“I was always hurtling headlong through the day, checking things off my to-do list, constantly picturing completion . . . Only, when I reached that ineffable . . . whatever . . . would I be totally satisfied.”
Does that quote (from the book 10% Happier) sound familiar? When I first read it, I underlined it, starred it and wrote, “YES! THIS” next to it. That was how much that quote resonated with how I moved through life. But if doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to be constantly on that knife-edge of anxiety with your never-ending to-do list and demands of your job, family and others. You CAN actually find some zen in your life and not feel as though you are constantly “hurtling” through your day.
This may all sound a little woo-woo to you – but hear me out. I promise, I used to think the exact same thing. But I’m not the only person who is tapping into the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. I recently tore out articles from Real Simple, Better Homes and Gardens, Redbook and InStyle, all of which explained why so many people are turning to this ancient method of relaxation.
Like I said, when I first started down this path, I thought I was too high strung, too ADHD, and too busy to meditate. I mean, my blog is called The Color Coded Life! I color code everything from my shoes to my books; I have color coded lists in my planner and I write separate to do lists every day for things I need to get done. Furthermore, I hate to be bored or sit still. Even on days when I am supposed to relax, I usually end of up cleaning or reading or organizing. Basically, I thought I was the exact opposite of the type of the person that could handle being mindful.
Ironically, it was that analytical side of me that made me realize I should give meditation a try. Here are just a few of the benefits from practicing it (according to the Mayo Clinic):
“[R]esearch suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Sleep problems”
Furthermore, the American Medical Associations Journal of Internal Medicine published the findings of a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University that looked at 19,000 meditation studies and focused them down to the best (meaning well-designed) 47 studies. These researchers found that, “mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.”
Granted, I’m no doctor. I haven’t taken a science class dealing with humans since AP Biology my senior year of high school. But I do trust that the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School and the American Medical Association to know what they are talking about. Even with this though, that wasn’t the reason I tried meditating. I tried it because I found myself frustrated at work at times and wanted a way to control that frustration that didn’t include lashing out or getting angry. These health benefits listed above are an added bonus, but you don’t need to have them to try meditation for yourself.
There are two methods to meditation that can both benefit you in your daily life (and which are overlapping as well).
ZEN METHOD #1
The first method of meditation is to actually sit and meditate for a set period of time. I know some people can do it for 20 or 30 minutes. However, the best place to start is with around 5 minutes. To make this a little bit easier on you, I won’t bore you with flowery language, but instead will give you a step by step list on how to do it:
(1) Find Somewhere Quiet
It doesn’t have to be a special spot. I often do it sitting on the floor with my back against the bed. It just needs to be somewhere where you can have 5 minutes of peace.
(2) Sit cross-legged
I think this doesn’t really need an explanation. However, if sitting cross-legged is uncomfortable for you, then you can stretch your legs out in front of you instead.
(3) Close your eyes
And keep them closed! No peeking.
(4) Breathe deeply
This one is harder than it sounds. You should breathe in so that your diaphragm expands, basically pushing your stomach out. It should take you about 5 full seconds or longer to fully breathe deeply. We are so used to breathing shallowly, that trying to take an actual deep breath can be hard at first. Try holding it after you breathe in for about 1-2 seconds, and then exhale for around 4 to 5 seconds. Then repeat.
(5) Stay focused
You can do this by following your breathing, imagining it flowing in and down your airways and then back out. You can also recite mantras in your head to follow with your breathing.
(6) Relax already!
Be sure as you are doing this to notice if you are holding tension anywhere. The goal is to relax – so be sure to scan your body and make sure you are actually fully relaxed. Release your shoulders, release that space between your brows.
It’s ok if you have random thoughts pop up while trying this. Just acknowledge them and then keep on breathing as normal. Don’t dwell and don’t beat yourself up.
(7) Be grateful & happy for the small things
At the end of the session, think about 2-3 things that you are happy about right at that moment. These can be big or small – but they should give you a feeling of contentment for having them in your life.
By doing this as you close out your meditation, you are both calmer and happier as you prepare to take on whatever comes next.
ZEN METHOD #2
The second method of getting zen is to practice mindfulness throughout your day. Trust me, that sounds much more tiring than it actually is. Mindfulness is just taking stock of what is going on, without assigning any emotion to it (either good or bad). It’s basically like checking in on Facebook – a neutral event that just says, “Hey, I’m here.” Mindfulness doesn’t need to be a long, drawn out process. It can be merely closing your eyes for a minute and just focusing on the flow of oxygen into and out of your lungs.
Dan Harris had a great description of mindfulness in his book. He said, “I had long assumed that ceaseless planning was the recipe for effectiveness, but . . . too much mental churning was counterproductive. When you lurch from one thing to the next, constantly scheming or reacting to incoming fire, the mind gets exhausted. You get sloppy and make bad decisions. I could see how the counterintuitive act of stopping, even for a few seconds, could be a source of strength, not weakness .. . . it was the opposite of zoning out, it was zoning in.”
We’ve all been there – we’ve all been “lurching” from one thing to another, constantly going going going. Without pausing to just pay attention for a few seconds. It sounds silly, but when I started doing that during some of my most stressful work events, I found that I could focus on tasks even better than before. (Though I did have to sneak off to the bathroom to do so, because there was no way I could be caught sitting there with my eyes closed at a work event).
You can make a conscious choice each day, even for just a few seconds, to be mindful and take a moment for peace. You will notice how much it helps you as the weeks go on.
[bctt tweet=”A little Zen to get you through Hump Day. Join me and get your meditation on at http://thecolorcodedlife.com”]
To help you take what you’ve read here and put it to use, I’ve included a downloadable cheat sheet below! Feel free to print it out and carry it with you for when the moment might be right for a little meditation or mindfulness.
PLUS, since I found it so influential, I am giving away a copy of Dan Harris’ 10% Happier as well as A Year of Living Your Yoga: Daily Practices to Shape Your Life Daily Practices to Shape Your Life. This book has excellent mantras, even if you don’t practice yoga, to help you center yourself each morning.
Have any other tips or tricks that I forgot? Want to share how meditation and mindfulness helped you? I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments!