Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
As you read this, wiggle your toes to remind yourself they’re still down there.
Congratulations, you just meditated!
Meditation is not just for monks anymore. It’s been a growing trend lately now that researchers have been proving it’s powerful effects on the brain. It’s being adopted by millions and being explored by schools, pro athletes and the even the military to enhance performance among other things. Billionaire Ray Dalio credits all his success to meditation. Tony Robins says meditating, or ‘priming’, is what allows him to take charge of his emotional state. 90% of all the top performers that Tim Ferriss interviews claim to have a deliberate meditation practice. The list goes on.
I’ve been meditating for two years, on/off, but I’ve struggled to maintain a consistent practice. When I do take the time, I feel as if I’ve taken another step toward a happier, healthier life. With a taste of so much potential, so why is it so hard to set aside just 10 minutes a day?
In hearing over and over again about the submerging positive effects meditation has, I figured it was well deserving of a 30 day challenge. So here it is: 30 days of 30 minutes of meditation. Challenge Accepted!
30 Day Meditation Podcast (1 of 4)
During this challenge I’ll be reaching out to more seasoned meditation practitioners to better understand what meditation is and how it can best be approached and incorporated in one’s life.
For over 25 years, Ashley Dahl has been practicing and teaching meditation to help develop mindfulness for people in the workplace. In partaking in Ashley’s group meditations, I was refreshed by her simple approach to meditation and I always leave her sessions feeling more confident and aware. In this interview, she shares what she’s learned about meditation, what one can expect by adopting a meditation practice and even gives us a short guided meditation to follow towards the end. Enjoy :)
Meditation in a Nutshell
‘Meditation’ in general comes with many connotations but in a nutshell, I like to think of meditation as a mental face wash. As lifting weights strengthen muscles, meditation strengthens the mind.
Though with practice, meditation can become much more. It’s commonly described as a training of mental attention that awakens us beyond the conditioned mind and habitual thinking and reveals the nature of reality.
Ashley and others who meditate mentions how it’s helped tap into that inner wisdom—you know that ‘gut feeling’, an inkling, a hunch, intuition, or the trillions of cells trying to give us a hint? Science confirms, that during meditation our frontal lobe lights up which is where that spacious wisdom resides.
Meditation is a practice for cultivating compassionate and present moment awareness through training and focusing your mind. Ashley Dahl
Meditation is simply an exercise in listening to our own thoughts. In doing so, we develop a present awareness which brings our best self to respond to whatever arises. Instead of habitually reacting and resisting, meditation equips the mind to move through any situation with more confidence and grace. I’ve experienced this in my own meditation practice as it’s has helped me be more at ease with anything that arises.
What meditation is not.
As you know, meditation is a loaded word, with a lot of preconceived notions. So here’s a few that I was guilty of assuming and have since learned otherwise.
- Meditation is not complicated. It’s only our expectations and preconceptions of it that make it complicated.
- Meditation does not require any religious commitments. It’s free to practice by any and all with no obligations.
- Meditation is not a self-help plan. It’s a framework to help you see the mind more clearly.
- Mindfulness isn’t about changing our minds. It’s about changing our perspective of the mind.
- Meditation is not just for the ‘thoughtful elite’. The very essence of meditation is to take ourselves a little less seriously.
- Meditation does not condemn our emotions or difficult experiences. Rather it is honestly aware of what happens to us and how we react to it.
- The stillness of meditation is not the same as one who is relaxed and natural. They might look similar to the untrained eye, but they are not.
- Meditation should not be a serious, hard-to-manage affair; rather, it is as natural as breathing, and as awakening as fresh mountain air.
- Meditation is not about stopping thoughts or eliminating feelings. It’s about changing the relationship with our passing thoughts and feelings. Learning to view them with a little more perspective.
Practicing a Basic 10 Minute Meditation
There is a myriad of ways to go about meditation. So below I’ve listed the most basic steps that have worked best for me. This method revolves around concentration on a present object, like your breath, which acts as an anchor to help refocus the attention. Continuously collecting the attention and refocus the mind lays the fundamental groundwork to cultivate more mindfulness because the neural pathways of a present and aware state of mind are being strengthened.
- Designate a place where you can be undisturbed for 10 mins. If possible, dedicate a space exclusively to your daily sitting.
- Schedule a 10-minute space in your day—most prefer mornings. Extra time in the day never appears, so put it in your calendar and treat it like an important appointment. Research shows it’s easier to create a new habit if we practice at the same time and place every day.
- Get comfortable. Unless you’re used to sitting cross-legged, I’d recommend sitting in a chair, feet on the floor, hands on your legs. Relax your body, letting go of any tension, but careful not to slump/collapse. Try to maintain an erect attentive posture.
- Close your eyes and follow your breath. Following your breath is a very common meditation technique because it’s aways available and focusing on it reliably anchors us to the present moment.
- Notice thoughts come and go. When you catch yourself exploring a specific thought, gently let it go and return to observing thoughts come and go. I like to visualize thoughts as birds soaring across an expansive blue sky.
- Expect to get distracted, often. It’s inevitable. The key is to recognizing when you’re distracted as it provides the opportunity to bring yourself back into the present – this process cultivates mindfulness.
- Try a guided meditation. Following your breath can be difficult at times. Guided meditation to help with mental cues and further insight in how to healthfully perceive thoughts. I recommend trying Headspace’s Take 10 Challenge to get started. Tara Brach’s guided meditations are also a personal favorite.
- Gently stay with it every day. The mind can be unpredictable. Some days meditating is easy, other days it’s difficult. They key is to commit to showing up every day no matter how it feels.
Resources for Further Meditation
Headspace – the app that made it stick for me (and thousands of others). It’s like a gym membership for the mind. A course of guided meditation, delivered via an app or online. Try their starter course, Take10, for free.
Insight Timer – a simple timer with beautiful Tibetan singing bowls and a dynamic worldwide community, Insight Timer is the fun and connected way to support your meditation practice.
Breath – it’s just there, waiting for you to notice it :)