The ancient practice of meditation can be found in spiritual traditions around the world, dating back thousands of years. More recently though, science has been tuning into the potent benefits meditation can offer.
Researchers at UC Berkeley found a correlation between chronic stress and depression, turning small daily worries into a much bigger monster down the line. Forbes reported on the growing body of scientific research suggesting that a habitual practice can actually rewire the brain. Studies conducted at Yale, UCLA, Johns Hopkins and Harvard concluded that meditation reduces anxiety and depression, promotes structural change in the brain, and improves concentration and focus. Several high-performance athletes have mentioned how vital meditation is for a winning outcome, attributing breathing and visualization techniques to their success. Meditation is even a core tenant in the Silicon Valley philosophy. Before Steve Jobs started Apple, he spent time cultivating a Zen practice, which has noticeably influenced the company’s radically-intuitive product design. Google offers “neural self-hacking” seminars and mindfulness workshops for their employees. Simply put, meditation has the capability to help unlock one’s highest potential. Taking time for quiet contemplation isn’t just reserved for monks on a mountaintop. It is necessary to our well-being and fundamental to our optimization in a fast world. Needless to say, developing a meditation practice is probably worth incorporating into a daily routine no matter who you are.
For some people who aren’t used to setting aside personal quiet time, sitting still for a few minutes can be more of a challenge than a stress reliever. The mind naturally wanders to our to-do list, obligations, desires and worries after a few moments. That’s okay. There are a myriad of ways to get you started and exploring each method is half the fun. Find what works best for you.
1. First Things First, Follow the Breath
Free yourself from distractions, but set an alarm if you’re on a time crunch. Sit or lie comfortably somewhere and close your eyes. Begin following your first deep breaths, inhaling for 5 seconds, expanding out from your diaphragm, and then exhaling for 5 seconds. When your mind eventually begins to wander, simply bring your attention back to the breath.
- Expanding Awareness With Mindfulness
Following the breath is the crux of many meditation techniques and is generally regarded as the nuts and bolts of the practice. Mindfulness is the vehicle that brings non-judgmental awareness into the picture. This is a good way to turn off our habitual “auto-pilot” mode and take back ownership of our minds. Start to notice every thought that passes, every sensation in the body and the feelings that arise. Think of it as a mental check-in. You’ll start to notice a shift from having hasty emotional reactions, to grounded responses. After a while, this practice can help boost mental clarity and ease emotional suffering. Watch renown mindfulness meditation teacher Jack Kornfield address the Dreamforce conference on the importance of cultivating mindful awareness here.
- Visualizing Your Goals With Imagery
Visualization is a technique athletes engage when they talk about getting “in the zone.” Olympians have discussed using mental imagery to put themselves in scenarios where they carve a desired outcome with their imagination. With their mind’s eye, they rewind and playback the scene in slow motion, noticing all the details. Not an Olympic athlete? Well you can still utilize this method by closing your eyes and watching parts of your life play out on a movie screen. You are the director and screenwriter. If this trick can mean the difference between a gold and bronze medal, you can take a few moments out of your day to envision the life you deserve to have. And, action…
- Get Your Mind Clean With A Sound Bath
Meditation and sound have always gone hand in hand. Humans have been using music to induce a meditative trance-like state for millennia, but more recently the art of sound healing is making a resurgence in the mainstream. Think organs in a cathedral, Tibetan singing bowls, shamanic drumming and chanting — or rather, a conscious use of sound energy to promote healing and well-being of humans. Every living thing vibrates at a certain frequency and sound has been proven to directly affect matter. Typical sound healing sessions are around $10-$20, last around an hour and feature deeply relaxing gongs, crystal singing bowls and chimes tuned to specific frequencies. Participants lie down, follow their breath and are immediately enveloped by rejuvenating sound waves. Find an event near you and give this one a try.
- Float like a Butterfly
Float spas have recently been making a splash, thanks in part to Joe Rogan’s weekly podcast series “The Joe Rogan Experience.” On the show, which garners up to 11 million downloads a month, Rogan regularly discusses the importance of meditation with his guests and has championed float chambers as “the most important tool [he’s] ever used for developing my mind.” Float tanks are comprised of water heated to mimic the body’s temperature and filled with 800 pounds of epsom salts. This helps the floater achieve sensory deprivation, which can induce a state of ultra relaxation by easing bodily tension. It may feel strange at first, but it’s a great tool for tuning into yourself and can prompt some profound breakthroughs. Find a float center in your city and ask for a trial session today.
Yoga, Vipassana, Mantras, Holotropic breathwork, guided meditations and others add to the list of mechanisms you can use. One thing is sure, neuroscience and spiritual traditions are now finding a common ground — Meditation isn’t just to achieve enlightenment and you don’t even have to devote yourself to a spiritual path for it to benefit you. All of the wisdom relevant to you and your place in this world is now readily available, if you allow yourself the time to stop and listen. Start by prescribing yourself 10-15 minutes a day and give your mental chatter a much needed break.