Overwhelmed by the stresses and responsibilities of daily life? Join the club. But instead of downing a third cup of coffee or popping open a Red Bull, try carving out a few minutes in your day to meditate. Not only is meditation a great stress-reliever, it promotes positive thinking and gives you a quick time-out to focus on yourself — which ultimately helps you navigate life with more balance and harmony. So, where to begin? There’s more to meditation than sitting on a yoga mat and humming to yourself, and now is the time to get some answers to your questions!
Why Should I Meditate?
If you live like the majority of people out there, you’re probably juggling a million responsibilities, putting stress on your body and mind while doing so. Stress causes weight gain, insomnia, sickness and even sexual dysfunction, not to mention tremendous strain on relationships with your loved ones. You’ve probably noticed that the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to snap at your spouse or kids, and meditation will help control these unfortunate tendencies. It’s much more effective than a couple espresso shots, and can even be a great alternative to over-the-counter stress relievers!
Meditating pushes the brakes on your brain’s stress response, and creates a cascade of hormonal reactions that allow you to relax, calm down, sleep like a baby, and better digest your food (in fact, you might even find that your metabolism increases). Some of my students have trouble believing that meditation has such drastic effects — but think about it this way: If you start your morning by spilling coffee on yourself and getting stuck in traffic, your entire day will be negatively impacted. One small event can determine how your day unfolds, and the few minutes you take to meditate can help you regain control of your state of mind or start it off right in the first place.
How Do I Meditate?
There’s no strict set of rules when it comes to meditation. The discipline was practiced long before stars like Sting and Madonna made it trendy (I’m talking thousands of years before), and there are many different techniques to choose from. Just find a practice that fits your needs, whether it’s Buddhist, Taoist, Zen, or something more alternative. All of these practices tout different breathing techniques and mantras, and you should feel free to experiment until you find fulfillment. Like any discipline, meditation takes practice, so invest some time educating yourself (YouTube is a great resource). Once you get comfortable with the basics, meditation will become a seamless and essential part of your life that you can easily fit in before taking the kids to school, after a dinner date with your friends, or even on your lunch break.
How Often Should I Meditate?
Totally up to you, but I recommend meditating once a day, for as long as it takes your mind to get centered and calm. Some people meditate for an hour every evening, while others carve out 20 minutes for meditation before hitting the gym. There’s no standard amount of time that will make or break the meditative process — the key is finding your stride and figuring out what works for you. That being said, I usually tell beginners to try meditating for about 30 minutes each day so their bodies become accustomed to the practice, and the process becomes routine.
Remember not to over-think meditation — that would be completely counterproductive. Meditation is all about pressing the pause button on stress by being in the reality of the moment, and with dedication and persistence your life will become more relaxed, positive, and — dare I say it — enlightened!
Where Do I Start?
Take 20 minutes and find a quiet place to sit. Make sure you to keep your back straight and your chin forward. Have the tip of your tongue touch the roof of your mouth. Start to breathe in and out of your nose. Next, count your breathing:
Inhale for the count of 4.
Hold your breath for the count of 2.
Exhale for the count of 4.
and then hold your breath for the count of 2 again.
Simply repeat this rhythm over and over for about 20 minutes. Pay particular attention to the spaces between the breaths and really work to balance the in and the out breath so they are the same duration. This will balance your mind and calm your nervous system.
Try this and you’ll see how easy it can be!
Dr. Pedram Shojai is a world-renowned author, filmmaker, and lecturer who has spent the past 2 decades studying meditation and Qi Gong (inner energy yoga). He spent 4 years training as a Taoist monk and is an ordained Taoist Priest and Hospitaller Knight. He is also a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and creativeLIVE instructor.