WP_20141112_059Dear Michael:

Recently a friend told me that I should meditate.  I really don’t know what meditation is.  I am not into religion or spirituality or that stuff, is that what meditation is about?  I am a really hyper, anxious person who worries a lot, and my friend thought that meditation might calm me down.  What do you think?

Stressed out in Bankers Hill


Dear Stressed out:

Good for your friend for suggesting meditation. To me, meditation is sitting quietly, listening to your internal dialogue with yourself and tuning out the outside world.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to have health benefits like lowering stress levels, improving general all-around health, and decreasing feelings of anxiety and panic.  Unlike most things we enjoy, it’s hard to imagine any negative aspects of meditating…and there are many different ways to do it. Meditation is  – for many of us – a part of our daily routine (right after brushing our teeth and before our morning shower, right?)

Some types of meditation focus on repeating a word or phrase to yourself as a way to focus your attention inward.  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 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 quiet ourselves down.

Most of us need something like meditation (or yoga or prayer) to quiet down and pay attention to what we are thinking and feeling.  Living in a society that encourages us to DO something (or buy something or drink something or eat something) when we feel anxious or worried, it’s hard just to BE ourselves and DO nothing.  It sounds easy, but for most of us, it isn’t.

Many people have great ideas 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, why not start with 5 minutes or less?

In my humble opinion, it’s more important to start meditating and to keep doing it than to do it for any specific length of time.  If you want to start with one minute a day, see how that feels.  You can always go up to two minutes tomorrow and three the next day.  Why set yourself up to fail by expecting long meditations from the start?  Set yourself up to succeed: start small.

Many people don’t really have a clue what meditation is. You can find a teacher or check it out in videos or books.  Meditation need not have any 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 form of meditation:  this can be a good way to start when it’s hard to sit.

Louise Hay, whose book, “You Can Heal Your Life” is a worldwide bestseller, once said that meditation is when you sit and listen, and don’t talk.  You just listen and see what you get.

After consulting with several meditation teachers, one offered me two simple meditations that the Dalai Lama spoke of as helpful (and not very long):

Spend 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.

Spend 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.

If you are interested in finding out more about meditation, Google it: there is probably a group in your area that meditates together (this makes it much easier).

Follow your intuition and check out meditation to see what it may offer you. The worst that can happen is you have a few more minutes of peace, serenity and relaxation than you usually do…such a problem!