I was one of those people who thought meditation was crazy. You want me to sit, with my eyes closed, in silence and think about NOTHING? How could that possibly be a beneficial use of my time? I had more things to do than I had time to do them. And even if I didn’t, I could think of much more interesting things to do with my time than try not to think. Certainly I didn’t need any of that new age trend.
But then I started to see science backing up the benefits of meditation. I begrudgingly signed up to take a college level class into the research of meditation on coursera.org (Side note, if you enjoy learning, that is a great resource for free classes).
I am nothing if not willing to change my mind based on evidence. That is why we completely changed the way we eat. I had to be open to being wrong about meditation. Besides, I was stressed to the point of anxiety. It couldn’t hurt.
Turns out, I was wrong about meditation. There is a lot of really good science showing it is beneficial. And for the record, it’s not “new age” at all. It’s ancient. I had to let go of my “waste of time” attitude toward it and embrace it. But how does a type A, driven, haven’t-sat-still-since-I-was-born person learn to still her mind? It was a process.
I started with short guided meditations. A YouTube search brought up hundreds of them. I thought surely I could listen to someone tell me a story for five minutes. It was harder than I thought. The first two minutes was telling me to breathe (Eyeroll – I know how to breathe. Been doing it for a few years more than I wish to admit). Okay, breathing. In through the nose out through the mouth. Got it. What now?
Over several weeks sitting got easier. I found channels I liked, voices I found soothing and I was able to start choosing longer meditations. I also realized I found some of them very relaxing. If I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, I’d listen to a mediation (might as well make good use of my time). Many times it would help me fall back to sleep.
Meditating to music (on YouTube)
Once I was comfortable using guided mediations (three months?), I decided to try just listening to meditation music. Could I focus my mind on the music and not have it wander off? At first, no. I spent more time reminding myself I was meditating, not thinking than actually meditating. But with practice I got better.
Meditating to chimes or gongs (yep, YouTube)
Using chimes posed a different challenge. There were stretches of complete silence where I had to focus only on my breathing. Here’s the problem, when I focus on my breathing, it changes and I get lightheaded. How do you “breath normally” while thinking about your breathing? The very act of observing it changes it.
I never felt like chimes worked for me. They are supposed to interrupt your thought and bring you back into focus. But I felt like they, more often than not, interrupted my focus.
You can actually find videos of silence with chimes at the beginning and end. They are great except for the ads at the beginning. It’s hard for me to skip an ad and then go directly into meditation. Plus the light flickering from my computer was distracting.
Instead of using a silent video I tried setting the timer on my phone. But the sound it made was too jarring. Now I have an alarm that I set for however many minutes I want to meditate. I’d love to find a single beep, chime or gong sound. But I have a sound that isn’t too invasive for the moment.
This is different from silent meditation in that you pick a mantra to repeat while you breathe. Health, wealth and happiness. Peace, power, prosperity. Some people like a single word. Others prefer a string.
Another option is to use ahhhhhhoooommmm as a focus sound. The vibration it creates in your throat is said to be relaxing. I will sometimes use this at the beginning of a meditation period to get myself into the mindset. However, I can only do about ten of them in a row.
This isn’t considered meditation per se, but I have found it to be a great way to start my day. We have a lot going on right now, our businesses, the book, current clients, new clients, new proposals and just life. Taking the time to write in my gratitude journal reminds me how great my life is. I start my gratitude thoughts in a few different ways: Today I am thankful for…., I rejoice in…, Thank you for…, I am celebrating…, …brings me happiness. It is amazing how many things I can find to be happy about every day.
How I use meditation
It took me eight to ten months to really get into the flow of meditating. Five months ago I added tai chi (taught myself that using YouTube videos too). I get up ninety minutes early to do tai chi, meditate for twenty minutes and then write in my journal.
If you had told me a little more than a year ago I would be doing this, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed at you. Now it’s as much a part of my being healthy as the food I eat. That’s what happens when you’re open to changing your mind based on new information.
Maybe you don’t have ninety minutes. But surely you can listen to someone tell you a story for five minutes a day.
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Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.