Today millions of children across the country are starting a new school year. That means that after a busy holiday weekend and a hectic morning, millions of parents are breathing a huge sigh of relief. Look around you and listen – nothing!
You might be tempted to savor that silence for just a few seconds and then rush on to the rest of your day, but there’s a good reason not to. There are many good reasons not to. In fact, taking a few moments to sit quietly and do nothing could be the most important thing you do today.
Scientists have found that meditation is a kind of super-weapon, effective against stress, illness and depression, and a boon to cognitive function and productivity. According to Psychology Today, there are more than 20 aspects of physical and mental health that are positively affected by meditation.
But how do you actually go about reaping these benefits? It may really be as easy as just breathing.
Renowned yogi guru, Swami Vishnudevananda (1927-1993), outlined principles of meditation for his students that sound a lot like the steps you’d take to form any good habit: Practice daily, setting aside a specific time and place; start small and progressively add more time as you are ready; and pay attention to what you’re doing – with both your body and your mind. Here’s a script to get you started:
1. Choose a time of day when you have five minutes to spare – first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, at the end of your workout, just before bed – and proclaim to yourself (and anyone else who might otherwise disrupt you) that that is your Meditation Time. Then honor that time every day, no matter what.
2. Choose a location that is relatively distraction-free. This is more important in the beginning, while you’re just getting used to doing nothing. Eventually, you should be able to sit and meditate just about anywhere, but for now, pick a quiet place.
3. Get Comfortable. Sit on a chair or mat or cushion or couch that doesn’t hurt your bum, and that allows you to sit up straight. If your flexibility allows, you can sit on a mat on the floor with your legs crossed, but sitting on the front 1/3 of a comfy chair or couch with feet flat on the floor will work well, too.
4. Pick a Focal Point. You can close your eyes if that helps your concentration, or you can pick an object or a patch of light on the wall – anything that you can focus on. This will help take your mind off of all the other stuff you’re trying to forget about for a few minutes.
5. Breathe In, Breathe Out. Now just start breathing and counting. Breathe through your nose and try to start each breath low in the diaphragm. Let the breath fill your chest and back as it rises in you. Pause for a second at the top of the breath and then slowly push it all back out. Count your breaths. See if you can get to 10 without thinking about anything else at all. If your mind does wander, just gently bring it back to your breath. Do this as many times as you need to, and don’t get frustrated. After a few days, you’ll find that you’ve gotten much better at concentrating. Now try for 20 or 30 breaths in a row. When you reach the point where you can focus on your breathing for the full five minutes, you’re ready to move on, by making your practice a bit longer, or by trying some more advanced breathing techniques.
If you’re interested in learning more, here is a website dedicated to the teachings of Vishnudevananda. It’s a good place to start.