As much as I loathe to admit it, I’m not a fan of meditation. It comes unnaturally to me, despite my 36 years of martial arts study and interest in self-improvement, health-hacking, and general enlightenment.
I realize this speaks poorly of me as a person, kind of like my opinions on aikido, jazz music, pumpkin pie, and “A Prairie Home Companion.” That I’m not fond of them doesn’t mean they’re bad, it means I’m not as good as I could be.
Worse yet, when I do regularly meditate, I find my life is better. Stress is lower, my health improves. I can focus more on my work, and am less likely to say things I regret to my friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Problems seem smaller. I seem bigger.
And I’m not alone. Over the past few decades, a host of research has supported the conclusion that meditation is good for us, and that we should all meditate a few minutes each day.
-Meditation has been found again, and again (and again) to reduce stress, with all the physical, social, and emotional benefits that it provides.
-Multiple studies have found meditation can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
-In 2003, researchers learned that regular meditation helped to boost immune function.
– Meditation can help control pain, according to several studies, including studies in 2016 and 2017.
That’s just the tip of that particular iceberg. Bottom line: meditation is good for me, and for you, no matter how much we may or may not want to do it. Kind of like eating a vegetarian meal once or twice a week.
So, from one resistant but learning meditator to others, here’s what I’ve learned about meditation and how to make it part of improving your life.
You Don’t Have to Just Sit Around
Non-practitioners sometimes imagine meditation to be boring—and perhaps if not done a certain way, it can be. But there’s more than one kind of meditation available, so you can easily find one that suits you. Here are just a few alternatives:
– Walking meditation calms your mind when you focus on your strides rather than, say, focusing on your breath. Walking in a labyrinth is a centuries-old practice of contemplation common among many spiritual faiths, including Catholicism.
-Kata is the formal practice of martial arts, including tai chi. The motions of tai chi are so complex it becomes impossible to think of other things, allowing for profound meditative focus. Yoga offers similar benefits.
-Listening mindfully to music, especially music without lyrics, can produce the impacts of meditation by allowing you to be transported by the sounds, away from stray and extraneous thoughts.
– Daily task meditation is where you take the process of a task—like doing dishes, cooking a meal, or getting dressed—and focus on it the way a kung fu master might focus on forms.
Those are just a few examples, there are countless others from zazen to Falun Gong, Kundalini, breathing meditation and so on.
The point is there’s a kind of meditation that works well with your needs, tastes, and general outlook. It’s just a matter of finding the right match.
Your Brain Might Mess With You
Meditating is supposed to be a quieting of the mind, where you think about nothing in particular (or nothing other than the actions of the meditation). Then you can allow that background noise to filter out and let you rest. That’s why exercise can be meditative: at a certain point, you’re only able to think about the exercise.
But along the way, throughout each session of meditation, your thoughts are going to keep zooming in and trying to distract you. This happens all the time in the beginning, but here’s a secret: It happens all the time to the masters, too.
The trick with meditation isn’t to totally eliminate those stray thoughts. It’s to let them pass through your mind without you grabbing hold of them.
In the first stages of learning, you’ll fail a lot of the time. You’ll be meditating for a while and suddenly realize you stopped somewhere along the way to think about your to-do list and what you’re making for dinner that night.
Eventually, that will happen less and less, and you’ll start distracting yourself by getting frustrated that the thoughts intrude at all. You will ultimately be able to let them pass through and over you without taking root, so you can continue your meditation for as long as you wish.
Speaking of “as long as you wish….”