Last week I wrote a blog about how I choose to separate my meditation practice from my yoga practice. This week, I’m writing about my own personal meditative practice, including how it developed to what it is today, how it changes according to the situation, and the actual process of how to do it. I’ve found that mediation helps with my mental productivity and focus.
First off, I want to clear up a couple of things from my post last week, in which I talked about my separation of meditation and yoga. For me, yoga is a mental and physical workout, just like almost any form of physical fitness. In fact, whenever I talk about yoga I mention the mental aspects that are involved, and how it helps to facilitate stress relief and increase mental strength.
It takes mental focus to concentrate on the technique in the poses, and to check in with your body to determine its needs and how you can fulfill those. I am not dividing yoga and meditation into physical and mental workouts, respectively. I do make a distinction, however, between working out (a physical and mental practice) and meditation, a strictly mental practice, with a much higher level of mental focus than yoga or other forms of physical fitness.
Why People Feel Like Mediation Isn’t for Them
First I’d like to discuss the main pitfalls when it comes to establishing a meditative practice. Ask people about their experience with meditation and you’ll get a wide range of answers, usually somewhere between “I can’t meditate, I don’t have the patience” to “I have meditated, and I need to do it more.” Some people find meditation extremely frustrating and give up after their first attempt. Others don’t even try at all.
People think that meditation is not for them because they have higher levels of mental activity or high levels of anxiety.
These people tend to be those with higher levels of anxiety, people with issues with focusing on a single task (ADD-like symptoms), people that have control issues (the ones that need to double and triple-check whether or not the car door is locked or are afraid of flying), and a whole host of other people that I am not including in this example. Yes, meditation will be harder for you, but you also have much more to gain from it then the ones with lower stress.
People give up after the first time because it does not meet their expectations.
Others try meditation, realize a temporary and slight reduction in stress levels, and then give up after that because it didn’t meet their expectations of realizing complete blissfulness. Similar to doing yoga, you don’t get better and experience results in one or two sessions; it takes time. It feels great afterwards, then dips down when you don’t do it as much. The more you do it, the better you feel. But in order to realize better results, you have to continue to do it.
Framing your meditation practice in negative terms. (Think of your meditation practice with positive goals, instead of things to avoid.)
There are many who try meditation without knowing exactly what they’re doing. Too often the emphasis on meditation is to try to think about nothing, but by thinking about nothing, or thinking in negative terms (do not think about anything), you do the exact opposite. Your self, your consciousness, the universe, your reality – whatever you want to call it – does not recognize words like “not”, “no”, and “avoid”. To give yourself the directive “do not think of anything” is already setting you up for failure. Instead, frame your meditation practice in positive terms. “I must not think about anything” should be changed to “I will think of one thing. When I think of something else, I will acknowledge that thought and return to my one thing.”
Have you been able to identify yourself with one of the above? These are typically the responses that I get when I speak with people about meditation. Please, keep in mind that my area of expertise is on physical fitness, and yoga in particular. Meditation is something that I have read about extensively, but it is not something that I teach or claim to be an expert in. I’ve just developed a system of meditation for myself that works for my personal goals. Now let me reveal that system.
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Goals of My Meditation
- lower the number of things that I am worrying about or pondering
- realize that everything is [going to be] okay, and that my world is not going to fall apart because something didn’t go the way I intended
- prepare my mind to focus on the tasks at hand for the day; prime my brain to focus on the task at hand, to remain focused on a single task, and not allow other tasks to get in the way, or other thoughts to take my focus away from my priority
- being more content – gain some feeling of contentedness in order to feel good about what I have, rather than on what I do not have (this includes experiences, accomplishments, status levels, things, etc)
Methods Involved in Meditation
- visualization – focus on the goals that I want to accomplish, focusing on daily tasks, but also framing them in terms of short-term and long-term goals
- gratitude – naming at least 3 things that I am thankful for
- use my breath to relax my body, specifically, to lift my chest, straighten my spine, and relax my shoulders
- Clear-seeing (Vipassana) – Drawing a distinction between your consciousness and your mind. (Your true self vs. the voice in your head.)
Guidelines to Keep in Mind for Meditation
- Intangibles over tangibles – I always frame my thoughts in terms of experiences, relationships, feelings of security, or other intangibles, instead of framing them in terms of THINGS.
- Staying positive – focus on what I DO have, instead of what I do not have
- Avoiding competitive thoughts – I am an extremely competitive person. I am in an almost constant state of comparing myself to others. I do my best to channel that energy into being productive, but it doesn’t always work. During meditation, I do my best to politely say “thank you, but no thank you” when these comparative thoughts emerge.
- Authenticity – being completely authentic in your thoughts and staying true to yourself by focusing on what you really want and what you are really grateful for, rather than thinking in terms of societal norms, expectations of your family, or otherwise.
Minute 0-1 – Settle into my meditative seat. Cross-legged, usually sitting on top of a block to make it easier. Begin to breathe in and out of the nose, relax my shoulders, check in with my body, and notice how my stomach and chest react to my inhale and exhale.
Minutes 1 – 15 – Focus on the goal of paying attention to my body and my breath, and the relationship between the two. Inevitably, when I lose focus and other thoughts run through my mind, I make the realization that I have begun to think about something other than my breath and my body, acknowledge that the thought has entered my mind, and return to focusing on my body and my breath.
Here are some examples of what will go through my mind:
- Okay, focusing on breathing in and out of my nose. Contract your core as you exhale. Inhale, but don’t arch your back too much. I wonder what my form looks like right now. *Readjusts back, straightens spine.* Wait – I’m not supposed to be thinking about my body. Good adjustment, now let’s go back to breathing.
- In… and out of the nose. Keep your shoulders down. I need to work on my shoulders more. I should really get a pull-up bar. I could always walk down the hall and go to the gym, but it’s such a long walk. Wait… I’m thinking about pull-ups. Think about that later. Let’s go back to meditation.
- I should write a blog on meditation. I know that it would be really helpful to a lot of people. Oh crap… I’m thinking of writing a blog on meditation, while meditating. Back to the breathing.
Minute 15 – 18
Gratitude – Think of 3-5 things that I am grateful for.
- Grateful for the weather, whether it’s rainy or sunny, finding the good in both.
- Grateful for the people in my life, my network, my relationships, and my friends and family.
- Grateful that I have the freedom and flexibility to meditate in the morning or in the evening.
- Grateful for my health, always.
Visualization – Focus on one or two things that you want to accomplish in the next few hours. Then, extrapolate on the significance of that task. What is it leading to the short-term, and what is that leading to in the long-term? Tie it into your mission or life goal. If it’s to make $50,000 month, fine. It it’s to connect with 10 people on a deeper level, that’s great too. Whatever it is. But try to be as specific as possible.
Minute 18 / Conclusion
Open your eyes. Go start your day.
Meditation doesn’t mean not thinking at all. It just means recognizing that you are having thoughts, acknowledging them, and moving on. The mental strength comes from recognizing that you are having a thought and then returning to concentrating on your breath. No, it sometimes is not fun. Thinking about your breath over and over again can get tedious. But, if you do it enough, your body will start to associate the benefits of meditation with the the practice of meditation itself. In other words, your body will crave meditation. You’ve experienced the heightened mental abilities, the lowered stress levels, and you will accept mediocrity no more.
Go experiment. I’ll update this blog in the next week or so with some other meditation resources that you can utilize. I’m extremely excited about testing a guided meditation device that measures your brainwaves. I should be receiving that in the next week, and will post my review as soon as I’ve had a chance to try it out.
You might be interested in some tips on starting off your yoga practice, so read on! 3 blogs covering some basics.
About the author, Dean Pohlman, Founder & CEO of Man Flow Yoga, Author of Yoga Fitness for Men, Expert on Yoga Fitness for Men.
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