Do you sometimes feel as if your brain just won’t relax and take a break? I sometimes feel that way—especially when I wake up at 4am and really want (and need) to go back to sleep, but my mind just won’t cooperate. I may as well get up and do something productive, because there’s no way I’m going to get any peace and quiet with my brain chattering a mile a minute about all the things I need to accomplish. And I’ll bet you can relate to this scenario, as well!
And technically, all that chatter is for a good reason: as human mammals, we have brains that constantly monitor whether we’re hot or cold, safe or in danger, hungry or sated, happy or frustrated, and a host of other “states of being.” It’s our brain’s job to tell us how to best navigate this complicated world and survive its perils, so our brains are simply doing what comes naturally when they prattle on and on—however, it’s sometimes about things we don’t even need to know. When that happens, it can become difficult for us to calm our minds and relax our bodies, and that’s when it’s time to consider the time-tested practice of meditation.
And guess what? You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama to meditate. You don’t even have to learn a “formal” meditation method to benefit from quieting your mind. All studies confirm the following: much like exercise, doing some amount of mind-calming practice in some form is better than doing nothing at all.
Yes, some people will say you must meditate only in the morning. Others will tell you that 30 minutes per day is optimal. But I worry that those sorts of “rules” simply lead to easy excuses for not trying—i.e., “I’m way too busy in the morning,” or “I simply don’t have 30 minutes to devote to meditating.”
Instead, why not eliminate the obstacles and give it a try! So here’s what I suggest (and the research backs me up on this):
1. Just find a quiet place, if possible, although you can also do this in Grand Central Station if you have no other choice. Next, sit down. On the floor, in a chair, on a park bench—don’t worry about where. And, by the way, you don’t have to contort yourself into classical “lotus position” if it’s not comfortable for you—your brain doesn’t care. Then, close your eyes, but only if you wish. (Again, it actually doesn’t matter to your brain.)
2. When you first start out, commit to two to three minutes of “mind-calming” per session. Don’t even call it “meditation” unless you want to—you don’t want to get all hung up on the name and then decide you don’t have the skills to pull it off.
3. As you relax, rather than “thinking thoughts,” put your mind “in neutral.” To do this, you can repeat a favorite word, either silently or aloud, like, “love,” or “peace;” say a calming phrase, like, “I am bathed in a healing light;” or slowly count from one through ten, over and over (or one through thirty, or say the alphabet—again, it doesn’t matter). Counting, or using a favorite word or phrase, is sometimes called your “mantra.”
4. Know ahead of time that your mind will wander around and cook up all sorts of interesting things to think about—and that’s perfectly okay! It’ll happen, but that doesn’t mean you’re not reaping the benefits of meditation. It simply means that you have a human brain, programmed to stay in active mode until you allow it to take a breather. When you notice that you’ve moved into “thinking a thought” mode, simply return to “neutral,” by going back to your mantra.
See what you can do to practice mind-calming every day—and if you miss a day, or a week, or even a year, you know what to do: just love yourself and start again. The benefits of this practice are amazing! Among them are lower blood pressure, a healthier immune system, better focus, increased IQ (Wow!), mood improvement, better sleep, and reduced illness/disease. Why not give it a try? It’s a small investment that’s sure to reap big rewards.