In the spirit of wellness month, I wanted to share what I learned from a General Assembly Workshop I attended recently on meditation. However, before I dive into techniques and takeaways from the workshop, I want to talk about why I think meditation is perhaps the most productive thing you can do in the course of your day.
During Wellness Month, we at Percolate, have been focusing a lot on exercise and exploring their outdoor hobbies. This is an excellent way to balance your life with your work and achieve wellness, but it is only half the battle. Too often, people forget to treat the mind as what it is; a muscle that requires exercise and attention. So, why is exercising the brain muscle so important for your daily productivity?
There are lots of reasons. For starters, meditation reduces stress. That’s something I think anyone who has meditated or knows about meditation can agree on. Less stress means more emotional composure and better concentration throughout the day. Both of these benefits already add up to a happier and more productive version of yourself.
However, there are other, less apparent reasons why meditation is such a boon to your productivity. For instance, meditation has been scientifically proven to boost your immune system, which increases your energy and lowers your number of sick days. Furthermore, meditation increases your faculty for empathy. This allows you to communicate more clearly with your coworkers and potentially even to clients. Finally, it has also been proven to increase your brain function, which makes you smarter and more creative—especially important for marketers.
All of these reasons and several more are spelled out with enthusiasm and poignance in the wonderful meditation book, Hurry Up and Meditate by David Michie. I highly recommend this book for stressed out professionals, as it was written for you.
This book offers up scientific proof, anecdotal evidence and even personal experience by the author about how meditation can directly and immediately impact your life for the better. For instance, did you know that there was a controlled study about prison inmates who participated regularly in meditation? The recidivism rates for those individuals was sizably lower than their non-meditating counterparts. Outside of all of these immediate benefits, meditation also increases life expectancy and decreases your risk for cancer and other harmful diseases.
Getting Started with Meditation
Alright, I think I’ve sufficiently beat you all over the head with why you should meditate. Now it’s time for the how. Below you can find my takeaways from the meditation workshop I attended, as well as some techniques that I’ve learned.
- Meditation is not inherently tied to Buddhism or any religious doctrine. It’s agnostic and available to everyone.
- Meditation doesn’t take very long. I recommend 5-10 min sessions to start. That’s enough to alter your mood and give you perspective for the entire day, no joke.
- You can’t be bad at meditation. However, as with any skill, it takes some practice to get better and truly enjoy it. Consistency is king.
- There are two major mental obstacles to overcome as you search for your meditative balance: hyperactivity and lethargy. At first you’ll have trouble with one or the other, or both. One day thoughts will besiege you as you try to find calm and rhythm. The next day, you’ll be head down and sawing logs. That’s alright. The only way to overcome these obstacles is persistence.
- It’s important to stay focused on the present moment. Your thoughts will try to drag you into the past (something that happened that has been on your mind) or the future (a pressing To Do item), but you must fight off those urges and concentrate on staying in the present.
- Finally, environment is everything. Make sure you have a quiet place to meditate. Make sure you’re comfortable. There’s no need to twist yourself into a pretzel, or find a mountain temple. Just sit comfortably and quietly where you know you’ve got some privacy.
The Mantra: As you prepare to start meditating, it is important to know why you want to meditate. The book I mentioned above suggests that you pick your reasons and work them into an easy to remember mantra that reinforces a feeling of accomplishment and positivity. Here’s mine:
By the practice of this meditation
I am becoming calm and relaxed
Happier and more confident in all that I do
Both for myself as well as for others.
Noted benefit: This mantra helps you in a few different ways. First, it bookends your practice, thus giving you a definitive period of time to concentrate solely on meditation. Furthermore, it instills a feeling of positivity and reminds you why you chose to meditate in the first place. Finally, the message is uniquely yours, and therefore makes each session a personal experience. Come up with your own, keep it simple, memorize it, and use it every time.
Breath counting: 1…2…3…4… repeat. In general, you don’t want to count much higher than 7. The reason for this is, you want to reach the number you are shooting for and start again before your inner monologue starts to creep back in. If thoughts start to invade your headspace, best to start back at 1 and focus on the feeling of breathing in and out at a normal even pace. Thoughts will edge their way in, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just be persistent about focusing on breathing and numbers.
Noted benefit: this is a simple practice. It helps with rhythm and concentration, and is an easier win for people just starting out.
Awareness meditation: taking mental inventory of yourself. It could be your thoughts, your feelings, the state of your body, a particular sense (smell, sound, etc.). You focus your concentration on whichever part of you that you want. What do you hear? What thoughts are popping into your head? How do you receive that input? One popular awareness meditation is called a body scan. You start at the tip of your toes and try to really feel each part of your body. Your feet, your ankles, your shins, your knees, all the way up to the top of your head. Then back down.
Noted benefit: This practice helps with self-awareness, be it physical, mental or emotional.
Object meditation: Find an interesting but simple object: a colorful rock, a bottle cap, a pen, whatever, and study it thoroughly and unhurriedly.
Noted benefit: this practice helps with concentration and observational skills.
Mettā (or Compassion Meditation): This is a cool one, but tough to explain. Basically, all of our social connections can be grouped into spheres, starting with you and circling outward to your close friends and family, then your more distant acquaintances, then all strangers that you don’t know, then finally all living things in the universe. The technique involved in this meditation is to start by focusing on yourself and slowly work your way out toward the outer spheres, wishing each living being or group in each sphere both happiness and fulfillment. The rub is finding people or things in each sphere that you really love and care about and also people or things that you may hate, or at least dislike, and wish them all happiness equally.
Noted benefits: This helps build empathy, patience, and a deeper understanding of interconnectivity. Buddhists call this one “the shortcut to enlightenment,” which I thought was interesting.
Ultimately, my biggest takeaway about mediation (and what I was hoping to get from the workshop) was this: if you carve out a small window in your day to devote to meditation, and you do so on a regular basis, you will find yourself the benefactor of numerous positive results, including reduced stress, fatigue, and negativity, and increased happiness, creativity, compassion, energy, optimism, and on and on.