The monkey mind. Chatter. Noise. Distraction.
If you live in a city and have a job, or go to school, and have to commute and live with other people; your life is likely as insane as mine is. From the moment I wake up in the morning it feels like an assault. And it's nonstop. If you have a smart phone it is very hard to escape at all from anything and everything, and find any peace in a typical day. To say that life was simpler 40-50 years ago is such a massive understatement it seems ridiculous to even mention it. Duh.
Everything from buying cereal in a store, to making reservations for a plane, to ordering a coffee from a typical coffee shop is more complex. “I will have a grande cappuccino please.” But look at all the milk choices, and the fat percentages, like non fat, 1 percent, 2 percent, full fat, cream, half and half - and if you ask for whole milk are you, by definition, a glutton and a big fattie? What about half and half – are you going straight to hell? And is coffee bad for you? Or good for you? I just read an article that it improves performance both athletically and on standardized tests - but I digress, and this is what I mean.
This is the monkey mind - jumping from one sound bite to another. One tweet, to another. No sustained attention. No patience. Literally assaulted by choices and having to make tons of decisions daily, that are not in and of themselves stressful, but take a collective toll on your psyche and more importantly, your will power and energy. Making decisions, even stupid ones, uses up energy and effort.
So why meditation? On the one hand it is so intimidating. You feel you are not worthy to meditate, or maybe you are more actualized than I am, but I always felt like I had to actually BE His Holiness the Dalia Lama to be able to meditate. And then when I would begin and would not be in the Nirvana stage within minutes, I felt I had failed. As soon as I shut up and try to be calm and peaceful and JUST BE –I am pummeled with intrusive thoughts, my to do lists, memories of the people who have wronged me, the POTUS’s most recent absurd tweets, the latest natural disaster, and a host of annoying and not very nice thoughts.
But, if you can get past that initial flurry of ideas and thoughts and lists and let the mind settle, you can often find a place that begins to look like meditation. You do not have to meditate for very long to garner it’s beneficial effects. There is some debate on this, but as few as 7 minutes a day can improve your health and well-being.
So what are the benefits of meditation? Proponents claim hundreds of health benefits, both physical and emotional . And, by the way, mental and physical health cannot really be separated; they are totally integrated but I will stick to the established and scientifically verified benefits.
There is the purely physical aspect of meditation – the settling and slowing down of the breath. The focus on the breath. The simple act of doing that reduces your blood pressure, reduces catecholamine release, and reduces inflammation. There are some great apps on breathing, and yes, it sounds obvious, we all know how to breathe, but the guidance can be invaluable and can also explain the benefits of slowing the breathing down, breathing completely, and really learning how to exhale. Carla Melucci , yoga healer, writer and breathing coach (among other titles) has a great app called breathing lessons available. As she says, "exhale and the inhale will take care of itself”. We typically breath 6-20 breaths per minute. We should breathe 6.
Here is what we know daily meditation will do for you.
improves immune system
improves cardiovascular health
improves mental acuity
And the best thing, is it reduces your “triggers”. So if you are someone who is hasty to either anger or irritation, it helps make the fuse a lot longer. Then rather than reacting to all of the nonsense and crap that life throws your direction, you can find a way to slow down and breathe and think. And then respond in a way that speaks the way you want to speak.
Practically speaking, how do we do this? You do need a relatively quiet and uninterrupted space for whatever time you want to be engaged. Many people say “I don’t have time to meditate”. Seriously, if you cannot find 7 minutes of alone quiet time your life must be utterly chaotic and frenzied and you need to change things ASAP for your health and well-being. I know this, because that was my life. There was no time for me at all.
Then you just need to sit quietly on the floor, a chair, a couch or where ever you feel comfortable and begin focusing on your breathing with your eyes open. Do whatever you want with your hands. Be comfortable. Set a timer – at first try 4 minutes and then work your way up to 7. Immediately your mind will be flooded with thoughts and images.
The trick and key is to let them go. The to do list. Let it go. Sometimes visualizing helps, I visualize a river rushing by, taking all my thoughts and problems as it goes. The point is during this time you are just going to be. You are not going to solve these problems and issues, you are just going to acknowledge them and let them pass. It’s great to do it every day at the same time but sometimes that is not reasonable. If you still can’t get into it, then try a guided meditation app – or better go to a group meditation class. There is something very powerful about collective meditation.
If there were a pill that did all the things meditation does. You would take it. And I would take it – at least 3 times a day. It is not easy to start, but once you do, it can really change your life.
Please share your personal experience with meditation in the comment section below. Do you meditate? If so, how has it changed your life?
~Dr. Alexes Hazen