By Dan Teano
“Make sure sit happens.” My meditation coach texts me this reminder once a week.
Meditation—this ancient practice from the East is now a buzzword in the Western world. By now, each of us has heard of mindfulness and some of its benefits. One of these benefits is relaxation.
When we are able to sit quietly, the anxious thoughts and emotions that typically clutter our minds can be ignored. With a relaxed mind, we can work with focus, meet people without immediately judging them, and go through our days without stressful situations controlling how we feel and act.
As a student, I find meditation very helpful for writing. When I meditate before starting a writing assignment, like this one, I can usually write quicker and more creatively. From a meditative mind state, words can flow uninterruptedly. The mind is relaxed, is not stifled by self-judgment, and is unconcerned with what other people might say.
The benefits of meditation are diverse and profound. In fact, you will discover more of its benefits after repeated practice. Although there are countless mindfulness meditation techniques, sticking to just one will help you establish a routine. Here are the steps I use to meditate every morning and night:
- Sit down, cross your legs, and straighten your back. Sitting upright allows blood to circulate easily and swiftly. This meditative posture relaxes your shoulders and opens up your chest, making it easier for you to breathe deeply and calmly.
Rest your hands on your lap with your palms facing up. Yogists claim that doing this makes you receptive to positive energy.
- Exhale, listen, inhale, repeat. Focus first on your outbreath. Tell yourself, “breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.” Traditionally, those practicing meditation focus on their in-breath first, but try taking a mindful exhale as a way to start your meditation session. For some reason, exhaling clears your head quicker than inhaling does.
After you exhale completely, take a moment to listen to your surroundings. Concentrate on what you’re hearing: are people talking? Are cars driving by? Is your computer or is your heater making sounds? By tuning in to the noises of your environment, you reduce the amount of attention you place on yourself, bringing you closer to the present moment. My meditation coach often reminds me, “lose your mind to come to your senses.”
- Catch yourself thinking. Meditation silences the mental chatter that disrupts our minds from thinking clearly—but consciously trying to stop yourself from thinking will just breed more thinking. When you catch yourself worrying about tomorrow’s breakfast or what you’re going to wear to class, first acknowledge that you are thinking, label it as “thinking,” and then return your focus to your breathing.
From experience, it is very difficult to stop thinking by thinking about stopping. Doing something (i.e. breathing) to reduce thoughts is more effective than thinking about reducing thoughts. My coach puts it this way: “you cannot out think the thinker.”
- Expect nothing. When you expect so much, you enjoy so little. Do not go to your meditation spot with an expectation of how you are going to feel 10 minutes later. Do not expect to feel like an ultra-enlightened monk in Nirvana. If you want to be present, then expect nothing. When you expect something to be or feel a certain way, you lose your sense of presence by living in the future.
Yet, if you are mindful of your breath, the sights, and noises around you, there is no expecting; there is just being. In mindfulness meditation, you simply appreciate what is here. Thus, the mind is not concerned with regrets about the past, nor is it anxious about the future.
- Never stop on a negative note. Do not stop meditation unless your mind is at ease. Do not leave because your thoughts got the best of you and you can’t help but think about thinking. A failed attempt at reducing thinking will just pull you deeper into your thoughts.
If you are stuck in your mind, take one slow, mindful outbreath. Be here. Be still. Then, get up and spread your presence with others.
Mindfulness meditation has had a profound impact on my life. If it weren’t for meditation, I would still be overly self-conscious, unproductive, and ungrateful.
This is how I meditate, and I hope the steps I’ve written out help you establish a meditation routine.