Meditation seems to be all the rage these days among high-flying, Silicon Valley types. The Tech sector are getting their Ommm-on! Google, ever the bleeding edge, has been providing their employees with a class called "Searching Inside Yourself" according to this NY Times article published last year with the hopes of relieving stress and enhancing individual performance, important outcomes for a highly demanding, fast-paced organization.
I thought that maybe this trend was simply a “Cali-thing” but the hype seems to be pushing past the standard New Agers, Hippies, techies and other typical California-types and reaching into the masses.
People as diverse as Oprah, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Ford (of Ford Motors family) are practitioners. Even Arnold partakes…maybe his next movie will be called “The Meditator” instead of “The Terminator”. This recent article in HuffPo, Habits of Successful Execs , showcases even more folks who are diving into meditation as a way to enhance their lives and work performance.
When people from my neck of the woods (Not SoCal but Southern Ohio - SoOh, perhaps? ) think meditation, they think of some Zenned-out dude sporting a diaper-like outfit sitting on a mountain contemplating the meaning of life. But the merits of this age-old practice are nothing if not practical. The researched benefits include better focus, increased learning capacity, reduced stress-levels and even improved health. Many hospitals, universities and health insurers are implementing meditation programs to help patients in a variety of ways as reported in this ABC article on meditation as medicine.
I've been working my Ommm for quite awhile - on and off for 11 years - all in silence. Not silence, like meditation silence, which of course is quiet, but silence like I don't believe I have ever told anyone I did it!
The first time was in Australia. I was flying from Sydney to Melbourne for an important pitch to a Fortune 100 firm and I wanted…no, NEEDED…to be in the zone. Breezing through some Airport book store, I came across a book promising the secret to unlocking the power of a calm mind. I had heard that meditation helped you get centered, focused. I hoped it could take the edge off of those pre-big-arsed-meeting jitters better than a belt of booze. Sheepishly, I grabbed the book and hid it under a cool magazine hoping nobody would see what I was buying. The visions of the store clerk requesting a price check over the loud speaker on my goofy book, a la the old Hollywood standby of the dude buying tampons for his wife, flashed through my head, but the purchase went through without a hitch. I read the book on the flight and gave the techniques a try the next morning in my hotel room.
Here are my 3.5 Observations to help you ease into Meditation
1. It isn't easy thinking "Nothing"! As strange as this sounds, it is true. My crazy "Monkey Mind" constantly was distracted and bouncing from one silly thought…”Ommmm…Hmmm, is my foot falling asleep”…. to another … “Ommm...what kind of wood do they use to make toothpicks?” With practice, this doesn't go away completely but you learn to deal with it.
2. Time moves very, very slooowly...at first. My target was 20 minutes and I swear I checked my watch about 55 times during that first session. This goes away. I now am surprised and a bit bummed when the time is up.
3. It HURTS! My legs cramped up and my feet fell asleep as I sat cross-legged on the floor for 20 minutes! I hadn't sat like that for years and it was painful, which made me fidget and constantly stretch my legs, which constantly pulled me away from my "calm mind". This also goes away, however. You either get back into sitting legs-akimbo-shape or simply choose to sit in a chair! Word.
3.5. Did I mention the Monkey Mind...?
Despite these obstacles, I had pretty immediate results on my first effort. I stuck with it for the full 20 minutes and by the end, I felt focused, pretty relaxed and centered. During the pitch later that day, I was in the zone. Naaaailed it!
Since then, I have been a regular meditator and it continues to deliver positive results. I try to allocate 20 minutes/day, typically in the morning, which helps set the tone for the day. Before a big meeting, pitch or anything where I need to quite and center my mind, I find additional time, even if just a few minutes here and there, to get centered. I use the techniques below to make it happen.
5.5 Tips to Successful Meditation
1. Get Comfy: You don’t need to twist yourself up all pretzel-like to get to where you are going. Sit comfortably (cross-legged on the floor on simply in a chair), rest your hands in your lap and settle in, close your eyes. Not hard so far….
2. Focus on your Breathing: Close your eyes, take a few deep breathes. Start to focus on your breath….in through your nose, out through your nose. Feel the air going in your nose and filling your lungs, expanding your rib cage. Exhales should feel your ribs and abs contract lightly. We aren't working out, just feeling the natural motion of the body.
3. Try a Mantra or Affirmation: I’m not going to get too deep or technical here but you can choose a word (relax), set of words (I am focused), or a Sanskrit mantra such as “So” for the inhale “Hum” for the exhale. You can even simply count your breaths (1 in, 1 out. 2 in, 2 out). You should do this silently, or in your head, not speaking the words aloud. The purpose of the “mantra” is to focus on the words and take up all your “thinking real-estate”.
4. You can't stop the Monkey Mind, you can only hope to contain it: Realize up front that “not thinking” is bloody hard and accept it! If you are like me, your Monkey Mind will bounce all over the place. Don’t sweat it and don’t get pissed off. Just gently pull yourself back to your mantra and your breath once you realize you are 4 songs deep in your “top 10 all-time greatest hair-band ballads” list. It will happen. It gets better but until you're all enlightened your mind is going to fight back.
5. Timing is everything: Go for at least 15 minutes, preferably 20 or more. The real magic usually starts to happen after 10 or so but may come earlier or not at all. Work your way to 20 minutes (possibly twice daily) and you’ll be golden. Get a watch or use your mobile phone and set the alarm so you don’t have to constantly pull yourself out of your zone and check the time. It's weird but once you do it for a while, your internal clock will get dialed in and you be able to stop at 20 minutes on the dot without an alarm. Seriously.
5.5 Did I mention the "Monkey Mind"?!?! It does get better, really! Monkey Mind. Wait, where was I?
Don’t wait to meditate. Meditate and wait!
Dive in, empty-head first, try it for a week or so to get the hang of it and the results will come!
Deepak Chopra offers some guided meditations you may want to check out! http://goo.gl/6hyRrE