"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new."
Let's stop fighting ourselves (and each other) shall we? And start exploring a bit more. I used to think meditating was so totally overrated and not for me (and I'm a yoga teacher). Sitting in the lotus position for 45 minutes? I mean my knees don't even bend in that direction, come on. Then one day I stopped fighting myself. Not even because I wanted to, but because one of my teachers made me. I cringed at the prospect of sitting still and being quiet because at my core I was afraid of being alone with my thoughts. They were horrible to me. They beat me up on a daily basis and now someone wanted me to be alone with them. The horror!
I grudgingly agreed because I had no choice. My thoughts ran wild for 90% of the time, but every so often things would get quiet. And then something happened. For the first time I heard a voice that wasn't the mean one. It couldn't have been my own. Wait, did it just say everything is going to be okay? Cool. I should try meditating more? Okay, got it voice from beyond. I think I'll actually heed your advice this time.
When I was finished I was calm. Calmer then I had ever been before and I stayed calm throughout the day. I wanted more. Unfortunately it took at least another couple of years before meditation became a regular and essential practice in my life. I don't suggest that route. Just get into the habit of it, now. Trust me on this one.
Fast forward: Now I meditate at least 30 minutes everyday coupled with a few breathing techniques and journaling. I've noticed a significant drop in my overall annoyance at the world and an amazing increase in my overall happiness and calmness. That mean inner voice is a thousand times quieter and my best ideas and advice come when I meditate. The days I don't meditate I can tell, big time. Like Nike says: JUST DO IT.
Learn: Give Yourself a Reason to Want to Meditate
So what actually happens in your brain when you meditate?
Here is the simplest version of what meditating does to your brain:
The amygdala decreases in brain cell volume. Your amygdala is responsible for fear, anxiety, and activating your fight or flight mode.
The links between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex (which is responsible for a whole other host of negative feelings) weakens, making you less reactive and more focused and attentive.
There is a decrease in the flow and processing of information overall, moving us from a more beta state to a more alpha state. The beta state is a state of alertness, awakeness, and activity in the brain. This is where anger, fear, and worry set in. The alpha state is where we finally begin to relax. We have an overall sense of serenity and peace.
In short, we are actually reshaping and repatterning our brains just with some simple meditation techniques.
"We can intentionally shape the direction of plasticity changes in our brain. By focusing on wholesome thoughts, for example, and directing our intentions in those ways, we can potentially influence the plasticity of our brains and shape them in ways that can be beneficial." - Richie Davidson, World- Renowned Neuroscientist
Play: Try Some of These Meditation Techniques
The Traditional Sitting Meditation: Okay I'm just going to come right out and say it. The most uncomfortable part of the traditional sitting meditation is the sitting part. This is half the battle in beginning a meditation practice. So my advice is to take some time and find a way to sit that works best for you. Either way, it definitely takes some getting used to.These videos are great to help with how to sit: Watch me or me. And especially this one!
Sitting Meditation with Focus on Breath: Once you get the sitting part down there are about a thousand ways to meditate. The resource section below can help you find some that you like. But here's an easy one (You can listen to the recorded version here): Close your eyes. Connect with your breath - begin to lengthen your exhales so that they eventually double the count of your inhales. Example: Inhale for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 8. Count your breaths until you feel comfortable with this type of breathing. Then begin to let go of counting and move to just listening to the sound of your breath. Then begin to let go of listening and move into feeling the way your breath moves through your body. As you do this pay attention to what thoughts come up. Not trying to change or make them stop. Just acknowledging them and moving on.
Be Here Now: I love this practice because its SO simple and incredibly effective. Periodically throughout the day (or when you're feeling extra agitated) stop to look at your feet or your hands. Acknowledge that you are here now in the present moment. Take a deep breath - or a few.
Slow It Down: Try taking 10 deep breaths between each activity that you do throughout your day. For Example: When you get in your car before you drive, before you head into a meeting, or before you prepare dinner. Notice what happens to your day.
Walking Meditation: Go for a walk. Pay attention to whats going on around you. If you find yourself in your thoughts, just gently bring yourself back to the present moment - to the color of the trees, the sound of whats going on around you, or the air on your skin.
Spiritual Reading: Yes! Reading is a form of meditation! In the beginning of "The Essential Ghandi" authors tell us about this type of reading and how to do it (if you love reading then the passage below is about to give you a braingasm):
"Dating back to the fourth century- it is evident that a form of reading called lectio divina (divine, or spiritual, reading) was essential to any deliberate spiritual life. This kind of reading is quite different from scanning a text for useful facts and bits of information, or advancing along an exciting plot line to a climax in the action. It is rather, a meditative approach by which the reader seeks to savor and taste the beauty and truth of every phrase and passage. This process of contemplative reading has the effect of enkindling in the reader compunction for a past behavior that has been less than beautiful and true. At the same time, it increases the desire to seek a realm where all that is lovely and unspoiled may be found. There are four steps in lectio divina: first, to read; next to meditate; then to rest in the sense of God's nearness; and ultimately to resolve to govern one's actions in the light of new understanding. This kind of reading is in itself an act of prayer."
So find a book (probably one of the self-help variety) and get to read-meditating and see what changes in your life!
Journal: Begin a journaling practice. Find a consistent time that works for you in your schedule to write everyday for a specific period of time of your choosing. See what comes out.
The most important thing for meditation is to not give up. Establish a routine and stick to it as best as possible. Just like anything new, it will get easier over time. Soon you'll be able to access deeper and deeper parts of yourself as your practices strengthens.
Discover and Adjust