Dear Michael:

Recently a friend told me that I should meditate.

I don’t know what meditation is.

I’m not into religion or spirituality or that stuff.

I’m an anxious person who worries a lot, and my friend thought that meditation might calm me down.  What do you think?

Stressed out in San Diego

Dear Stressed out:

 Good for your friend for suggesting meditation. Meditation has been scientifically proven to have health benefits like lowering stress levels and decreasing feelings of anxiety and panic.  Unlike most things we enjoy, there are no negative side effects of meditating…and there are many different ways to do it.

Some types of meditation focus on repeating a word or phrase to yourself as a way to focus your attention. Other types encourage you to focus on a candle flame, or a point in space, or a place on the wall, to center yourself. Most of us – myself included – have a hard time just sitting still for a few minutes and need some help chilling out: by having a focus, it’s easier to do.

Many people have great aspirations about starting to meditate, and set goals of 20 or 30 or even 45 minutes twice a day. Good luck! Having unrealistic expectations like this may doom you to fail; it’s just too much for most of us. Instead of starting with 20 minutes or more, I recommend to my clients that they start with one minute a day and see how that goes. You can always go up to two minutes tomorrow and three the next day. It’s more important to start meditating and to keep doing it than to do it for any specific length of time.

Don’t set yourself up to fail by expecting long meditations from the start. Instead, set yourself up to succeed by starting small.

Many people don’t really have a clue what meditation is. A wise friend once told me, “Meditation is when you sit and listen, and don’t talk. You just listen and see what you get.”  I like that definition.

You can find a teacher or you can check it out in books or YouTube videos. Meditation doesn’t need to have a religious or spiritual component, it can just be you sitting there listening to your breathing and noticing the thoughts that run through your head.  Walking meditation is another way to meditate. Personally, I prefer walking meditation because I get very antsy when I sit for very long: I can focus on my walking instead of the pain I sometimes experience in my knees or hips when I sit.

After consulting with several meditation teachers, one offered me two simple meditations that the Dalai Lama said were a good way to start:

  1. Spend 1-5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering that we all want the same things (to be happy and to be loved) and we are all connected to one another.
  2. Spend 1-5 minutes at the end of each day breathing in and out.  When you breathe in, focus on cherishing yourself, and, when you breathe out, focus on cherishing others.  If you think about people you have difficulty cherishing, extend your cherishing to them anyway.

I meditate myself, but I’m sure not an authority on it. If you’re interested in finding out more about meditation, Google it and you’ll find a wealth of resources. Many places have local meditation groups where you can meditate with others, in person or on-line. “Dharma Bums” in San Diego is a place I’ve gone to meditate (mostly on-line) where I felt welcomed and at home (

Follow your intuition and, if meditation beckons to you, check it out. The worst that can happen is you have a few more minutes of peace, serenity and relaxation than you usually do!