Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Meditation: Why I Meditate. How I Meditate. Plus Meditation Tips

by Kristen Suzanne in family, Kristen Suzanne, longevity

Every New Year’s eve my husband and I sit down and write out our lists of goals and intentions for the coming year. I usually divide up the ideas by life segments such as career, family, relationships, leisure, finance, travel, etc.

For 2014, I did something different. I did something I’d never done before. I decided that 2014 was the year I would embrace only one goal for the whole year: Meditation.

My 3yo meditating. #Longevity #Peace

My 3yo meditating. #Longevity #Peace

Why only one goal? For a long time, I’d been wanting to make meditation a big part of my life, a regular staple in my daily routine. But for some reason, I wasn’t doing it consistently. I always said to myself, “Oh, I need to meditate…. I’ll do it tomorrow.” And, as the 2013 year was coming to an end, I decided it was of vital importance to make it a regular part of my life (and for my family, too). So important that it was going to be the only goal I focused on for the year.

Why I meditate. There was a reason that I suddenly came to place meditation with such importance. That’s because I’m now a firm believer that meditation deserves top billing.

As most of you know, over the past couple of years, I’ve dramatically changed the way I eat. I went from being a militant vegan, with animal rights fueling my purpose, to eating a Real Food diet of grass-fed omnivore foods, when my family’s health was failing with vegan foods. (See here and here and here for specifics.) The frustrating thing about using diet for optimal health and longevity is that you can find diametrically opposed camps — with each claiming to have science on their side — about what is right and what is not right when it comes to the food you put in your mouth.

Amid the firestorm of controversy on so many facets of what comprises “optimal” health, the fascinating thing I realized is that there’s at least one thing that pretty much everybody agrees on: Meditation is healthy and important for health and longevity. You might have respected doctors vehemently disagree on whether kale or bone broth is the best superfood, or which position is the best way to sleep, or how to treat a cold… but I have never heard any expert in recent years say you shouldn’t meditate as a daily practice for optimal health. After years of peer-reviewed interventional studies, meditation has become not only non-controversial, but they just keep discovering new amazing benefits. The only people who don’t say meditation is good for your health are people who don’t know the first thing about the topic.

The benefits of meditation include improving everything from your immune system, to sleep, to happiness, to concentration and productivity. But the Big Granddaddy of them all is that it’s insanely awesomely effective at reducing stress. And as chronic stress has become recognized more and more over the past couple of decades as the silent killer that compromises your body’s ability to deal with all other health problems, so too has meditation’s role as something of an all-purpose health elixir come to prominence.

Now, it may be a bit of a stretch, but with the above in mind,  I often wonder whether the overall healthful impact of daily meditation might actually outweigh the marginal impact of eating a “perfect” diet, especially if obsessing over every bite leads to… wait for it… stress!

Consider, for instance, that someone who eats a mediocre diet, but who meditates daily and has tools and techniques for not getting stressed, might be better off than the person who eats the healthiest diet, but not only can’t manage stress but also freaks out about their healthy diet. Um, that freaked out person would be me.

Hence the one goal last New Year’s eve. I realized that by focusing on just one thing, my whole approach on a bunch of other things might start to come together harmoniously. Meditation as a means to calm my mind, let me go-with-the-flow, and generally blissify my spirit suddenly became very important to me, because I realized it would take my health to new levels. It’s a practice that could improve my life possibly beyond anything else I’ve done. Meditation — this is freaky — is even reputed to increase telomerase activity… that’s quite the longevity bonus.

Truth be told, I also felt comfortable in the position of only focusing my 2014 goals on meditation because I felt I was already pretty dialed in with my diet and health… I exercise routinely, take supplements, and do all the recommended stuff for longevity and optimal performance (i.e., drinking yummy coffee). But, I wasn’t meditating, and it felt like a giant void in my attempt at living a healthful, passionate life, like a finely tuned race car that was missing a wheel. So I decided to bolt that fourth wheel permanently onto my life, install it as a new habit. 2014 would be the year I start meditating regularly for the rest of my life.

I needed and wanted to meditate. The next issue was how to do it.

I’m not alone when I say that I felt every time I tried to meditate, during those first days of 2014, I felt like a meditating failure. I’d close my eyes and within a millisecond I was thinking about my to-do list for the next day. I struggled, big time, with quieting my mind. It was so hard to let go and experience emptiness. But, it became easier and easier every day I tried, with a few tips and tricks I learned along the way. (Note: I still have days where it’s harder than others, but I’ve learned that even those times are still useful meditation practices.) Like anything, it takes practice. Every time you realize your mind has drifted, and you snap back to your object of focus, you’re strengthening your mind’s ability to focus, just like a muscle getting stronger with each rep.

Three HUGE Meditation Benefits I Experience:

  1. When I meditate, I feel empowered because I know that I can handle pretty much anything. My reaction to things is tempered in a healthy way. I can’t express how amazing that is, other than to say I feel like I’m Batman gliding through life in the batmobile and effortlessly fending off any problems coming at me.
  2. With meditation, I experience more bliss on a regular basis which is… can I just say(?)… awesome. I chose the word bliss to describe this feeling because it’s so accurate. Bliss… to me that’s joy + happiness on steroids, plus … light, calm, and in the flow. Being in the flow is priceless for optimal performance.
  3. I have also used meditation and deep breathing to deal with pain (I often use deep breathing to help me stay focused on meditation during my practice). In particular, we had the stomach flu go through our family, and, while I was in the fetal position with cramps, I used deep breathing and meditation to reduce my pain. It worked. I was pleasantly shocked that it worked in my favor like that, but I shouldn’t have been. I have since used it when I get sinus headaches. Meditation is bad ass.

Tips and things that help my meditation practice…

Heart Math. I use the Heart Math program on my iPhone, and it was instrumental in helping me get into meditation for multiple minutes at a time. When I first started with meditation, I mentioned that I’d struggle with being able to do it for more than a few seconds (which is totally normal, by the way). But using Heart Math helped me hack my meditation. I was instantly able to get into a relaxed state without thinking of other things. I’d get in this relaxed zone for 7 minutes, 10 minutes, even 25 minutes. When I’d come out of one of those sessions I felt like my mind, body, and soul were glowing. For those who aren’t familiar with Heart Math, here’s a blurb from Amazon:

Heart Math was designed to help you “Gain Improved Well-Being, Vitality, and Clarity of Thought… With the Inner Balance App and Sensor you can learn to achieve coherence – a synchronization between the heart, breath, and brain. Research shows that when we are in coherence, our physical systems function more efficiently, we experience greater emotional stability, and we gain increased mental clarity and improved cognitive function. Inner Balance uses HeartMath’s patented technology to monitor the subtle beat-to-beat changes in your heart rhythms (HRV) and determines the level of coherence found in these rhythms.

HeartMath Has Developed a Process and Technology that Allows You to:

  • Be less reactive, think clearly, and make good decisions, especially under pressure.
  • Improve health, stamina, and well-being; maintain personal balance and avoid stress and burnout.
  • Maximize creativity and innovation.
  • Boost performance and overall intelligence.
  • Control heart rhythms to achieve the optimal performance zone (outside of the stress zone).
  • Transform the physiological response to stress and quickly re-balance mind, body, and emotions for greater intelligence, creativity, decision making ability, and communication skills.

I highly recommend Heart Math whether you’re a newbie to meditation or seasoned.

Deep breathing. Another way I approached my meditation practice was the most common technique, through simple deep breathing. I was given a CD of Dr. Weil’s deep breathing techniques which I found extremely useful (it’s called “guided meditation” when somebody else talks you through it, and is a good way to start for many people). I find that I can deep breathe my way through anything and I can do it anywhere. Closing my eyes to meditate isn’t always possible, and so deep breathing is a great tool for calming the mind, body and soul when you can’t take the time to close your eyes and meditate. But also, deep breathing while meditating helps me stay on track with my meditating practice.

Kamea and Greg meditating.

Kamea and Greg meditating.

Inspired by my family. Greg has meditated regularly for years, which is inspiring to me. He’s a true cool cucumber (umm, thank heavens for that) and I believe meditation plays a key role in that for him. As far as I’m concerned… the family that meditates together stays together, so it’s now part of our whole family, including my four-year-old daughter (we started meditating with her when she was two years old). Meditation is something I definitely want Kamea to know, understand, and appreciate to help her navigate life.

Speaking of family… as CEO of our household I lead a very busy life. I would also say that carving out time to meditate wasn’t always easy until I made it a priority. However, I find that I won’t go a day without meditating if I at least do some meditation when I lie down at night to go to bed. I can get in a good 10 to 15 minutes by closing my eyes as I rest my head on my pillow, breathing deeply, and letting the day go. In fact, tt’s better to meditate for two minutes than skip a day, and you’d be surprised how relaxed you can become in two minutes once you’ve been doing this for a while.

Tips. My husband found a list of meditation tips and reminders that help me every time I meditate. It’s from this YouTube video by Jim Malloy. I’ve included the list in text form, below. I printed it out and keep it where I can see it. I made copies and shared them with my family also.

1. If meditation feels like work, you’re trying too hard. Dial your effort level down to medium.

2. The key to gaining the various benefits of meditation is “showing up.” Meditate regularly, and you will get results.

3. Even when it seems like nothing is happening, something is happening.

4. Meditation can be as easy as making a sandwich… once you let go of the idea of getting it right.

5. It’s safe to let go. Relaxation requires letting go, while tension comes from holding on. Letting go can seem a bit scary at first, but once you’ve experienced how safe – and enjoyable – it can be letting go becomes easy.

6. What does it mean to “get better” at meditating? It does not mean getting better at staying focused, although that does become easier with time. Improvement mainly involves learning to accept whatever you experience.

7. Trying to re-create an exceptionally good meditation is a sure-fire way to frustrate yourself.

8. Trust the process. Rest assured that if you sit regularly and go through the steps of your meditation, good things will happen.

9. Lots of thoughts in meditation are generally caused by lots of stored up stress being released.

10. How can you experience inner peace if you are busy fighting with your thoughts?

11. If you find yourself struggling in your meditation, or getting frustrated with a wandering mind, repeat this mantra a few times, then go back to your primary focus. “It really doesn’t matter.”

12. Try meditating when you are tired. If your meditations tend to consist of more trying and less relaxation, meditating when you are tired can make it easier to drift into a nice, deep, relaxed space.

13. Permission to not be doing. At the beginning of your meditation, remind yourself that there is nothing you have to do at this time except meditate.

14. In meditation, thoughts and relaxation can peacefully co-exist.

15. “No aims. No expectations.” Zen master Dainin Katagiri, on how to attain perfect meditation.

16. There is no failure in meditation (except, of course, failure to do it).

17. Your efforts account for only a small portion of what happens in each meditation – maybe 20%. The rest of what occurs is based on factors beyond your control.

18. Learning to go with the flow of what’s occurring in your meditation, can serve as training for being more in the flow in your daily life.

19. Avoid the tendency to judge your meditations.

20. Meditation can be as easy as you allow it to be. Just go through the steps with medium effort, and accept whatever happens. It’s really that simple.

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