"Take a deep breath and close your eyes," the speaker said in a soothing, somewhat commanding voice. I knew what was coming: He was going to ask us to meditate. I shifted in my chair and my mind began creating excuses to opt out. You might know the excuses: It's too New Age-y; it's not for me; my mind just can't settle down. Wait: Is that my phone vibrating so I'll conveniently need to duck out?
I was at a weekend conference about mindfulness, and I had a feeling meditation would be part of the roster.
One little problem: I don't like to meditate.
Perhaps you've tried to meditate and experienced what I did. A massive rush of thoughts intrudes while I'm trying to concentrate. Suddenly I have my next book idea, or something I need to do right now or my business will fall apart, or I forgot to tell my husband the plumber comes next Wednesday and I simply must do it now.
Regardless, my mind commands me to stop meditating, write these thoughts down immediately, or risk losing them forever.
Other times, I don't even get that far. I'll be in the middle of a productive afternoon and the last thing I want is to stop my routine and meditate. Again, excuses: I can skip out just this afternoon, since after all I don't want to break up this productive routine.
Now, I'm a very self-disciplined person. I self-manage a thriving acupuncture business. Save for the occasional pasta or dessert, I maintain a pristine diet. Rain or shine, exercise is non-negotiable: I intensely work out three or four times a week.
Meditation is a different story. Over the years, I've become really good at creating excuses not to do it.
The Benefits of Meditation
As a teenager, my mom took me to a Buddhist temple in Koreatown in Los Angeles, where enthusiastic, persistent monks taught us to meditate. When I studied to become an acupuncturist and a doctor of Chinese Medicine, meditation encompassed a huge part of our curriculum.
So I've known about meditation's benefits for decades, and all I have to say is thankfully medical school didn't grade us on meditation classes or I wouldn't be practicing today.
Like an annoying salesperson who won't leave me alone, meditation and its benefits reveal themselves wherever I go, whether I'm at a nutrition conference or just meeting a friend over lunch.
I recently attended a Saturday-afternoon lecture about meditation and fat loss. Now, you're probably wondering how sitting on your butt for 30 minutes can help you burn fat. Well, one study found mindfulness meditation could improve
binge-eating disorders and reduce obesity.
"During meditation, breathing slows, blood pressure decreases, and stress levels fall," writes Deepak Chopra, M.D. in his book Grow Younger, Live Longer: Ten Steps to Reverse Aging.
When you meditate, you harness the frenetic train of thoughts that crowd your mind unsolicited. Instead of allowing those thoughts to dominate, you gently but firmly bring your mind back to the moment.
This yields numerous and sometimes unexpected benefits. "You've lost some weight," I mentioned to one patient. "What diet are you doing?"
Turns out, she wasn't dieting at all. She started meditating a few months ago. "I would get a craving for, say, a chocolate donut," she said. "The harder I resisted, the more dominant the thought became. But when I began meditating, I could gently but firmly pull my mind back into the moment. I realized it wasn't really the donut I was craving."
I love that meditation can reveal what we really need. That need might be a hot bath, a hug, a long-overdo phone call, or apologizing to a friend. Maybe that's why meditation scares me: When we strip away the veneers that leave us living on life's surface, we discover what we really need. No longer can we use distractions to avoid those things, and that truth can become painful and uncomfortable.
I know meditation's vast physical and mental benefits, so why can't I sit still for just 30 minutes? Well, I have trouble sitting still period. I like doing things -- hence my consistent exercise schedule -- and meditation is just... being. I'm not accomplishing anything.
Yet, ironically, I am.
Understanding meditation's vast benefits, I eventually struck a bargain with my mind: Sit still for just five minutes and gradually increase that time. I think of meditation like exercise. At the beginning, I could hold a plank for maybe 20 seconds; now I can stay in that position for several minutes.
You know the cliché showing up is half the battle? That goes double for meditation. Once I'm centered in my chair, I'm good to go. And once I begin, my mind and body calm down as I go deeper into meditation.
Difficult as sitting down can be, I have never once regretted "wasting" that 30 minutes of time meditating. I feel focused, refreshed, and ready to tackle the rest of my day with vigor, focus, kind-heartedness, and deeper understanding. I get angry and frustrated less easily. I learn to forgive myself, and therefore forgive others.
That's not to say I'm anywhere near perfect. (Many practitioners would argue there's no such thing as a good or bad meditation.) I still get antsy when I sit still. I shuffle, my mind wanders, I sometimes uncomfortably acknowledge painful or encumbering thoughts.
Meditation can feel a wrestling match with those voices in your head. Sometimes those voices are helpful, but more often they become self-limiting. I can promise you over time you will come out the winner. Painful though it sometimes can be, meditation helps me become my best self for my husband, my friends, and my business.
If you're a newbie, start slowly like I did with meditation. Keep a journal nearby so if you get a life-altering thought that you simply must write down immediately, you can do so and get back to your meditation. Over time, you'll have those thoughts less frequent so you can stay focused.
My Challenge to You
Recently my mind presented another argument against meditation: Your meditations have become so powerful, you only need to do it twice a month! Always coming up with clever excuses...
Meditation is indeed powerful; that's why I need to do it more. I've committed to challenging myself to meditating three times a week, but I need your help.
I want to propose a 21-day meditation challenge. We're talking three times a week for three weeks, so a total of just nine meditations. You can do anything for three weeks! What I think you'll discover is how empowering and invigorating meditation can be. In fact, I bet you'll eventually increase that amount of time.
Are you up for the challenge? If I can do it, anyone can.
5 Types of Meditation
I couldn't possibly discuss every type of meditation. Ultimately there's no right or wrong way: Whatever works for you is best, and you might want to "try a few on" before you commit. Here are five popular forms of meditation to choose among:
Movement meditation. If you become antsy sitting still for even a few minutes, movement meditation might be for you. Similar to the deep breathing found in tai chi or yoga, this type of meditation allows you to become conscious about movement while strengthening your muscles. Movement meditation isn't for the timid: With loud music blasting, some classes push your body to a point where you can't focus your mind on the movements. Maybe I had a bad experience, but I once attended a movement meditation where I quickly became fatigued (yes, me, who can't sit still), yet I didn't stop because I feared my instructor would scream at me!
Mindful meditation. Here you focus on your breathing and bring your mind back to the moment. Mindfulness meditation proves most challenging for me because my mind loves wandering aimlessly into the past or future!
Transcendental Meditation (TM). With TM, a practitioner gives you a word that you silently repeat 20 minutes, twice a day, allowing you to "transcend" into deeper levels of consciousness. When your mind wanders or a thought enters, you simply bring your attention gently but firmly back to the word.
Visualization meditation. You might know an athlete who uses this type of meditation to "visualize" their win. You simply choose a word, activity, or goal to focus on and give your complete attention to that thought. Breathing as well as calming your mind and body are crucial precursors for visualizing these goals.
Passage meditation. If you were a lit major in college who memorized long passages of Wordsworth or attended Catholic school where you recited scripture, passage meditation could be for you. Using scripture, poetry, or other inspiring written words, you slowly focus on each word, allowing it to seep deeper to transform consciousness.
Your turn: Do you already do meditation, or are you up for the challenge along with me? (I'll need all the support I can get!) Share your experiences about what works for you to calm your mind and focus on being present in the comments section below.
Deepak Chopra. Grow Younger, Live Longer: Ten Steps to Reverse Aging. (New York: Harmony, 2007), 47.