I’ve been interested in Buddhism for a long time since I’m enthralled by Japanese and Asian culture. After listening to the Tim Ferriss Show podcast and hearing how prominent meditation is among some of the most successful people out there in addition to my own interest and readings around Buddhism, I decided to dive into it several years ago. To some, meditation is probably viewed as a fad or something progressives do to be cool, but after practicing off and on for a few years now, I’ve noticed some real direct and positive benefits. I’m certainly no expert, but I wanted to share what I’ve learned and noticed through my own practice.
What Is Meditation
At its core, I understand and believe meditation to be the exercise used to find oneself. It is a mechanism Buddhists use to find enlightenment and to discover one’s true self. It’s a way to reflect on yourself and your life. It’s a way to get back control of your mind. Just as you may go to the gym to strengthen your muscles to become stronger, meditation is the mental equivalent to strengthen the mind. For me, it’s about ultimate self control and awareness.
How Does It Benefit You
Meditation, at least most practices, is all about focus on the breath. In a busy modern world, the majority of our breathing on a regular basis is shallow which creates tension which creates stress. By focusing on the breath, you’re almost re-teaching your body to breath deeply, from the belly, which provides more oxygen, calming both body and mind.
While you can practice different forms of gratitude and kindness meditation, even just regular meditation receives this benefit. My theory is that by taking the time to breath deeply and have peace while meditating, we naturally revert to our normal state which I believe to be kind towards others.
Sitting up straight while meditating does wonders for your posture and can reverse slouching many of us experience during the workday. It does seem to help loosen up the hips, back, and adductors, as well as strengthening the back.
There are different types of meditation, I prefer focusing on the breath versus a mantra, but what I’ve found to be most beneficial, and probably my personal favorite of the benefits of meditation, is that I’m so much more aware. By noticing when you’re no longer focused on the breath and lost in thought (either purposefully or accidentally), you calmly return to the breath. This is a habitual routine that is lasting in everyday experiences. I’ve noticed a dramatic improvement in noticing details, realizing if I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing, and generally being more aware of my surroundings, people, and actions.
Different meditation exercises can be used to enhance concentration, but even just basic meditation is enough to also improve your concentration skills. This is different than awareness in the sense that concentration is direct focus on what you’re doing.
Whether meditating first thing in the morning or in the evening before bed, either will result in more restful, deep sleep.
The Basics Of Meditation
Meditation is not really about freeing your mind completely from thought, it’s about noticing when your mind drifts and then bringing yourself back to the breath. The breath being the simplest, most fundamental part of what keeps us alive. It’s all about the breath.
I personally prefer meditation when I wake in the morning as the first thing I do. Others like it before bed. For me personally, knocking this out right away to start the day gives me the best chance of doing it.
I would suggest starting small and building up to improve your routine. Meditate daily. At first start at 10 minutes which provides no excuse not to do it and will help establish the habit. After say a month or when you feel ready for more, bump to 15 minutes which will get you to the on/off chatter stage as I think of it. After another month or so, bump to 20 minutes, the last few minutes of which are when you experience the true benefit of meditation and peaceful state. I once heard someone say that a 20-minute meditation is to get to the last 2-3 minutes of bliss. It takes 10 minutes daily to build the routine and 20 minutes to get to the place where your mind truly becomes calm. Of course you can meditate longer, but I find 20 minutes to be the perfect amount to receive the benefits and keep up the practice.
I would recommend starting with guided meditation (see tools below) to help get you started. I moved pretty quickly to unguided. I just prefer it more and tend to get distracted by guided meditations since they always seem to interrupt me right when my mind becomes quiet. That said, working in guided meditations for gratitude, concentration, energy, creativity, etc. from time to time can not only be helpful but add variety.
Positions may vary to include the lotus position, simple cross legged, and butterfly. You can also lie on your back or sit in a chair with your feet on the ground. I like to sit up straight in the butterfly position because I have stiff hips and like to stretch out my adductors while meditating. Notice when you slump and correct your posture. It will take some time to strengthen your back. Use a pillow (meditation pillows specifically are awesome) for your bum and/or your ankles to help you meditate more comfortably and for longer. Interestingly, I read somewhere that yoga was developed in part to help meditate longer by stretching and strengthening. Yoga is also a form of meditation in a similar way as Tai Chi or Qi Gong, which are forms of moving meditation.
There are different ways of doing this, one popular way being to count in and out breaths. For some reason I like a 12-count over a 10-count, just feels more natural to me. 1 count on the breath in, 1 count on the breath out. Breath from the belly. You may consider practicing pranayama breathing through the nose exclusively as is often done in yoga, or in through the nose, out through the mouth.
I’ve found that even with your eyes closed, you can position your eyes differently which helps your focus on the breath. For example, look out at the end of your nose or look up to your third eye (forehead). This simple trick can have a surprising impact on your ability to focus on your breathing.
It’s actually possible to meditate in other ways too. For example, the Buddhist monk and prolific writer Thich Nhat Hanh writes a lot about mindfulness and meditation, which can also be achieved when you walk or when you eat for example. Walking meditation is pretty interesting and hiking can be a form of meditation. I even started to realize I was somewhat meditating when strength training. The point here is that mindfulness and meditation can be integrated into daily or other regular activities without having to sit for 20 minutes. Having a varied set of practices can further strengthen your overall practice.
While the best place is the place you’re most likely to actually meditate, be sure the setting is at least quiet. Bedrooms are good, closed off office, or even outside in nature are all good choices.
Tools To Help
- Oak. Simple, just the essentials, completely free. Unguided with several guided meditations and breathing exercises.
- Plum Village. Originated from none other than Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditations from his monastery Plum Village in France.
- Calm. Simple, easy to use, 10-day intro.
- Headspace. Comprehensive guided meditations.
- Tara Broch. Wide variety of guided meditations.
- Kapok Dreams Meditation Pillow. This is what I have, which also serve double duty as bench cushions. There are tons of different types of meditation pillows out there.