When your life is spinning and you feel out of control, what can you do to regain your composure? How can you show up at work, give your best, and have enough time for your family and friends when you feel stuck and trapped, unable to find a way around or through your current situation?
Meditation May Be The Answer!
When I felt a bit overwhelmed and overworked in business school, a good friend recommended to try out meditation and I gave it a shot. I really enjoyed the experience and could feel the first benefits pretty soon. Then, in my last quarter at Stanford, I also took a meditation class, taught by the Head of Stanford’s wellness department, Professor Aneel Chima, to get a more conceptual understanding of meditation.
In case you have never heard of meditation before, it’s an ancient technique which anyone, anywhere at any time can employ to order and to still the mind, experience true relaxation and restore personal peace and inner balance. These inner benefits inevitably produce positive results in our outer lives as well. We work more efficiently. We also have more energy and more patience for the people around us, so we develop stronger and deeper interpersonal relationships.
If you want to learn how to meditate effectively, it is important that you make some room for it – physical room and mental room: Physically, find a place without distractions, where you can fully relax. Although some would prefer going to the mountains or some place that you can be one with nature, let’s be real here. Most of us live and work in places where noise is a normal part of daily life. So find a room in your apartment, office or the park around the corner where you can fully relax in a posture you find comfortable. Make sure you have ample space and the right temperature so that you won’t be distracted. Ideally, don’t have a big meal right before and be not too sleepy. And, of course, put the phone on silent.
Mentally, and that was the harder part for me, make meditation a priority in your daily schedule. Building new habits is hard, especially if you’re busy. In many situations, I feel like not needing a ‘break’ right now, but I had to learn that meditation is not taking a break. It’s more of a mental workout that helps you build up stamina to deal with stress more effectively and feel more balanced when you need it. So you must convince yourself that the time you spend on meditation is your time for personal growth and that it’s important to honor it. Set an intention of why you want to meditate and remember that purpose when you sit down.
Close your eyes, and just breathe!
Probably the easiest form to begin meditating is to set a timer (start with 5 to 10 minutes), close your eyes and just focus on your breath. The biggest misconception I had was that the goal of meditation is to then completely block your thoughts and to have an empty mind. But you will realize that upcoming thoughts are inevitable. So instead of getting involved with them and judging yourself for having these particular thoughts, it’s helpful to “allow” any wandering thoughts, acknowledge them… and then letting those thoughts pass.
A metaphor that really helped me understand this was to think about yourself sitting down in a place, and then just imagine your thoughts as cars passing on the street. You can observe the cars (your thoughts) and notice them, but you just let them continue passing on without becoming preoccupied with any of them. If you don’t like cars, think of observing clouds instead.
Your phone can actually help you relax
For many beginners, myself included, just sitting down by yourself and meditating without some guidance, encouragement and accountability can be pretty tough and hard to sustain. Fortunately, there are many apps out there with guided meditations that make it very easy to get started – just put your headphones in and follow the instructions.
Headspace is probably the best-known meditation app and truly in a league of its own when compared to other meditation apps. These guys know what they are talking about and know the most effective meditation methods for both beginners and experts. Headspace creator, Andy, is an ordained Buddhist monk and mindfulness expert. He provides countless guided meditations for a variety of intentions (e.g. stress or anxiety reduction, kindness, change, creativity …) that make the experience easy and enjoyable. You never feel uncomfortable or annoyed, also due to his natural relaxing and reassuring tone.
With our without an app, give meditation a try and see whether a mental workout can also make your life a little more mindful and balanced.