Learning to meditate feels a lot like learning to run. In the beginning, you focus on the unpleasantness of it, the pain, the distracting thoughts—until you get in the flow. Then you want to stay in that place forever. I recently told a friend, that the best thing I've ever done for my personal growth is nothing. I had just spent nine days in silent meditation and came out of the experience in a light-minded, blissful state of pure joy. I consider myself a neophyte meditator with about five years of practice having started as a way to manage my stress, anxiety and insomnia. When I moved into more advanced forms of meditation, I found an inner peace that I had been seeking, an awareness of my intuition, self-love, contentment and a deep source of inspiration. Every sitting is unique. It's an ongoing practice and I notice a difference in my energy and well-being when I'm not meditating regularly.
When I talk to people about meditation, I often hear:
"I can't meditate". When I probe a bit further, I learn that many believe they can't meditate because they can't control their thoughts. The thing is, no one can. Trying to stop your thoughts is like trying to stop your heart from beating. Stopping all thoughts is not the goal of meditation. Starting off with not having a goal other than perhaps a set time when meditating is a good place to start.
"I don't have time to meditate". There is an old Zen saying, "You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour." Starting with 10 minutes a day for two weeks is a good place to start.
"I don't know how to meditate" I didn't know how to meditate either so I took a teacher training and this is what I've learned and how I am practicing now.
There have been thousands of research studies on the power of meditation. According to Deepak Chopra, a regular meditation practice produces tangible benefits for mental and physical health:
Reduces stress and burnout
Enhances your concentration, memory, and ability to learn
Helps you create more harmonious, loving relationships
Decreases depression, anxiety, and insomnia
Brings a sense of calm and inner peace into your daily life
Decreases blood pressure and hypertension, lowers cholesterol levels and reduces production of “stress hormones,” including cortisol and adrenaline
Creates more efficient oxygen use by the body
Increases production of the anti-aging hormone DHEA
Improves immune function
Decreases anxiety, depression, and insomnia
Studies are also proving that meditation rewires the brain and builds neuroplasticity. If there was a pill on the market that offered all of these benefits, it would be a bestseller. Meditation is free and anyone can do it, anywhere, anytime. If I can tame my monkey mind, so can you. Here are more details about the many healing benefits of regular meditation: Read more about the benefits
Meditation is an ancient practice. The earliest record is found in the Vedas in 1500 BCE and describes meditation as an integral part of Hindu society and the path to enrichment. There are many types of meditation. These are the forms I have enjoyed practicing:
Guided meditation (breathing, present moment)
Manifestation (law of attraction), mantras & intention setting
Walking meditation & forest meditation
T.W.I.M. - Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation
Beginners: What I suggest for beginners is guided meditation. I love my teacher Kelly Smith's Mindful in Minutes podcast because she offers short meditations with an infinite library of topics for every occasion. Think of it as a quick fix. I used to listen to her meditations on the streetcar on my way to the office when I could feel the anxiety arising in my chest.
Begin by closing your eyes and breathing deeply. Recognize that you will have thoughts and distractions coming in. Just notice them and let them go. My teacher Kelly describes your mind as an irrational, cranky toddler who does not like to be told what to do. When these distractions arise, notice them and let them go. Do not engage in a conversation with your mind or go down a rabbit hole. Simply notice the thought and let it go. Quietly and firmly end the conversation with your mind. This is hard work. This is the "practice" of a meditation practice. It is noticing the thoughts and not engaging with the thoughts. And believe me when I say this....It. Does. Get. Easier! "Practice makes progress", as MC Yogi says (Yes, a song about meditation! link here to listen).
I also often recommend Yoga Nidra for those who need deep rest. This form of guided meditation is known as "yogic sleep" or "effortless relaxation". As an insomniac, this practice was a lifesaver as an hour of yoga nidra is like three hours of sleep. Think of it as yoga for the inside. You lie in a comfortable position (on a mat or in your bed) and are walked through a sequence of visualizations that bring you into that state between being awake and being asleep where our body finds its natural state of equilibrium -- the breath balances and becomes quiet, unconscious and conscious aspects of the mind reveal themselves and fall into an innate state of deep, blissful awareness. In this state, we can be healed, restored and awakened to our deepest, all-knowing, all-welcoming self. If you need more evidence on its effectiveness, you can find many research studies here.
You can find local yoga classes in your community. I offer customized sessions for your individual needs. You can schedule a time here to discuss if interested in exploring. There are many yoga nidra videos and podcasts available. A true yoga nidra session will be at least 45 minutes preferably an hour in length.
Here are two examples that I recommend but you can find many others on YouTube, Spotify and Apple podcast.
Yogi Bryan Deep Sleep: 35 minutes
Kelly introduced me to T.W.I.M. meditation (Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation) in the teacher training and it is my go to style of meditation. The Venerable Bhante Vilamaramsi created this form of meditation also known as Metta or Loving Kindness meditation. As a Buddhist monk who practiced for 14 years in Thailand and Malaysia, he found he was not satisfied with the style of meditation he was being taught. After studying Buddha's earliest teachings in the suttas, he developed the 6 Rs technique for meditation practice:
Recognize-notice the thought of distraction
Release-let it go, let it pass through you
Relax-relax the mind
Re-smile-always have a little smile on your lips like those pictures of Buddha
Return-go back to your focus of meditation
You can find many guided meditations on apps like Insight Timer or any podcast app you prefer. I've enjoyed many of Debra King's meditations to raise my vibration and be guided into other dimensions, higher chakras and to meet your spiritual angels and guides. What might be a good fit for you is a personal choice, and I'm happy to make suggestions to get you started or help deepen your practice.
In advanced-level meditation, you are ready to meditate on your own without music or guided visualization. You may want to attend a vipassana retreat at this stage to deepen your practice. I participated in a 9-day zoom retreat January 2022 with the Dhamma Sukha Meditation Centre staying at a friend's cabin in silent isolation. The experience was transformational and I am forever grateful for Bhante Vimalaramsi my Kalyana-mittata (spiritual friend) and David Johnson for their guidance. In those nine days, I became intimately familiar with my own mind, noticing the thoughts that were hindrances, releasing those distractions, filling myself up with joy and radiating loving kindness while not taking myself too seriously. The key is relaxing--observing but not trying to control the thoughts. We cause our own suffering with our thoughts. But the good news is we can alleviate our own suffering too.
A big insight for me was noticing how much time I wasted with the planning mind. My thoughts were a never ending to do list. Telling myself that I don’t need to worry about these things right now is a good habit…”my future self can handle it…let it go in this moment”. I had many unexplainable experiences including downloading an entire book--12 chapters, the title of every chapter and the title of the book on day five. I am currently writing this book and the last chapter is about this retreat experience with the title "You are your own teacher". I look forward to sharing it with you.
When I returned home, my family noticed I had changed. I smile more and every time I see Buddha’s little smile, I am reminded not to take myself too seriously. My outlook and mindset skews more positive than negative and when I have a judgemental thought, I think to myself—unwholesome thought! I catch myself, laugh about it and smile. I have profound loving moments with all living beings which is such a beautiful thing. For example, I was out for a walk and saw two very old Asian men walking toward me. They were deep in a conversation speaking mandarin. Normally people in the city just look away, barely noticing each other. But I made eye contact as we approached each other, smiled and sincerely said “good morning”. One of the gentlemen was so surprised, his eyes and entire being lit up with joy and he said “good morning” with his hands in namaste. He laughed and radiated pure happiness. This seems like such a small thing. But to me this moment felt huge. Like there is hope for the world in such a simple act of noticing and acknowledging each other. With a smile. It was so profound to me I cried tears of joy and came home feeling buoyant from the experience. This is it! It is so so simple but this is how we change the world.
My meditation chair during the 9-day silent zoom meditation retreat.