I’m often asked by friends and family to teach them how to meditate. “You probably already meditate,” I tell them. “Jogging, praying the Rosary, silent communion with Nature – these are all forms of meditation that people do all the time.”
That said, if you’re interested in learning more about traditional meditation, like the kind discussed this Harvard Business Review article or in Dan Harris’s bestseller 10% Happier, then keep reading. This short guide will help you understand everything you need to know.
Before we dive in, let’s start with some scientific facts about the health benefits of meditation:
- Memory and Learning: Harvard Medical School compared the brains of people who practiced mindful meditation for at least 30 minutes each day with those who did not. After only eight weeks, those who had meditated measured for increased grey matter in the part of the brain that plays a huge role in memory and learning.
- Alzheimer’s: According to a study done by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Alzheimer’s patients who practiced meditation showed a slower progression after eight weeks than patients who did not participate.
- Thoughts and Impulse Control: The University of Wisconsin has found that people who meditate regularly exhibit high levels of gamma wave activity. Such activity allows these frequent meditators better control of their thoughts and impulses.
- Decision Making: According to a study done by UCLA, people who routinely meditate for an extended amount of time have larger amounts of gyrification, that is folding of the brain’s cortex, than the average brain. Increased gyrification enhances neural processing, or decision making.
- Hearth Health: Patients with coronary heart disease were given the option of taking a class on either transcendental meditation or health through improved diet and exercise. After five years, it was found that those who had chosen to pursue meditation had reduced their overall risk of stroke, heart attack, and death by an amazing 48%.
- Pain Management: A study at the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Iowa found that practitioners of transcendental meditation had a 40 to 50 percent drop in pain response in the thalamus and prefrontal cortex.
- Reduced Stress: In a study at the University of Calgary, cancer patients enrolled in an 8-week meditation and gentle yoga program. Six- and 12-month follow-ups showed significant decreases in stress symptoms, including drops in systolic blood pressure and heart rate.
- Insulin Levels: In a study led by Paul-Labrador at Cedars-Sinai, researchers found that meditation could stabilize insulin levels and heart rate.
- Cholesterol: Other studies have found meditation to be effective in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, fighting cirrhosis, and fending off the adverse effects of autoimmune disease.
Perhaps the best way to describe how to meditate is to tell you about my experience several years ago.
I had just read an article in my local newspaper about adult Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. I suspected that I had suffered from ADHD all of my life and decided to consult a doctor about getting a prescription for Ritalin. “You don’t want to go on Ritalin,” he said. “You’d be on Ritalin the rest of your life. Have you ever tried meditation?”
My answer was yes. I had meditated on and off throughout my life, having learned Transcendental Meditation when I was a child in the 1970s. (My parents weren’t hippies but, given their open-mindedness to things like meditation, they may as well have been.) The doctor suggested that I increase my frequency from once a day to twice a day.
So, I took his advice and found that the effects were subtle, but profound — I almost completely stopped getting colds, my eyesight improved, my ADHD was more manageable and, most importantly, I found that my stress level dropped to nearly zero.
I describe meditation to friends as the same kind of feeling I get right after a church service – I’m at peace, I have perspective, I’m stress-free.
When I meditate, these feelings stay with me all day long. And because I have this deep, inner sense of peace, those around me sense it and, I believe, interact with me in a more peaceful, calm manner.
So how does meditation work? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of medical studies on mediation and its effect on humans. I can’t go into all the findings right here, but I will tell you that one of the key states in meditation is called the Alpha state.
The Alpha state is the scientific term for what people sense when they meditate. If you were to ask most people who meditate what they feel, they might say, “A sense of connectedness to all living things” or “Deep perspective and peace” or even “A feeling of oneness with God.”
The purpose of this “How To…” guide is to help you achieve that feeling of connectedness that so many people who meditate feel. Ideally, that feeling permeates your life and influences those around you.
This all leads to the most important question, which is “How do I meditate?” As mentioned previously, the act of meditation is deceptively simple. They key is to stick with it.
I’m going to encourage you to try mediation for two weeks. If, after two weeks, you’ve decided that meditation is not your cup of tea, no problem – it may not be for you. But to get started, you should try to commit to two weeks of twice daily meditation.
So, here are several easy steps to get you on your way:
- Find a comfortable chair to sit in. (Don’t meditate lying down because you’ll fall asleep.) If you’d like to try sitting in the traditional cross-legged position on the floor, just be sure to sit on a couple of pillows while keeping your crossed legs on the floor. Putting the pillows under your bottom and keeping your legs on the floor helps straighten your back and makes sitting upright simple and easy.
- Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. When breathe in for 2 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, and breathe out for 4 seconds, it stimulates the Vagus nerve which runs from your brain to your abdomen. Do this 2-3-4 exercise three times. This technique has been scientifically proven to reduces stress in and of itself, so it’s a good way to start your meditation.
- After your “2-3-4 breathing” exercise, start breathing regularly. Once you’ve done the 2-3-4 breaths three times, start counting your regular, normal breaths. In and out is one breath. When you reach 10 breaths, start over again at one. (It’s that simple. Really.)
- With eyes closed, focus attention on the spot between your eyes on the lower part of your forehead. As you breathe in, watch the air come in through your nostrils and exit through your nostrils. This will help you focus attention on the spot between your eyes on the lower part of your forehead. (If you breathe through your mouth, that’s fine. Just focus attention on the spot on your forehead.)
- When your mind wanders (and it will), go back to counting your breaths again. Each time your mind wanders, start counting over again at one.
- Start meditating for 15 minutes twice a day. Instead of saying “I’m going to meditate twice a week for two weeks,” say, “I’m going to meditate twice tomorrow.” By breaking it into small chunks like that, it’s easier to stay on track.
- By the second or third week, your mind, body and soul will kick into the Alpha state. It will be subtle at first, so don’t expect magic, but over time, you’ll begin to recognize the deep, abiding sense of connectedness you’ll feel in the alpha state.
- End with affirmations. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with meditation and have been doing it for a while, some people introduce thoughts or affirmations to their meditation.
Towards the end of my meditations, I introduce the following thoughts into my mind:
- I am Peace
- I am Love
- I am Humility
- I am Clarity
That’s all there is to it. As mentioned, it’s really quite simple. If you can commit to two weeks, you’ll probably become familiar with the Alpha state. Once that happens, you’re off to the races.
About the Author: Jamie Turner is an internationally recognized author, professor, consultant, and speaker who has helped employees at The Coca-Cola Company, Holiday Inn, Microsoft, Verizon and others do a better job leading, managing, and mentoring others. You may have seen Jamie in Inc., Entrepreneur, Business Insider, or Forbes. He’s also a regular guest on CNN and HLN, where he delivers segments on marketing, persuasion, and leadership. Jamie is the co-author of several essential business books and his YouTube channel was designated one of the “Top 10 Business YouTube Channels” in the nation by Wishpond.com.
Photo by William Farlow https://unsplash.com/photos/IevaZPwq0mw