This year instead of making one big resolution I decided to have several mini-resolutions. The first was a week of meditation: 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening. The number seems so small, yet it’s amazing how easy it can be to tell yourself that you don’t have time that day. Especially in the morning, I found myself rushing to get out the door to work and passing on my morning meditation. Imagine though for a moment how different your morning would be if instead of rushing out the door the second you finish getting ready with this mind set of ‘hurry, hurry’, you instead spent your last 5 minutes at home cultivating a calm and clear mind to carry throughout your day.
So why meditate in the first place? Meditation is not a new practice and has been around for centuries. There has been plenty of anecdotal support for this practice but more recently we now have the scientific evidence to back it up. Meditation has been shown to increase parasympathetic nervous system activation (the rest and digest system), decrease heart rate and blood pressure, decrease triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), improve sleep, improve mood and digestion, decrease stress, cultivate a sense of happiness, reduce stress hormone release (which will in turn boost the immune system), improve weight loss, decrease joint pain, decrease blood sugar, and the list goes on. To top it off, all of these benefits will help you prevent and treat disease. And it’s free and doesn’t require any equipment or money!
Meditation can even eventually transition from something you do at home for 5 minutes to a practice you can call on any time of the day, in any place, for any purpose. Maybe sitting in Miami traffic? Meditation helped me to understand that we can control our own thoughts. So now when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store and the person in front of me pulls out 20 coupons, I can meditate to keep myself calm and I chose not to let the situation affect me.
So how exactly do you meditate? Well there are many types of meditation but here are a few of my favorites.
1. Focus on your breathing: Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose and notice all the sensations of your breathe. The temperature of the air, the rise and fall of your chest, the sound of your breath, the length of your inhales and exhales. Try to slow your breathing down with each breath and keep your face calm and your breath easy.
2. Pick a virtue you would like to cultivate in your life: Compassion, patience, kindness, forgiveness, presence, gratitude, love, etc. Once you’ve chosen a virtue try to imagine someone in your life (it could even be a stranger) or some situation in your life where you can apply this quality. Meditate on this and notice how it makes you feel. Then try to keep that feeling throughout the day.
3. Muscle tension and relaxation: Work your way mentally through your entire body from head to toe as you tighten the muscles of your face, holding for 3 seconds, before letting all the tension go, then tighten the muscles of your neck, arms, belly, gluts, quads, calves, and feet for 3 seconds each before letting all the tension go. Finally, think of all your muscles now being totally relaxed and your body very heavy as you sink into the floor.
Lastly, be patient with yourself. Think of your mind the way you think of your bicep. If you were just starting strength training for the first time in your life you wouldn’t expect to pick up a 40lb weight and pound out a bunch of reps. Similarly, don’t expect that your first meditation (or 2nd, 3rd, 4th) will be easy. Your thoughts will take over and before you know it you’ve planned out your schedule for the day and what you’re making for dinner. That’s ok. Take a breath and start over. Let each distracted thought enter through your mind, acknowledge it, and then drift away for you to deal with later. With practice and patience, each meditation will become easier as you learn how to focus your mind and control your thoughts.
I hope you decide to give this practice a try. It really brought a sense of calm, peace, and appreciation to my daily life. Best case scenario you’ll experience less stress, improve your physical health, sleep better, and improve your quality of life. Worst case scenario you’ll have lost 10 minutes of your 24 hour long day. What do you have to lose?
By Sabine Gempel