Meditation is something everyone has heard about, some people have tried and few do on a regular basis. I have been meditating regularly for quite a few years now and want to pass on what I have learned through my own practice as well as through the books, podcasts and articles I have studied.
To me, the main purpose or goal of meditation is to become more “Mindful”. So what does being mindful mean?
Mindfulness is a heightened sense of awareness as it relates to the moment by moment content of our thoughts and emotions.
Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and lost track of what the other person is saying while you dove down a rabbit hole from thought to thought which lead you to saying something seemingly unrelated to the current topic?
One example of this is when I was talking with my wife about our upcoming trip to California:
I started to drift off into a memory of our trip to Fiji, which reminded me of our snorkeling excursion while there, which reminded me of the Disney movie Moana, which made me think of The Rock who plays a character in that movie and how jacked he is, which made me feel like I should start working out more, which reminded me of when I used to do P90X so I blurted out:
“I think I’m going to start doing P90X again.”
To which my wife responded: “Ok…. But we’re trying to plan a trip right now so how about some focus?”
I’m sure you can relate….
Why is it that we so often feel like our brain is a runaway stagecoach that we are trying to drive without the reins? Mindfulness is the equivalent of picking up the reins. We still may not have complete control over every thought that pops into our head, but we can take control of how we react to each thought and what actions we take in response.
Mindfulness is something that can be done at every moment of the day. Being aware of what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling allows me to reflect on whether or not this is what I want to be doing with my finite brain capacity and time.
Mindfulness does not tell you what is right or wrong, it simply gives you the ability to determine if your current thoughts and actions are what you really want and not a mindless response.
Benefits Of Mindfulness
With progress in my pursuit of mindfulness, I started to observe sizable improvements in all aspects of my life. Being more aware of the thoughts that occupy my mind and having the ability to place a space between the stimulus and reaction has made me more responsible for my actions, emotions and overall quality of life. Some specific improvements are as follows:
- More Focus – The distractions in our interconnected technological world are unlimited. A mindful awareness of these distractions is the only way to avoid pursuing them. Being able to focus has led to improved work performance and more present/meaningful conversations and relationships.
- More Discipline – The choices we make are what defines us. Mindfulness helps us to make value based choices instead of giving in to instant gratification. The greatest examples of this are in my improved eating, exercise and work habits.
- Less Personal – By this I mean that I take things less personally. When someone makes a comment, gives me a look or has that certain tone I am less impacted by it. I understand that it has less to do with me and more to do with their beliefs, personality and emotional state.
- Less Stress – I carry a stronger sense of calmness with me moment by moment and this keeps me well prepared to deflect those stressful situations. It is my thoughts and response to an event that causes the stress, not the event itself.
- More Grateful – As part of my practice I spend significant time contemplating all the things in my life I have to be grateful for. Along with this, I also consider the suffering that many have had to endure which I have been fortunate to avoid.
- More Compassion – The more time I spend meditating and contemplating the nature of life, the more I come to realize how much I have in common with all other living beings. Not just humans but other animal and plant life as well.
How To Meditate
The practice of mediation is the best way to learn how to drive the stagecoach while also getting to know the horses better. This allows us to anticipate future thoughts, and emotions that come with them so that we can make decisions each moment based on our values and not our first reaction.
Below is a list of methods I use regularly for my meditation practice:
- Mindful Breathing – This is the simplest form of meditation and has also provided me with the most personal gain but it is sometimes the most difficult. In this meditation I either sit or lie down and just focus on the feeling of my breath entering my nose, traveling down to my lungs and lifting my chest. I then follow the exhale flowing back out, up through my throat and out my nose. Whenever my mind inevitably wanders I simply acknowledge that I am thinking of something else and then gently bring my focus back to my breath. Do not get discouraged by thoughts coming into your mind. The point of this exercise is to practice becoming aware of when your mind wanders and then bringing it back to task. It came be difficult to focus but that is why it is the most effective and powerful method of growing mindfulness.
- Body Scan – With this method I start with the tips of my toes and work my way up my body until I reach my head. I focus on the feeling of each body part and try to observe any sensations that arise in each area. If I come across a specifically tense spot (usually my neck and shoulders) I will focus on it a little longer and take a few deep breaths. On each exhale I imagine the tension leaving my body. Once I reach my head I focus on my own mind and thoughts. I realize that I am separate from my thoughts and can observe them as they come and go from an outside perspective. This reminds me of the metaphysical aspect of our consciousness and how we can learn to control our thoughts and feelings.
- Walking Meditation – By this I simply mean walking mindfully. Whether it’s the walk from your home to your car or your desk to the bathroom, you probably are not being very mindful when you walk. Try to really focus and pay attention to what’s in front of you and where you are placing your foot for your next step. Observe and acknowledge the colors around you and the scent in the air. What temperature is the space you are in and are you standing up straight while you walk?
- Eating Meditation – How often do we charge through our meals just to move on to the next busy activity in our lives? Another great way to develop focus and appreciation is by eating more mindfully. Slowly chew each and every bite. Acknowledge and savor the flavors and texture of the food you eat. We in the 1st world are so fortunate to have access to such amazing and flavorful food yet we usually eat too fast to notice. Slow down and enjoy it!
- Driving Meditation – This exercise, like with walking and eating, is simply doing the task with more mindfulness. Instead of listening to the radio, talking on the phone or thinking of other things, try to truly be aware of what is going on around you. Focus on the car in front of you and how fast you are going. Check your mirrors and blind spots regularly. Observe how the steering wheel feels in your hands. Read all road signs as you pass them by. Not only will this help improve your mindfulness but it will also make you a much safer driver!
- Gratitude Meditation – In this meditation you take account of all the things in your life you have to be grateful for. If you have a spouse or significant other you can think of how much you value their companionship. Perhaps you have a great job that you enjoy or pays well or a nice house in a good neighborhood. Even if you have none of these things you can be grateful for the fact that you are alive, and in a time of great prosperity! Even the poor of today are better off in terms of overall standard of living compared to the kings and queens of ancient times. Another aspect of this is reflecting on misfortune which you have avoided. I have both my legs and arms, I have never suffered starvation or any major catastrophe. Reflecting on this may sound morbid but it does wonders to build appreciation and gratitude for the life we currently live.
- Goals Meditation – I like to also meditate on my main goals in life. I believe that what we focus on we bring into our lives. By taking time to sit quietly and visualize the completion of my goals and what steps I will take to complete them, I develop confidence in their obtainment. It does not matter what the goals are, they could be relationship, health, financial, etc. just holding them in your mind starts the process of bringing them into reality!
- God Meditation – The title is misleading… If you want to learn more about my “spiritual” views you can check out my post titled “Spirituality Is Bigger Than You Think“. When I say “God” I mean whatever you refer to as the reason we are here. Whether you believe in a specific faith or not, you likely believe that something metaphysical is at play in our universe. But even if you don’t, you can acknowledge the beauty and complexity of life and the laws of physics. When I meditate on “God” I am simply reflecting on the vastness and beauty of the cosmos that we inhabit. It is overwhelming yet at the same time inspiring to think of myself as a microscopic piece of the cosmic puzzle. This meditation can have mixed results so I don’t suggest starting with it but once you are comfortable, it can be the most rewarding and uplifting experience in life. It is during this meditation that I sometimes achieve a truly “out of body” experience.
My recommendation to anyone who is new to meditation is to start with a guided mindful breathing exercise. You can easily find multiple videos of varying length on YouTube and I encourage you to do so! The Mindfulness Movement is a channel I subscribe to with lots of great guided meditations. Another fantastic source that I use for guided meditations is the free smart phone app entitled: “Stop Breath Think“. They have free audio recordings of varying lengths as well. Starting with a guided practice helps keep you focused. The most important aspect of a meditation practice is doing it consistently. It is better to meditate for 3 minutes every day than to do it for 15 minutes once a week. Having said that, I would recommend starting with 3 minutes and then working your way up to 15. If you have the time or desire, do more! But in my experience, 15 minutes is the sweet spot for effectiveness and not taking up more time than I desire in the day.
My Daily Meditation Routine
I must admit, I go through ups and downs with my meditation routine but I always feel my best when I follow the following routine on a daily basis:
I spend 15 minutes every morning going through what I like to call my “priming” routine. It consists of the following:
- 3 min of Mindful Breathing
- 3 min Body Scan
- 3 min Gratitude Meditation
- 3 min Goals Meditation
- 3 min God Meditation
I like following this routine because I feel it gives me a taste of everything that I need to start the day. My breathing and body scan help build my focus. My Gratitude reduces stress and increases my appreciation. My goals review sets my intention for the day and provides motivation. And closing with my God meditation keeps me grounded and puts everything in perspective.
I also spend 10-15 minutes at night listening to a variety of different guided meditations that can be found at the links I referenced earlier. Night meditation helps to clear my mind of any stress the day may have brought and prepares me for a restful sleep.
In addition to my morning and night routines, I try to incorporate eating, driving and walking meditations as often as possible but not as regularly.
I know there are many other types of meditation out there and I am working on broadening my horizons to include some of them but for now this is where I’m at and it has been working well so far. I hope that you found this guide helpful and if you do please comment and let me know!!! Also feel free to share or republish for others to enjoy.