by Michael Kimmel, Psychotherapist
Contributor

It’s trendy to meditate. Movie stars do it, the Dalai Lama does it, even your next-door neighbor does it. But what is it?

Meditation is about taking time out from your day, stopping your activities and doing nothing but being with yourself. It is a great way to get rid of stress, worry and anxiety without the hassles and expense of medication.

There’s nothing mystical or magical about it. If you’ve ever sat quietly under a beautiful night sky, gazed up peacefully at a majestic tree or stood on top of a hill, looked out at the vista and felt calm and good, you were meditating. We all do it “accidentally” now and then, but what happens when we do it purposefully? What happens when you WANT to meditate? WHY even bother?

There are tremendous mental and physical health benefits to meditation – even magazines like The Advocate and Time say so – and it’s free, requires no equipment and has no side effects.

Well, if it’s so great, why don’t we do it? Many of us are afraid to meditate because we don’t want to slow down, go within and look inside. We’re afraid we’ll find a treasure trove of shit we don’t want to deal with, so we live in denial about all the crap in our lives and hope that, by avoiding it, it will all go away.

While it’s hard to tell yourself the truth, it’s better to know where you’re at, even if it’s sad or painful, because then you can do something about it. Meditation is a form of focused attention…you bring your concentration to yourself.

The benefits of meditation come not from how long you do it, but the sincerity of your effort. Five focused minutes can be more powerful than 45 half-assed minutes. Like yoga, there is no single way to meditate.

A simple and easy way to start meditating is to follow these three steps: (1) sit quietly, (2) focus on your breathing or on a phrase you repeat to yourself, like “peace”, and (3) notice what comes up (thoughts, emotions or physical sensations).

Here are some other ways to begin meditating. Try them and see which ones you like. These meditations are adapted from the wonderful book, “Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mountain meditation: Picture a serene and beautiful mountain. Sit and breathe in the image of your mountain. As you sit, let your head become the peak, your shoulders and arms the sides of the mountain, your buttocks and legs the base. Experience in your body the sense of quiet power and grace of the mountain. Allow yourself to feel centered, rooted and powerful as your mountain.

Lake meditation: See in your mind’s eye a beautiful and calm lake. Once you have a clear image of the lake, allow yourself to “become” the lake. Experience the quietness of the lake and let yourself become the stillness beneath the surface, even when the surface is blown by storms. Use the lake image to sit or lie down in stillness…not going anywhere…peaceful and content.

Tree meditation: Yep, this one is about feeling as elegant, powerful and rooted to the ground as a majestic tree. If you get sleepy when you meditate, try this type of meditation: you do it standing up. Feel your feet firmly on the ground and let yourself stand tall, yet relaxed. Close your eyes and sense your surroundings: feel the air on your skin, hear the sounds all around you, and enjoy the peace and grace of being like a wonderful, tall tree.

Walking meditation: Some people find it hard to sit down and meditate, but enjoy walking as meditation. Walking meditation differs from regular walking in that you focus on the walking itself, not your destination. Bring your attention to each step you take as it comes and goes. . Doing walking meditation very slowly helps you focus. You can walk back and forth in a straight line or in a circular path: keep it simple. As you walk, let your gaze be a few feet in front of you, and allow the walking to gently calm and relax you.

Lying-down meditation: Lying down is a great way to meditate: if you fall asleep, your sleep will be more restful, and if you can stay awake, your body can completely relax, more than in any other meditation posture. Let your body sink into the floor, bed or ground and feel your body from head to toe. Remind yourself that “you” are not just your head; reclaim your entire body as the real “you.”

Try these different kinds of meditation and see which ones you like. Let yourself have fun while you feel more peaceful: it’s a great combination.

Photo courtesy of Red Bull

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Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville

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