to directly impact blood pressure and respiration rate. In some cases, certain participants in studies have been able to completely eliminate the need for blood pressure medication as a result of regular meditation practice, in particular Transcendental Meditation (TM)
- Helps with IBS and IBD Symptoms: Exciting new developments have been made over the last few years in the area of meditation and its direct impact on those suffering from chronic gastric issues. Since both IBS and IBD are inflammation of the GI tract, we know that reducing inflammation plays a key role in managing symptoms
- Quality of Sleep: Those suffering from chronic sleep issues have greatly benefited from mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness based therapy from insomnia (MBTI). These are very exciting findings and a healthy natural alternative to sleep-aids.
Types of Meditation:
When it comes to meditation, it can be pretty daunting to know what style might work for you since the names can be intimidating especially for the average person. There is Vipassana Meditation, Zen Meditation, Loving Kindness Meditation, Transcendental Meditation and many others.
The most popular forms of meditation and most widely practiced are Mindfulness Meditation and TM (Transcendental Meditation).
This is the most widely practiced meditation that does not require formal training.
How to practice:
Find a comfortable seat. Whether that's a chair, cushion on the floor, on the grass or wherever you choose. Sit with an upright spine and begin to bring your attention to your breath. You can focus either on the spot where the breath flows in and out of your nostrils or on your abdomen and observe the rise and fall of your stomach. Since the mind is designed to wander and thoughts will inevitably pop in your head, don't worry too much whether you're doing it right or not. That's not the object. Simply notice your thoughts and when you catch yourself wrapped up in a thought, return to the breath. Do this over and over and eventually you'll be able to just watch your thoughts come and go without getting caught up in them.
An important point about meditation. Don't turn it into something that has to be achieved in a certain way. The moment you attach an expectation to your practice, you basically lose the point. Allow it to be just how it is. That can translate to all areas of life.
Also if you're a beginner, I recommend starting with 5 minutes and working up from there. You can find lots of meditation apps that have timers and guided meditations. My favorite one is Calm.
If you want to experiment with a guided meditation, this one is a great one. 10 minutes long and all you have to do is listen.
TM has been widely studied for its health benefits. Hundreds of studies and peer reviews have demonstrated time and time again how much TM can impact well being. Increased creativity, improved cognition and memory, reduced anxiety and depression, improved job satisfaction, stress relief, improved relationships, lower risk of developing heart disease and many others.
The only downside is that TM does require formal training. However, there are many centers and resource if one wants to learn this particular style of meditation. You can find a TM teacher here. And for additional resources, the website contains lots of resources about TM.
There are many resources if you're just getting started or even if you're an experienced meditator but want to explore different techniques.
- An 8 week program I took about 4 years ago is completely free - a MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course. It's very good and while it does take commitment, it's great for anyone who's interested in taking things a little further.
- This is the official MBSR Course that was created by Jon Kabat Zinn, who is the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic in Massachusetts.
- This is a list of free meditations
- Tara Brach, is an incredible resource. I've been a big fan for years. Her podcast is what some have called "free therapy"
- And a simple google or YouTube search for free guided meditations, will yield a good amount of results as well.
It's easy to get caught up in technology, life, our problems, family, work and everything in between, but when can dedicate just five minutes a day to pause, turn inward and pay attention, things begin to shift, perspective changes and there is room for growth. Try it for yourself - you have nothing to lose!