We have all heard how meditation can be a useful way to calm the mind, reduce stress and gain energy, and yet the thought of trying may seem somehow daunting. The image of the yogi sitting peacefully for hours may just seem too far from our reality to consider meditation as a viable method to de-stress and centre oneself. Yet the fact of the matter is that probably every single one of us has at one time or another been in a meditative state when we are doing something that completely occupies us, whether it is painting, rock climbing, playing a musical instrument, or something else that completely captivates our attention. We are so focused on what we are doing that the rest of the world around us fades from existence, time gets away from us, and we are just enjoying the present moment. This controlled focus can be considered meditation.
Meditation is about focusing on the now. It brings about calm and peace because once we stop dwelling on our past or considering the future, there is nothing left to be anxious about. Suddenly joy can spring up as the confines of time passing drop away. Most of us have probably met people that are very present. It is as if they have roots anchoring them to the earth, and when they are with you, you have the sense that there is nowhere they would rather be, yet at the same time they stay completely true to themselves. They are very dedicated to their professions, as what they do is in line with who they are. I find these people to be very inspiring.
With practice, meditation can help us develop that ability to be grounded in the moment – to live in the now, and it can help us to learn who we really are without being confused by the expectations of others. We begin to hear our inner being and what is really important to us. Once we have found our authenticity, it becomes easier to make the decisions that are in line with who we are and what we believe in. In the long term this can do a lot to reduce stress and improve our health.
Even in the short term, meditation is useful for calming the mind and reducing stress. Just by focusing on the present moment, life stuff will fall away at least temporarily. For those of you that feel intimidated by the idea of meditation and think you are unable to focus on anything for very long, I suggest you try the One-Breath Meditation. As the name implies, your necessary commitment is only one breath long. Then after that breath, you can recommit if you so choose. The reason using the breath is so helpful is that it is ever present, and ongoing. By focusing on the breath you are instantly brought back to the now of feeling the breath enter your lungs, and the breath flowing out your nostrils. So, sit tall and comfortably on your sit bones, close your eyes gently, and observe your inhale. Note the minute pause before you feel the air coming out of your body. Were you able to concentrate on that one breath without your mind wandering? Good. You succeeded in meditating for one full breath. Now if you wish, you can add another breath and see if you can concentrate for two breaths. Ultimately, that is all there is to it. As you add breaths, you may notice your mind wandering, so without judgment, just redirect your attention back to your breath. Initially, thoughts and feelings are inevitable as you lengthen your meditation time, and that is okay. Observe those thoughts and feelings as if you were watching a movie, without analyzing or judging them, and then bring your awareness back to your breath. As you practice this over weeks, months and years, you will be able to focus exclusively on the breath for longer periods of time, and the many thoughts that flit through your mind will slow as you give them no attention. You simply are. Your meditation time will become the time to connect to your true self.
The One-Breath Meditation can also be useful if you find yourself suddenly stressing about something. Someone just cut you off in traffic and you can feel your blood pressure rising. So calm yourself down by focusing on your breath instead of the other driver for a cycle or two, and notice how much better you feel. This meditation technique can be your instant calm that you can pull out of your back pocket when you need it.
Meditation Corner by Yvonne Jaques
Chek, Paul; Oliver, Clifford, Remsen, Julie; Optimum Health and Fitness Through Practical Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2002.