Why and how you should start Meditation

Photo by Afonso Coutinho on Unsplash

I remember the first time I was told about meditation: At that time, it seemed like an obscure and weird practice for hipsters. Why on earth would I waste my time sitting still ?

Nowadays, meditation is a much more common thing to westerners and many successful people 31 recommend meditation. But even if more and more people are interested, many of them still don’t make the switch. I’m writing this post in hope that it can help answer their questions, address their misconceptions and make them jump ahead. 

What is meditation?

First, let’s dispel some myths about meditation.
You don’t need to recite mantras in a foreign language, sitting for hours in lotus position and wearing an orange robe to meditate. You also don’t need to master complicated secret techniques to meditate.

Meditation is just working on your mind 1

There are different kind of works you can do, calming your mind being one of them but there are many others. We’ll see some techniques used, but don’t forget that those techniques are not the goal, they are just tools to work on your mind.

Now that you’re ready, let me tell you the real secret: Meditation is easy!

I would even say as easy as flossing. Flossing is a good comparison, because meditation is about mental hygiene, the same way flossing is about oral hygiene. Meditation instructions are as simple as flossing ones, and because the main difficulty resides on the ability to do it daily…
If 4 years kid can floss, you should be able to meditate every day, shouldn’t you ?

Why should you meditate?

Meditation is the easiest practice that can bring the more benefits in your life.

We already talked about mental hygiene, but in practice what could you really expect from meditation?

Here are some benefits I can list based on my (little) experience:

Clearer mind

It’s as there’s less “noise” in your head: everything becomes simpler, you’re naturally more focused, have a better memory 26 and you think faster with less effort 9 11 12 28.

Inner peace

I’m not talking here about a spiritual/philosophical abstract concept: I mean no more stress, no anxiety 17 18, unshakable hope. A little bit like the “holidays state of mind” but stronger…

More reflexes

This might be a little bit surprising, but as a Martial Art practitioner, I can attest how meditation impacts reflexes.

The difference with or without meditation is almost supernatural: I was able to catch little object falling I shouldn't be able to catch, block strikes that used to take...

More energy

Mental noise is tiring. Mental noise negatively impact all your mind activities. Less noise means more efficiency, less energy drain and so more energy available.

More presence

When the mental noise disappears (you know, all that voices in your head) all that remain is the present and your current feelings6. That makes your perception more acute4 and the “present” more vivid.
Freed from worry, you’re also more available/compassionate/kind 21 22 for your discussion partner which feels it5

But other benefits are also often listed:

Better health

Stress reduction 10 19 20, prevented heart attacks 8, Better immune system 13 14 can be observed.

Improved mood

Meditation improves your mood by boosting your positive thinking 23 24 and by regulating your emotions 25 27.

Improved creativity

Meditation also improves your out of the box/creative thinking 29 30.

Improves intuition

I will be hard to explain it: To me, it is partially due to the improved perception and the better presence 5. Scientific studies 3 would say that it modify some parts of your brain implied in creativity 7. Spiritual people would have another explanation.
Anyway whatever the reason, gaining this extra feeling is definitively a valuable asset.

How long?

I guess you imagine that in intend to see some benefits you’ll have to practice for years. Or maybe that you don’t have enough time to start meditation.
It’s all wrong!

All you need to start is 5-10 minutes every day 2.
10 minutes is less than 0.01% of your daily time.
Choose your (minimal) duration, choose a moment of the day when you won’t be interrupted, and commit to practice every day.

How to meditate?

There are many ways to work on your mind and so many meditations. Let me list few simple (sitting) meditations to start easily.

Breathing meditation

  • Stand/sit upright
  • Be as relaxed as possible (but stay upright)
  • Stand still 
  • Once installed don’t move anymore
  • Focus on the feelings related to the air flowing in and out of your nose.
  • Try to make as few noise as possible while breathing. 

Watching your mind

  • Stand/sit upright
  • Be as relaxed as possible (but stay upright)
  • Stand still
  • Once started don’t move anymore
  • Watch ideas pop up in you mind (“my back hurts”, “I must not forget to call John”, “What’s on TV tonight”…) try to be just aware of them and don’t let yourself be absorbed to the point you no longer observe other ideas or start “dreaming”.

White wall

  • Stand/sit upright
  • Be as relaxed as possible (but stay upright)
  • Stand still
  • Once started don’t move anymore
  • Choose a white(or any clear color) wall with distinct spot (nail, hole…)
  • Fix the distinct spot with no thoughts on your mind: no judging/describing/feeling
  • Every time a thought appears, gently ignores it and get back to the distinct spot 

You’ll find many other techniques on the net, pick the one that suits you best.

I’d recommend you to not try to “understand” the reason behind the exercise, as it will reinforce a part of you brain that will try to trick you.
Just do your meditation, daily…

Common questions

Can I start by myself or do I need a teacher?

I’d suggest to start as quick as possible (so probably alone) and look for a teacher or at least some one more experienced when it’s possible. A teacher will help speed up your learning by revealing some of your “blind spots” and helping you avoid some common pitfalls.

Every time I try to meditate I fall asleep, what’s wrong with me?

It’s a common defense from the mind, to make you sleep to escape meditation. Try to meditate when you’re not tired (in the morning), every time you feel you’re “leaving” get back to the exercise.

Why can’t I XXXX? every time I try I YYYY.

Keep trying, failing is part of the process to realize how your mind work and trick you sometimes.

Is X minutes enough?

Yes! As long as you meditate daily, those X minutes will one day become more minutes. Don’t rush. When it will be time you’ll feel the need to meditate longer.

I’ve heard about Mindfulness/Transcendental/Zazen/Budhist/… Meditation how is it related?

Meditation is working on your mind, and there are different ways to do it (silencing the mind, strengthen some parts of it, know the different parts of the mind…) and so different techniques to achieve the desired goal. Ultimately all the paths lead to the same place where you know your mind better and you have a clearer mind.

Conclusion

I hope this post convinced you to start meditation. Few simple things can have as much impact on you life, so please, give it a try.
As usual don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me directly (at arhuman at gmail dot com). Your feedback is most welcome.

Scientific references

I know some of you need scientific cautions, so here are some links that hopefully will convince you of meditation usefulness:

  1. Meditation improves creativity

  2. Meditation improves visual perception

  3. Meditation improves social connections

  4. Meditation improves attention

  5. Harvard Study about how meditation rebuilds grey matter

  6. Meditation prevents heart attacks

  7. Meditation improves brain efficiency

  8. Meditation reduces stress

  9. Meditation improves brain efficiency

  10. http://faculty.washington.edu/wobbrock/pubs/gi-12.02.pdf

  11. Meditation improves the immune system

  12. Meditation improves the immune system

  13. Meditation boosts positive thinking

  14. Meditation boosts positive thinking

  15. Meditation fights anxiety

  16. Meditation fights anxiety

  17. Meditation reduces stress

  18. Meditation reduces stress

  19. Meditation increases compassion

  20. Meditation increases compassion

  21. Meditation improves positive thoughts

  22. Meditation improves positive thinking

  23. Meditation helps you regulate your emotions

  24. Meditation improves memory

  25. Meditation fights depression

  26. Meditation improves ability to multitask

  27. Meditation improves creativity

  28. Meditation makes you more creative

  29. Chinese people use the term “Shen gong” which can be translated into “Mind Work”.

  30. After some time you’ll start to see the benefits and you’ll naturally increase this time because you’ll want more. 30 minutes, 1h a day in one or multiple sessions, it’s all up to you…

  31. Hal Elrod, Oprah, Kobe Bryant, Marc Benioff (Salesforce), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco), Jeff Weiner (Linkedin), Tim Feriss, Paul Mc Cartney, Steve Jobs...

Arhuman

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