Only about 9% of American adults meditate regularly, even though it’s been proven in a variety of studies to reduce stress…lower blood pressure…ease depression…relieve chronic pain…and boost immunity, to name just a few of its many health benefits. So why don’t more people meditate?
Despite all its virtues, meditation can be seemingly impossible for many people to do. Fortunately, there are simple solutions for virtually all of the reasons that people cite for not being able to meditate.
DO IT YOUR WAY
The most familiar form of meditation involves sitting or lying down for about 30 minutes and focusing on your breathing—how it feels as air enters and leaves your nose or as your chest or abdomen rises and falls. For most people, it takes about 30 minutes to calm their stress-based thinking—I forgot to call so-and-so, etc.—and reach a deeper level of concentration.
It’s simple but not easy. It is common to become frustrated with your mind’s constant chatter, or you may feel so restless, bored or distracted that you give up.
My solutions for the most common reasons that people don’t try meditation—or give it up…
Problem: Feeling too restless to meditate. Some people find it impossible to sit still for an extended period of time.
Solution: Try walking meditation. Find a quiet, unobstructed, flat area where you can take at least 20 steps before turning around. As you walk slowly, let your attention rest on your feet and legs. Be aware of the sensations in each foot as it lifts off the ground, moves through the air, then settles down.
Feel the contact of the ground in your toes and the soles of your feet. Notice how the muscles of each leg tighten and then relax as you walk. Observe the sensations in the foot (and the leg) that is not bearing weight.
Note: Walking meditation is also ideal for people who tend to fall asleep while meditating in a chair or lying down.
Problem: Getting distracted by noise. It’s not always easy to find a quiet place to meditate, and some people are very sensitive to noise.
Solution: Make sound the object of your meditation. The distinction between sound and noise is important. “Sound” is a purely physical phenomenon, while “noise” is sound plus a negative judgment. The idea is simply to notice sounds as they arise—beep, rumble, clang, hiss—without speculating about where they come from.
When you become aware that you’re reacting to a sound, observe the thoughts you have about the sound. What does the anger or irritation feel like? Then go back to just hearing it.
Problem: The “mind chatter” won’t stop. You may hope that meditation will clear your mind of thoughts, but invariably the thoughts keep on coming—a conversation you had last week…what you want to eat for dinner. Your mind just won’t shut down.
Solution: Don’t fight the thoughts. Just observe them as they pass through your mind.
It’s like sitting on the bank of a river and watching the water float by, noticing leaves, twigs, fish, flashes of sunlight and shadow—without being swept up by the current.
If the thoughts persist, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of breathing…or the feeling of your feet on the floor. When more thoughts arise, repeat the process.
Problem: There’s no time to meditate. When your schedule is busy, it may not be possible to devote a half hour (or even 20 minutes) to meditation every day.
Solution: Start with 10 minutes. For many people, it’s easier to find three 10-minute periods in the course of the day than to arrange a time for a lengthier break. If 10 minutes seem too long, you can even start with five.
How can five or 10 minutes of meditation be enough to benefit you? The reason is that the dailiness of meditation—making it a regular part of your routine—is more important than the amount of time you meditate. And many people find that after several weeks of five-minute meditation periods, it seems natural—and possible—to meditate longer.
MIX AND MATCH
Do you crave variety? If so, you don’t have to meditate the same way every time. Choose whichever way fits your current state of mind. Even a household task like washing dishes can be an occasion to meditate—just focus on your body’s movements and sensations as you carry out the task. That, too, is meditation.