The other day, I was conversing with a friend, telling her about how I’ve been having a difficult time sleeping as of late. I’ll maybe sleep four hours a night -- and this is coming from someone who typically requires a solid eight. The stressors of life have been, unfortunately, taking their toll.
“Have you tried meditating?” she asked.
In response, I shook my head “no.” I mean, really. How could my coffee-chugging, gum-snapping, neurotic-driven self quite possibly clear my thoughts for 30 seconds, let alone the length of a meditation session?
Instructor and Program Manager Jennifer Stevenson of the Art of Living Foundation explains that there are two types of stress: physical, when your body is overworked, and mental, which stems from the array of negative emotions experienced on a daily basis.
“We get angry about the past and anxious about the future,” she said. “Meditation gives you a tool to bring your mind to the present moment and break the cycle of negative emotions.”
Further, she details, meditation is stress-reducing because it focuses on the concept of “living in the moment.”
“Many times, we come across a problematic situation, and we easily get caught up in anger, regret or blame. These are negative emotions linked with the past. Or we get caught up in fear, anxiety and worry. These are emotions linked with the future,” said Stevenson. “And when the mind is caught up in the future or past, it doesn’t help us handle the challenges of the present.”
Michael Fischman, co-founder and U.S. President of the Foundation, encourages that those interested in meditation seek out the expertise of a teacher.
“Just trying to figure it out on your own makes it complicated,” he said. “There’s a law to mind and that is -- what you resist will persist. The more you resist thoughts, the more they will persist. Meditation is a practical way to recharge and clear the mind.”
During the process, Stevenson advises first-timers like me to concentrate on regulated breathing patterns, which is linked to one’s mindset and emotions. You know how your spouse tells you to “take deep breaths” when upset? The technique works for a reason -- you’re able to bring your mind to the present, placing yourself in mental control of a situation and thereby helping to wrangle those bursts of negativity.
If you find that you need to recite a particular mantra, Stevenson suggests the following: “I want nothing. I do nothing. I am nothing.”
With this advice in mind, I took a shot in meditating for my first time last night. I lied down on my bed, even stuck ear plugs in to muffle any outside noises, and focused on the sound of the rise and falls of my breathing.
How did it go?
Admittedly, I’m going to need a lot of practice. I say this, primarily, because I… fell asleep.
Despite my failed attempt, one should ideally meditate every day. Consider picking a set time, like in the morning before work to set the tone of relaxation for the day.
(Perhaps tomorrow I’ll try again, but in the morning when I wake up.)
“What I have found as the biggest deterrent to people not being able to meditate is that they don’t have enough time. However, when they start to meditate, they find they have more time, because they are able to focus and get more done,” said Fischman.
Additionally, meditation can occur anywhere -- in the office, during the bus ride home or even during a hot shower after a long workday.
“You don’t need to be tucked away in the Himalayas on a yoga mat to meditate. You can meditate in almost all places. I’ve meditated on planes, park benches and in office conference rooms, to name a few. The best place is a quiet space where you can sit comfortably without any distractions,” said Stevenson.
Ultimately, being at peace with oneself translates to other areas of life, promoting generally happier relationships. For that reason, I plan to keep practicing the art, no matter the frenetic activity of the day.
“We are not taught effective tools, neither at home nor at school, on how to deal with stress. Meditation is a tool that we have innate within us to reduce stress. It brings a sense of peace within,” stated Stevenson. “And when you feel peaceful, you naturally want to share that.”