I am going to be straight up honest: I hated meditating — for years — and thought it was a total waste of my time.
When my yoga and philosophy teachers would ask how it was going, I would lie, saying how much I loved it, spending an hour daily doing a practice that was undoubtedly making me happier and more energetic. Lies, lies, lies ... talk about bad karma!
The reality was, even just the act of trying to meditate was making me a crazy bitch. I already had to be at work at 5:30am, and waking up at 4am to sit in silence and think about my stressful day ahead was just not helping.
After a few months of trying, I deemed it insane, because I had gone insane. All I could think about at night was my alarm clock going off in four-to-five hours and being totally exhausted. And then when I sat in silence cross-legged before the sun came up, I was frazzled and distracted by how much more I needed to sleep, and how normal people were probably not doing what I was doing — in other words, still sleeping.
And all I could think about when it was over was how I better not be late to work, given how stressful the trading floor already was. It was an experiment in how to become a crazy, wiped out and unfriendly person. I really did not see the point.
Yet I knew there had to be something more to it, or else why would the practice have been around for so long? I went to my teachers, confessed my challenges and asked for specific, detailed advice. They said to stick to the morning wake ups, but start by clearing my mind and then repeating the phrase, “Let Go.”
I tried and tried and tried, yet only got more agitated, tired and upset. I decided to revert to my innate geek and get analytical on the topic … Can the mind ever really let go? Can the mind every really stop working? Should you ever turn off your thoughts? I sure hope not! This is what keeps the body alive.
In my search I came across a book on Tibetan philosophy, that explained to me I was actually meditating all wrong. You see, meditation and mindfulness are not at all about letting go and thinking about nothing — that is in fact an aimless time suck that can make you looney if you start to hyper-analyze everything, and depressed if you are already down and sitting in silence alone.
The fact is, mediation and mindfulness are all about actively using the muscle of the mind. They have nothing to do with letting go, and everything to do with harnessing your thoughts and perceptions so you can create your ideal you and your ideal world.
I went on to study with some of the premier Tibetan scholars and monks, and now teach meditation and mindfulness around the globe, and to myself daily. When you use meditation as a mind muscle exercise, it works. Mindfulness is part of that, as every time you are conscious of your perceptions and the labels you place on them, you are being mindful.
Here are three easy tips to help you actually meditate and be more mindful in the process:
1. You do not have to sit in silence at sunrise to meditate.
You do not have to take a 20-minute break at work and hide from your colleagues to be mindful. All you do need to do is find one moment a day when it works best for you.
Maybe that's at night before bed. Maybe it's on the train on the way to work. Perhaps it's as you walk down the street. What is important is that you do it at a time that feels natural and works for you. Which by the way, by no means needs to be the same time every day. Modern life does not necessarily allow for that. I know that and you do, too.
2. Cut yourself some slack.
Life is complicated, as are the demands of a job, family, health and everything else. If you meditate only two minutes, that’s OK. What is important is that you are actively engaging with the muscle of the mind, which is the source of all your perceptions and creator of your reality. You do this by connecting your breath and your thoughts.
3. Breathing is the most important part of the practice.
In Tibetan yoga philosophy they say that the thoughts and the breath are irrevocably linked. Wherever and whenever you choose, breathe in and out through the nose. Lips lightly touched. Count to five as you inhale and out to five again as you exhale, all out of the nose. Repeat this for five breaths without letting your mind wander. Then work up to 10. If you think about dinner or your boss, drop back down to zero and start again. Start to train your mind to focus on the breath and the rest will come.
As I always say, change your breath and you change your thoughts. Change your thoughts and you change your mind. Change your mind and you change your world. Now that’s the point of meditation.