What is likely the single most important thing you can do to improve your health and well-being and improve your life satisfaction? It has huge benefits - which have recently been documented by researchers around the world. It actually changes the structure and pathways in the brain and it expands the area of your brain related to empathy. It reduces the risk of anxiety and depression, it improves immune function, reduces the risk of heart disease and substance abuse and it results in greater self-awareness. It results in a better ability to regulate thoughts and reactions, and results in greater flexibility and cognitive problem solving skills. This one thing will also improve the quality of your relationships, results in greater self-esteem and more compassion. The Washington Post reported that this one thing – meditation - was practiced by the Thai soccer team trapped in the caves for 13 days before they were rescued. Meditation was attributed to their calm demeanour when they were found. The assistant coach that was trapped in the cave with the team had trained as a Buddhist monk for 10 years and he likely taught the youth meditation to help them stay calm. In addition, it would allow them to reduce their heart rate, metabolism and use of oxygen. It would also have allowed them to access the higher level problem solving skills that would be blocked in a state of stress.
If meditation is so beneficial case, why is it so hard? I believe meditation is difficult due to our mindset and habits both of which need to change for us to be open to meditation on a regular basis. The first thing is mindset. Let go of your excuses. Yes, I am active and can’t sit still either – I am a doer. I thought I could never do it either. I thought I was too active, I thought my mind was too busy. No matter what you think - I encourage you – to start by starting. Start for one minute – just try it. Don’t put it off for another day and don’t expect it to be anything other than what it is. Let go of the belief that you can't do it. Secondly, to really let it take hold the trick is to make it a habit – like brushing your teeth. Where you don’t even think about it – so it just happens. Now, I have used this trick to get some habits ingrained so I can vouch for the power in habit. To make something a habit, it helps to pair it with something you do consistently already – for example – perhaps you pair it with brushing your teeth when you get up in the morning. Juli Hicks my friend and an awesome yoga instructor and coach says she was taught the RPM method by her meditation teacher – David Ji. He suggests you Rise, Pee, and Meditate. So Juli has paired it with that first pee of the day. I have paired it with yoga – most mornings I do yoga and at the end of my practice, I meditate. Now meditation is called a practice for a reason – you need to keep coming back to it – like any habit it will take awhile to stick so don’t get discouraged. Did you ever think about how long it took for you to make brushing your teeth a habit? Let’s assume it was a couple of years. I have heard research that suggests that breaking a habit like smoking takes 7 tries before someone is successful so expect a similar experience of ups and downs - that is a normal part of the process. Don’t judge yourself for this process - now that you know it is normal, just accept it. There are many different types of meditation – try one and if it doesn’t resonate with you try something else. It doesn’t always have to be the same. Different ones have different benefits as well. My view is that if you pick one you like, you are more likely to do it. One of my favourites is listen to a recording –Tara Brach has many free ones. She also has a website full of resources and recordings so you can pick one based on how much time you have that day or a topic that appeals to you. Deepak Chopra and Oprah have a free 21 day meditation they offer every once in a while. I like it as it offers a structured approach and helps keep me stay consistent for 21 days by reminding me with a daily email. (You can also purchase them but I find they are expensive when there are so many free tools out there and I expect you no longer get the daily email reminder - which is one of the biggest benefits). Lastly I would suggest you let go of the expectation that you will stop all those thoughts and feelings. To me, meditating isn’t about stopping all those thoughts – it is about being with whatever is there and accepting it and each time noticing if your thoughts have taken you somewhere else and then coming back to the breath. No judgement. Just practice. Why not start now – what are you waiting for? Let me know how it goes or how else I can support you.