The Challenges of Meditation and Stillness
By now we all know how important it is to meditate, to breathe, to incorporate some stillness into our everyday lives. We’ve read about it, we hear about it, it was on the cover of TIME magazine, and for heaven’s sake Hilary Clinton even recommended Alternate Nostril Breathing (which she reportedly used to stay calm during the 2016 election). The benefits of all three things – meditation, breath work, and being still – bring you peace, joy and abundance, and are scientifically proven to lower your blood pressure – ie: slow your heart down. So why aren’t we doing them every day?
The truth is, it’s challenging to find 15-20 minutes to sit down every day to do nothing. It goes against our American Lifestyle, and we are genuinely busier than ever before with jobs, kids, schedules and so on and, let’s face it: we never turn it off. We are tethered electronically to our myriad of devices, and we’ve gotten so used to having them at our finger tips that it’s difficult to separate ourselves. For me, the reason was simply that I found it extremely difficult to adhere to a plan that wasn’t producing either work or revenue in my career. It’s different for everyone – yet the result is the same: we keep putting off our practice.
Yet, the importance of reclaiming our time, our peace and indeed our very health cannot be overstated. So, let’s come at it from a simpler perspective. Don’t try to sit for 30 or even 20 minutes every day. Start with five minutes.
Here is what happened to me in the past: I would want to meditate, I would say I was going to meditate, I would even sit down to meditate, perhaps on my cushion or blanket, and I would simply stare off into space or start twitching. This was the hardest thing for me to conquer. Emptying the mind.
So, let’s refer back to yoga/exercise for a moment. All of those postures in yoga were originally developed thousands of years ago to still the body so the practitioner could then still the mind – stillness of the mind brings peace to the body. So, before sitting down to meditate, it works well if you’ve either practiced some form of movement like yoga, or exercised, or walked on a treadmill or in some way worked the physical body. THEN, sit down and begin.
Sit or lie comfortably. You may even want to sit on the edge of a folded blanket or quilt. You may eventually want to invest in a meditation chair.
Close your eyes.
Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
To begin, focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation.
Use either a simple counting breathing technique (breathe in to the count of four, breathe out to the count of five), or use a simple inhale/exhale. (I recommend starting with one of these methods. For many of us, keeping the mind occupied with a simple set of counting instructions works wonders to preoccupy the mind and take the rest of the thoughts away.)
Set a timer. (There are lots of apps on your cell phone that can assist with this, like Calm or Insight Timer.) When errant thoughts drift through the brain, that’s ok, just recognize that it’s not part of your counting technique and let it drift away.
There are so many variations of this ancient breathing practice, I’m simply including a very easy-to-follow method to get started. Once you’ve mastered this, there is a plethora of information and instruction available online.
Stick to this for a few days. Notice how you feel, notice any differences in your physical/mental/emotional state. After a few days when you’re beginning to feel comfortable, gradually begin to increase the time. Add a few minutes and stick to that for a few days. Notice how you feel before adding more time. Avoid the trap of jumping immediately to 20 or 30 minutes. Master the small increments of time in order to harness the larger chunks.