We live in a multi-tasking, 24/7, eat fast, work more, sleep less, always-connected, and "always on" world these days. It's no coincidence that at the same time, many of us complain of feeling increasingly exhausted, stressed, depressed, anxious, and disconnected, and are looking for solutions.
There is a place for drugs, supplements, and therapists, but these are often temporary fixes, not permanent solutions. They bandage the wound, but they don't heal it.
- stress reduction and management;
- improved concentration;
- better health (especially heart and immune system health);
- greater longevity;
- greater self-awareness; and
- an improved sense of happiness and life satisfaction.
Even if it hasn't worked for you before, you can reap the benefits of meditation. You never even have to sit on the floor, much less head off on an extended "Eat Pray Love" journey to an ashram. There are many simple ways to incorporate this powerful practice into your daily life. And the best part: you can start today!
1. Try the Most Basic Meditation Technique: Breathe!
The most basic meditation technique is to simply observe your breath. It is a wonderful and powerful way to start meditating -- rather like walking slowly until you build up to running. Close your eyes, and slowly take a deep belly breath. Feel the air and the energy it brings as it travels down to your belly. Notice the sensations the breath brings. Exhale fully. Again, notice your sensations. You can repeat this several times in a row, and several times a day. You may want to have some words that you say or think to go along with the breath. For example, breathing in: "I relax" and exhaling: "I let go." You can also use a single word, like "peace" or "relax" for both inhale and exhale. Basic breath meditation is a perfect way to start and end your day, and can be done in bed. For a short introduction to breath meditation, watch this YouTube video from HonestGuys.
2. Take Breathing to the Next Level: Pranayama.
Pranayama is a type of regulated breathing that is found in yoga practice. When done properly and regularly, it can quickly shift you from "fight or flight" mode into a "resting" state. A simple Pranayama practice would be to take a deep inhale through the nose and into the belly to the count of 4, hold the breath for 4 seconds, exhale to a count of 4, again hold the breath for 4 seconds, and then repeat. You can also do a 4-2-4 -- where you breathe in for 4, hold for 2, and exhale for 4. Dr. Dean Saner has a helpful 1-minute Youtube video teaching this technique.
3. Practice Effortless Presence Meditation -- Grab Your Colored Pencils.
There is a type of meditation called "Effortless Presence." The goal is to be doing something that allows your mind to be empty, still, and quiet. Many meditation techniques work towards this goal, but you may find that you can quickly achieve this meditative state -- without meditation training or practice -- by becoming absorbed in an activity that requires no mental focus, and allows your mind to be still. How? Try one of the new coloring books -- nature, flowers, design patterns and mandalas are popular themes -- and color away. If coloring is not your thing, you may find that activities like needlework, beading, crafting, or even kneading bread allow you to easily get into that place of "flow," where the mind chatter quiets, and time both stands still and flies by quickly and peacefully.
4. Explore Loving Kindness Meditation.
Loving Kindness meditation is also known as "Metta Meditation," and comes from the Buddhist tradition. Close your eyes, and focus on feeling kindness and love for yourself. You may want to repeat: "May I be peaceful, may I be happy." Then, focus on kindness and love for family and friends. You can choose one person, or name them all in your mind. Again, "May my sibling/friend/child/parent/spouse/partner etc. be peaceful. May they be happy." Move on to someone who triggers neither negative or positive feelings, and again, offer them love and kindness. Move on to someone you don't like. "May he/she be peaceful. May he/she be happy." Move on to all life on earth -- pets, animals, insects. Finally, imagine yourself viewing the earth from space. "May all on earth be peaceful. May all be happy." Then expand it out to the entire universe.
For a wonderful example of this type of meditation, I highly recommend Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu, who walks you through a short Loving Kindness meditation with his amazing voice in his short video on YouTube.
5. Shut Off Your Internal Radio With Guided Meditation.
I frequently hear from clients that when they try to meditate on their own, they find it impossible to shut down the internal chatter. Instead of a quiet or focused mind, they end up making grocery lists in their heads, ruminating about problems, and definitely can't find a place of quiet calm and flow. One solution: guided meditation. With guided meditation, you close your eyes and listen, as an expert guides you through a carefully written and presented meditation. To get started with guided meditation, you can't go wrong with two talented guides: Demo DiMartile, and Belleruth Naparstek.
Demo DiMartile's gentle, healing voice guides you through the One Light One Spirit series of powerful guided meditations. A personal favorite: "Mastering Deep Relaxation." You can try out a five-minute excerpt of the "Mastering Deep Relaxation" meditation at YouTube. The meditations are available as CDs and MP3 downloads at One Light One Spirit.
Don't let Belleruth Naparstek's warm and soothing voice fool you -- she delivers guided meditations that pack a profound punch, on topics ranging from fighting cancer to healing anger. Belleruth's meditations are available as CDs and MP3s through Health Journeys.
6. Turn On to Tune Out.
Many of us need to turn off and tune out the computers, tablets, smartphones and television sets in order to reach a meditative state. You may find, however, that tuning in can be your pathway to effective meditation. A company called WildDivine has a variety of home biofeedback devices that attach to your computer or IPad, and teach a variety of meditation and mindfulness approaches, accompanied by beautiful visuals and music. You can also use their online service, WildDivineOnline.com for a free trial of some of their meditation training approaches. The program allows you to create a personal avatar, and navigate around a beautifully-illustrated online world -- accompanied by relaxing, ethereal music -- where you start learning effective meditation techniques.
7. Develop a "SuperMind."
For those who are ready to make a commitment to meditation, I highly recommend you explore the work of renowned psychiatrist, researcher and meditation advocate Norman Rosenthal, MD. Dr. Rosenthal is a longtime advocate and practitioner of Transcendental Meditation -- TM -- and wrote about it in his bestselling book, Transcendence. Dr. Rosenthal has just published a new book that deep dives into the benefits of TM, and specifically, how you can use TM to create what he calls a "Supermind." You can view a short video of Dr. Rosenthal explaining SuperMind at YouTube.
SuperMind explores the many ways TM can help you reach an expanded state of consciousness, optimize body-brain function, achieve personal growth, and forget deep connections that create transformations in every facet of life -- including health, relationships, success, and happiness.
Dr. Rosenthal calls TM "the perfect antidote for the craziness that's all around us" -- and he's right. Hugh Jackman, Arianna Huffington, and Maria Shriver are just a few of the many TM practitioners who Dr. Rosenthal interviewed for SuperMind. They are among 600 TM proponents who shared their first-hand testimonials about the profound intellectual, spiritual, and emotional changes they experienced due to TM.
Learning TM is not a do-it-yourself project. The tradition is to work with a teacher, who will explain the process, and give you a mantra you can use to easily achieve a relaxing, meditative state. Once you've learned, which only takes several sessions, practitioners say that the practice is nearly effortless. To find a teacher, visit the official Transcendental Meditation website.