Various forms of meditation have been practiced in countless cultures around the world, for thousands of years. Until rather recently, many in the West viewed meditation as a religious, even ritualistic practice limited to people engaged in Eastern philosophy or to eccentric mystics.
At present however, according to a recent article in Time magazine, over 10 million people in the U.S. meditate daily. Google, Deutsche Bank, IPMG, AOL Time Warner and Apple all encourage their employees to meditate. By mere virtue of the fact you are reading this article, you are likely either practicing meditation in some form, or know of someone who does.
Meditation assumes many forms. It is practiced in organized groups or individually. Three of the most widely known practices are mindfulness meditation, mantra and transcendental meditation. For many meditation practitioners, the goal is to connect spiritually with a higher power. However, practically speaking, all meditation entails simply sitting still and relaxing. Chances are, you are already meditating. When you are out walking, running, viewing a sunrise or sunset, reading a book or simply “catching your breath”, you are actually meditating. All the various forms of techniques and visualization exist either because people have difficulty bringing themselves to this basic state of awareness and relaxation, or they have chosen to take their meditation to a more challenging and expanded level.
Regardless of what type of meditation we practice, without it, our minds are constantly pacing, our bodies are out of balance and the troubles of the day, the past and the future weigh heavily upon us. When we are unable to let go, sometimes the only way to stop the chaos in our mind is to “stuff it” – deny it. Inevitably, this will manifest in other areas of our lives, until we find ourselves overwhelmed in very rough waters, gasping for air. A formal meditation practice can be powerful. Whether you choose a formal meditation practice, or you simply sit down and empty yourself, you will experience a wonderful silence and a deep, satisfying sense of peace.
In working with leaders in business, I have found that when they have chosen not to meditate, it is often for one of three reasons.
- Many have tried meditation and found it simply did not work for them for various reasons including:
- It was presented to them as “very simple, natural and easy”, yet that was not their experience. (“It wasn’t like that for me; I guess it isn’t for me.”)
- The particular meditation technique that they were introduced to, may not have been the best fit for them personally or for the type of challenges they were seeking to resolve.
- Many perceived meditation to be “so esoteric or complicated”; they simply weren’t willing to try it. (“My life is complicated enough as it is, thanks, I’ll pass.”)
- In their busy lives, they did not see the possibility of time for it.
All three are valid reasons. However, when the process, intent and power of meditation is understood, they see that it is a simple (but not easy) practice that will create clarity, balance and abundant energy in their daily lives. The foundation of a successful practice is commitment and discipline, while the key is choosing a technique that is best suited for you and the challenges you are facing in the present moment. The practice itself requires less than 5 minutes a day.
My intention behind this series is not to convince you to meditate. The practice of meditation is not for everyone and it may not be right for you. Instead, I want you to understand that there are no rules in meditation, no right or wrong way and no perfect form. MY objective is to introduce you to meditation, share two basic, pragmatic types of conscious meditation that have proven to be very beneficial to the practitioners, and help make you aware of some of the tools and gifts that a practice of meditation can bring to your life
Breathing is not only an essential element of meditation; it can be a meditation in and of itself.
Slow, conscious breathing stills the mind and relaxes the body. The key to conscious breathing and to meditation, is to enter without any expectations. This time and space is not intended for playing problems or challenges over and over in our mind, but rather for learning how to create space and stillness within. While it is not our intent to solve a particular problem, in the mind’s stillness, many experience great insight. Once we learn to create space and stillness within, meditation truly becomes our own practice.
Before we begin, remember: meditation is a practice. Just like learning to play a musical instrument, a new sport or a foreign language, we must practice. The foundation of learning a practice is commitment, discipline and a willingness to challenge ourselves to grow. You must also be willing to experience failure, disappointment and frustration, just as you would in learning to play chess. Be patient with yourself: Practice, not Perfection.
A simple practice…
Find a quiet space in your home or simply close the door to your office.
- Start by sitting comfortably on the front edge of a chair, with your feet flat on the earth. Hold your spine straight (not stiff or rigid), in a posture that reflects your intent of being open, aware and awake.
- Relax the muscles in your face, then slowly move down torelax your shoulders, arms and hands. Slowly close your eyes. Take a moment to explore the sensations you are feeling at this moment. Experience them, but do not analyze or judge them. Simply accept them.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose, paying close attention to your breath, while thinking “in”. Take the breath down to your center-‐ just below your belly button and pause briefly.
- Now breathe out, through your mouth very, very slowly (approximately 4 times slower than the “in” breath) and think or say, “out”, while feeling your breath move across your lips.
- Repeat this cycle a few more times, saying “in”…“out”. Experience the presence of each breath as it enters and leaves your body. Feel the energy of life.
- Periodically check in with the muscles in your face, neck, shoulders and hands, to assure they are relaxed. Take a moment and observe the sensations in your body as they arise and dissolve with each breath.
- When you are ready to finish, simply take in a quick, deep belly breath, let it go and smile.
Applying the Practice of “Breathing Meditation” in Your Everyday Life
When you are experiencing a situation or an event and become aware that you are feeling stress, fear, anger or self-‐doubt, you are simply a deep breath away from becoming present. You are not in the past, you are not in the future, you are here, now. With that breath and with those that follow, you are consciously creating space between you and the situation. In that space you are building stillness and clarity. You will see your choices and find yourself responding to others rather than simply reacting to others. With the practice of meditation, you will find serenity and peace within, even when surrounded by chaos.
“A central concept for meditation is breath. Without breath, there is no life. The complexity of this idea is great indeed. You breathe; that brings you oxygen. You breathe; that sustains you. You breathe; that regulates your heartbeat, feeds your brain, makes your blood red. Deeper still: You breathe, and the entire energy field of your body is sustained and set into motion. When that field, so intimately tied to breathing, is integrated with your mind, you have the power of spirituality. Breath. Don’t crassly think of it as mere gas.
Just as we breathe, so too does the universe breathe. In fact, we can think of the entire medium of life as breath. When the world breathes, all things are sustained. Weather moves, as it should. Plants grow, as they should. Animals are made strong. The very forces of geology are set into motion. And together, a mighty field of energy is generated, a much larger version of what happens in your own body. Connected to that field is a universal mind.
Do you want to know how spirituality works? Breathe.”