When someone says they exercise, it really does not describe what they do. That’s not to say they may or may not actually exercise, it is just that what one person considers exercise may be the typical day for a person who does not consider themselves an “exerciser” at all. A completely sedentary individual may feel that a twenty-minute walk is exercise, whereas a triathlete would have a totally different set of criteria.
Meditation is the same. Eckhart Tolle prescribes to “being present” as much as possible and he does this instead of having a set practise to sit and meditate. Monks can meditate for hours on end, without moving. There are as many forms and levels of commitment in meditation as there are for exercise. So, when someone says, “I meditate” it really does not describe what they do.
Mindfulness, the scientific community’s word for meditation, has been shown to be beneficial in many aspects of your life and health. In order to reap these benefits, it is not necessary to join a monastery, all you need to feel the initial benefits is five minutes, yes, five minutes per day.
Shutting off all of your electronic devices and sitting alone with nothing to do can feel like a colossal waste of time, but believe me, it is worth the effort. I know, another thing that you are supposed to add to your “to-do” list may seem like a great inconvenience, in addition to having nothing concrete to show for it. There will be no posts to Facebook, emails answered or tasks completed, but it is still worth the time. Some benefits include more restful sleep, less stress and better health. Need I say more?
So here are the basics, Meditation 101:
1. Find five minutes
This is the largest stumbling block to getting this done so I’ll put it first. Take into consideration that it is five minutes. You do not need to change your shoes or shower afterwards. There is no specific wardrobe or equipment necessary. You do not need a meditation room or a special pillow. Just you and five minutes.
2. Become aware of your thoughts
During this five minutes become aware of your thoughts. We all have all of this stuff that goes on in our minds all day. You may have music playing, sometimes affectionately called an earworm. I usually do and I listen and can sing along if I feel like it. Then there is the tyrant that can tell you everything you are doing wrong and how you should be doing it properly. Many people have a parent (not necessarily one of your actual parents) but a voice that tells them what is good for them and how they should behave. In addition to that, you may run other scripts such as counting calories or planning meals; paying attention to your “to-do” list; or planning the next hour, day, week or decade.
You may have any or all of the above and you may have other things in your mind, not mentioned. This background noise will continue regardless of what you are doing. Notice it. Notice it but don’t pay attention to it. If you are having difficulty conceptualizing what I am talking about. Stop now and read this: “Can you hear this sentence being said in your mind?” Were you able to recognize that when you read you were actually saying the words in your mind and listening to them? This is true for most people, but not all.
You are the one who “hears” what you read. You are not the voice you hear, especially when reading! When meditating, try to “observe” the flotsam in your mind. Pay attention, but don’t get pulled in. For instance, if you remember you forgot to take the turkey out to thaw for Thanksgiving dinner, although important, it is not important now. You do not have to engage and think about what pan you will thaw it in, where to put it, whether or not to take the wrapping off… Be confident you will remember to take the turkey out later and let the thought pass out of your mind. Five minutes won’t matter on a 20 lb turkey anyway!
It is helpful to use visual imagery. I like bubbles. Each word becomes a bubble that floats to the surface. The meaning of the word is lost. The word is visualized as a bubble and it just floats up and pops. Cars passing by on a highway, or stones being thrown into water will also work. Use your imagination. The important thing is to ignore the meaning of the word and let it pass away.
3. Pay attention to your breathing
There are a lot of variations on this, but this is the simplest. When your brain wants all of your attention and keeps blathering on, focus on your breathing. Think about how it feels to breathe in and breathe out. Does your chest expand? Does your abdomen expand? Can you tell the air coming out when you exhale is slightly warmer than the air going in? Think about this.
4. To sit or not to sit?
That is the question. Many individuals cannot sit still for five minutes. I mean this literally. They are simply too anxious, too wound up and too restless to sit. If this describes you, choose a moving meditation. It is OK to walk, ride a bicycle, swim, run or any other activity. The one caveat here is you must be doing this activity in a situation where you do not have to pay attention to your surroundings.
Walking into traffic or running on uneven ground where you must avoid rocks and the like, will not work. The goal is to not have to pay attention to that voice that keeps you safe. If you ignore your brain when it says, there is an oncoming train, your meditation will not be helpful. So find a place, like a shopping mall, or a track where you can run or walk without paying attention. The same applies to swimming, cycling any other type of movement you prefer.
If you decide to sit, the lotus position is not required. You may also lie down, but it is more likely you will fall asleep. For stationary meditation, you should be comfortable and it is preferable if you close your eyes. This is not recommended if you are running, for instance.
That’s it! There is no more to it. You can begin to feel the benefits of meditating with just this amount of understanding and five minutes a day. Good luck.