Mindfulness and Meditation II: Expanding the PracticeApril 12 , 2012

Last week I introduced the idea of mindfulness and its formal practice of meditation.  The data show that meditation done for as little as two minutes per day can increase happiness and lead to better  levels of concentration, a greater sense of calmness and more empathy.

If you are brand new to meditation, try the 2 minute meditation I introduced last week   and stay with it for 21 days. This is a great way to introduce yourself to meditation and many of its benefits without a significant time commitment.  If that is enjoyable and valuable for you, consider slowly increasing your meditation time by adding a minute or two each day.

Aim for 15 to 20 minutes a day which, besides providing stronger effects on calming, concentration and empathy, have shown in clinical studies to strengthen a broad assortment of personal and interpersonal abilities.  These include:  higher levels of personal insight, better attunement to others, more response flexibility (i.e. providing a pause between impulse and action, allowing you to be more thoughtful on how to respond to stimulus), better fear modulation and more compassion.

Is meditation religious?

Some have concerns that meditation is a Buddhist religious practice and worry that it conflicts with their existing faith tradition or (you know who you are!) triggers an allergic reaction to anything remotely “religious.”  But don’t worry; while these practices originate from eastern spiritual practices, there is nothing inherently religious in meditation as generally practiced in this country.  Western teachers have largely separated out the psychological benefits of meditation from the religious rituals and meaning of the east.  The Washington Post has an interesting article on the subject, here.

If you are ready to step into a larger daily commitment to mediation, here are a few things to consider:

Make it a habit

Follow the advice for developing any new habit — start small with just a few minutes per day and add some time each week.  Schedule a set time each day.   Put it in your calendar and commit to it.   Get social support of friends or family members.  Find a friend interested in learning at the same time.  Check out my post on the best ways to develop new habits, here

Don’t worry about form.

You don’t need to be sitting cross-legged on a beach or in a park to meditate.  What matters is that you are comfortable with your back erect (but not rigid) and the rest of you relaxed.  Chairs are fine.  You can even meditate standing or lying down if that is what your body needs (though keep in mind that sleeping doesn’t count as meditatingJ).  My wife has trouble sitting still; she meditates best walking around the block.  It’s not about how you look, but about your ability to focus that matters.  There is no right and wrong.

Befriend the discursive mind

Our minds wander.  We’ve trained them for our whole lives with cell phones, endless internet links and relentless multitasking.  Don’t make your wandering mind into an enemy.  Arguing with your mind or beating yourself up for not staying focused pulls you further away from the purpose of mediation, the “being” not doing.

Even with a daily practice over three years, my mind still wanders every time I sit. It loves to try to convert my meditation time into problem-solving time or worrying time or planning time.  When I notice I’m thinking rather than meditating, I say a quick thank you to my powerful mind:  “Thank you for all you do.  You are awesome and have helped me get so many things in my life.  I promise we’ll do some more planning/worrying/problem-solving AFTER this meditation. But for the next few minutes, I’m focusing on my breath.”

Use guided meditations

Guided meditations can help you focus, especially when you are new to meditation or significantly increasing the amount of your meditation time.  Having the vocal check-in of the recordings helps remind me that I’m meditating;  not problem-solving, not planning, not reminiscing, meditating.  And many guided meditations remind you to bring your focus back in a kind way.  I have purchased and used guided meditations from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Thich Nhat Hanh and others.  Any guided meditations that refer to mindfulness meditation and/or insight meditation should work.

As you get stronger and more focused, you can do some meditation without the guide.  For me, even after 3 years of regular practice, I still use guided meditations over half the time.  Experiment with what works for you and do it.

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach

P.S.  Don’t miss my FREE Webinar on finding more happiness and more productivity at work — this Tuesday April 10 at 7pm PST.  To find out more and sign up, go to http://erickarpinski.com/

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