“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that is already there- buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.” Deepak Chopra
I first learned of meditation when I was about 29 years old. I was searching for a way to combat extreme anxiety that I was experiencing due to leaving an abusive relationship and becoming a single mom to my then four-year-old son. I stumbled across a book by Shakti Gawain, and then another by Dr. Andrew Weil. In Weil’s book Spontaneous Healing I learned one of the breathing techniques that he uses called 4-7-8 breathing, or the “relaxing breath exercise", and that was the beginning of my meditation journey.
My practice over the last 23 years has ebbed and flowed and varied from guided meditations to walking meditations and many other forms of meditation that I have experimented with.
Meditation is often a confusing concept for many people, but it’s been around for a very long time. It can’t be attributed to one culture and it’s not a religion. Regardless of the origin, it is something that has benefited mankind for centuries. Thankfully meditation is becoming more mainstream today.
Even still, there are so many questions regarding how to meditate and the benefits of meditation. Books and podcasts abound, sometimes making our heads spin just trying to figure out where to start.
If you currently do not have a meditation practice I suggest starting small and simple. Sit comfortably, set a timer for two to five minutes, and breathe. Notice your chest rise and fall. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Thoughts will still come. Just notice them. Breathe in. Breathe out. That’s it. If you are new to meditation this may be very uncomfortable. This is normal. It is normal to feel like “nothing is happening” or that you are “doing it wrong.” Remember, this is about BEING, not doing.
You can experiment with meditation and see what works best for you. Some people enjoy guided meditations, or doing body scans or using imagery. The idea is to consciously practice sitting in stillness and noticing. This deliberate stillness creates clarity and a sense of peace that will eventually spill out into other areas of your life, enabling you to move through your daily interactions in a more conscious manner.
So what is it about meditation that is so important? I love what Dr. Andrew Weil says: “Meditation is more than just a hobby. It’s a way of life that cultivates optimal mental health. In this way, it can engender lasting change and provide each of us with a very real way of exerting control and influence over our own mental states.”
Meditation rewires your brain. It enlarges your prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that is responsible for rational thinking. It thickens the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory. It also shrinks the “fear center” of the brain, known as the amygdala. Simply put, just as exercise is important for the health of our body, meditation is important for our mental health. And I believe that we must begin to acknowledge that our health is connected to everyone else’s health.
If you want to learn more about meditation I suggest the Calm or Headspace app and the Ten Percent Happier podcast. I also love the Deepak & Oprah 21 day meditations that are released every few months. These are guided meditations around a theme that last about 20 minutes.
Though a deliberate sitting practice is found to have the greatest benefit for rewiring your brain and relieving stress it should be noted that many people enjoy activities that can put them in a meditative state, such as cooking, dancing, painting, and knitting. I find that when I am hiking, or swimming I ease into this peaceful state. With each step or each stroke, I am drawn completely into the present moment. It’s these activities where we lose all sense of time that have that meditative quality.
“Meditation practice allows you to reconnect with the deepest part of yourself. This connection produces relaxation and even joy. You soften. You relax the incessant self-criticism most of us live with on a moment-to-moment basis. Ceasing to judge yourself so harshly naturally leads to less judgment and more acceptance of others, too. Voila. You’re a truly compassionate person.” Dr. Andrew Weil
No matter the meditation that you do, I recommend sitting in an upright position, or lying in a comfortable position and NOT falling asleep. Try to find a time when you are alert enough to stay awake. If there’s anything that I would want you to take away from reading this it would be the importance of “sitting still” and “doing nothing”.
I’m not sure exactly when we entered the age of “productivity”, but we are so damn busy that doing nothing makes us want to crawl right out of our skin! I know this from experience. We’re not human “beings”- we’re human “doings”! Just think about the guilt you have when you sit still for a minute. With NOTHING to do. No phone. No laundry. No email. Just sit. How does that feel? And this productivity mindset is causing us to be stressed out and literally killing us!
Jeff Warren, founder of the “Do-Nothing Project” and co-author of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics teaches that meditation breeds compassion, clarity, and deep connection. Meditation also helps to become acquainted with and engage with the fullness of who YOU ARE and to accept “what is”, without all of the judgment that typically accompanies it. And perhaps in this moment in time nothing could be more important. Perhaps this is the perfect time to acknowledge some deep truths and to shift our awareness during this global time-out. Perhaps during this collective breath, we are expanding not only our minds but the lungs of the earth and reconnecting to the natural world and the true nature of who we are.
I hope you can "take a few minutes", or "take an effing minute" if you like, to pause from our day-to-day running to and fro to realize that your life is beautiful and worth enjoying fully!
With Love & Gratitude,
Kinda and Rachel