I recently wrote that engaging in a routine meditation was one of the most important systems I’ve ever implemented. Over the years, I’ve preached to family and friends about the various benefits of meditation. I tend to get the same standard responses.
How do you do it?
What’s the point?
I’ve tried it, but I just can’t get into it.
Despite the rising popularity of meditation in the past few years, a lot of people still view it as some esoteric practice reserved for bald Tibetan men on mountains and crystal-wearing weirdos.
There’s also a lot of confusion about meditation. With all the variations, how can anyone ever know if they’re “doing it right?” How long should you do it? Do you have to do it every day?
How to Meditate
Although there are numerous types of meditation, the basic idea is simple.
I prefer to focus on my breath, and will be using breathing meditation across the examples in this article. Others prefer to focus on mantras or even things like candlelight. What you focus on doesn’t really matter.
With a breathing meditation, as you inhale, think, inhale. As you exhale, think, exhale. You can do this over an over again. Inhale, exhale, iInhale, exhale.
You’re already meditating. Wasn’t that simple?
If you prefer, you can mix it up a bit. You can count your breaths instead. One, Two, Three, Four, and so on, until you get to ten. Then, repeat.
You’re probably thinking, “Do you count inhales and exhales as a single breath, or the inhale as one and the exhale as two?”
Or, “What if my mind wanders and I lose my place? Do I start over or try to remember where I left off?”
Maybe even, “Am I supposed to breathe intentionally, or just let my breathing take place naturally?”
The truth is: it doesn’t matter. Why? Because the point of meditation isn’t about adhering to “the rules.”
What’s the Point of Meditation?
The point of meditation is to train the mind to be present.
As you focus, your mind will inevitably wander.
What should I have for dinner tonight?
I need to finish that project for work.
Did I remember to pay my electric bill?
A lot of beginners beat themselves up about this. “I can’t even count to ten before my mind starts wandering! This is pointless!”
Actually, that’s the whole point. Your mind naturally wanders. Even expert meditators’ minds wander.
You practice meditating when you catch your mind wandering, and bring your attention back to the breath.
I’ve logged several hundred hours’ worth of meditation over the years. I did a 20-minute session earlier today, and my mind constantly wandered.
It’s kind of chilly in here.
Ugh, this chair is so uncomfortable.
These kind of thoughts are natural–necessary–for meditation. Don’t fight them. Simply work to catch yourself in the process of thinking them, then shift your attention back to your breath.
It’s so nice out.
Maybe I should go for a walk.
I’m getting hungry.
What do I want for dinner?
I’m going to have to go to the grocery store to buy something to cook.
Wait, wasn’t I doing something?
Oh, yeah, meditating!
At first, you will probably spend the vast majority of your meditation session with a wandering mind, only to catch yourself right before your alarm tells you that you’re finished. As you practice, you will become more efficient at catching yourself. And as you get better at catching your wandering mind and returning your focus to the breath, you will begin to notice the various benefits of meditation.
The Benefits of Meditation
Even if you understand how meditation works, you may be thinking, “Why would I spend ten or twenty minutes (or longer) doing this every day? My life is already busy enough.”
Meditation Improves Your Focus
There’s an interesting quote, purportedly said by Gandhi, that goes something to the effect of, “I have so much to accomplish today that I need to meditate for two hours instead of just one.”
Wait, what? If he’s so busy, how can he afford to spend an extra hour meditating?
Think about the whole point of meditation: training the mind to be present. Every time you catch your mind wandering and return your attention to your breath, you are increasing your ability to FOCUS.
Let’s be honest: at least at face value, paying your breath is pretty boring. If you can train your mind to focus on it for long periods of time, just imagine how that spills over into your day-to-day life.
Increased focus makes it much easier to do any task for extended periods of time, whether that means reading, writing, studying, painting, cooking, working, whatever. Rather than hopelessly multitasking and daydreaming about one thing or another, you can direct your full attention to the task at hand.
Meditation Enhances Emotional Control
Researchers have determined that humans have 80,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 90% are repetitive and 80% of them are negative.
No wonder so many people are stressed out, anxious, and depressed.
Well, what if you could change that?
With a regular meditation practice, you can.
If the whole practice of meditation teaches you to be present and catch your thoughts as they wander, you’re in a much better decision to be conscious of negative, repetitive thoughts as they arise.
Just like during meditation, when you catch your mind wandering and shift your attention, you can do the same in your waking life as well.
I don’t know why X happened.
It’s so horrible that Y did that.
I can’t believe he said Z.
Normally, people spend the entire day thinking these kinds of thoughts over and over again. Worst of all, many people aren’t even aware that they’re thinking them! They’re just “in a bad mood” or “feeling anxious,” but they can’t figure out why.
After a bit of meditation practice, you can catch yourself, and think, Is this thought helping me? I’m going to shift my attention to something useful instead.
And that, friends, is when the real magic begins to happen.
Meditation is simple. Anyone can do it. Even if you can’t find an extra ten or twenty minutes to spare, you can always pause just for a second and inhale, exhale.
As you practice, your ability to focus grows. This spills over into your day-to-day life, allowing you to accomplish tasks with ease. Furthermore, it does wonders for your mood. Rather than getting mired down in repetitive negative thoughts, you can catch yourself thinking those thoughts, stop, and direct your attention to something more productive. You can literally think anything you want to think.
Although this article focused on two of the (in my opinion) primary benefits of meditation, there are tons of others.
Give it a try today. There are tons of apps out there (my favorite is Headspace), but you can simply set a timer for a few minutes, close your eyes, and inhale, exhale.
Have you ever tried meditating? Are you an expert meditator? Share your experiences in the comments.