Ask anyone what meditation looks like and you’ll get a wide range of answers. For some, it’s as simple as sitting still with their eyes closed for five minutes. And for others, it’s a guided practice in a more formal setting. It’s a word we hear a lot, but the definitions are all over the place. Confusion aside, the common thread through most people’s experiences is that meditation provides a sense of calm; something we could all use after a year filled with political turmoil on top of general day-to-day stress.
If you’re simply curious or adding self-care to your list of 2018 resolutions, Lodro Rinzler, Chief Spiritual Officer and co-founder of MNDFL, shares easy meditation techniques and everything you need to know before starting them.
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First, it’s important to establish a clear understanding of what meditation is. It’s something you actually do, or “swapping out your discursive thinking for a particular object that gets your attention,” says Rinzler. “In mindfulness practice, for example, that object might be your breath, or in mantra practice, a word or a phrase.”
Many forms of meditation originated in India, but mindfulness of the breath (from the Buddhist tradition) is the best known version here in the States.
“The Buddha was a human, just like you and me, who lived 2600 years ago. He experimented with a number of forms of meditation before using the breath as his object of meditation. Through simply becoming more present with it he gained clarity about the very nature of who he is and reality around him – that’s what we commonly refer to as nirvana or enlightenment,” says Rinzler.
Today, we’ve formed a more updated version of this and instead, use the same techniques to gain clarity about the things that bring us discomfort, such as stress or anxiety. Another popular form of meditation is the mantra-based kind, which stems from Vedic teachings and is closely associated with Transcendental Meditation and the David Lynch Foundation.
“It’s very well known, but not always as accessible as mindfulness of the breath because you have to do a four day course to learn that style,” says Rinzler.
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One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that you’ll feel an instant rush of peace after you “zen out;” that same feeling you get after a world class massage. That’s simply not the case because meditation requires that you let go of your pre-conceived notions, judgements and expectations regarding the experience.
“It’s hardly woo-woo; it’s more like hard work!,” says Rinzler. “In terms of challenges, people sometimes think they should come in once and feel forever peaceful. That’s a bit like going to the gym once and feeling let down because you didn’t walk out ten pounds skinnier. It takes time to see the benefits of meditation, so we always caution people to be patient with themselves and give themselves space to let the practice do its magic.”
With that being said, different forms of meditation breed different benefits. But overall, research shows that a little meditation each day boosts your immune system, improves your sleep cycle and leads a more productive work life, among other things.
“In Tibetan, one word for meditation is ‘gom,’ which can also be translated as ‘become familiar with.’ So one way to think about it is that we are becoming familiar with all of who we are,” says Rinzler. “At MNDFL, we are firm believers in offering time-tested techniques by trained teachers- people who have studied with someone who studied with someone who studied with someone, going back hundreds, if not thousands of years. That way you know that what you are receiving is helpful and worthwhile.”
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We’re all running around trying to knock things off a checklist, which ironically leaves little time for something that could actually ease the stress our busy schedule breeds. So, if you can’t set aside hours of meditation time like Buddha did back in the day, what can you do?
Ahead, Rinzler shares three millennial-friendly techniques that can be incorporated into the craziest of days. We’re not playing Jedi mind tricks on you; they actually are as simple as they look and with time, may become an essential part of your self-care routine. Apps like Headspace are great and all, but require that you stay plugged into your phone, which sort of defeats the purpose of meditation.
Rinzler’s suggestions allow you to truly unplug and attempt and inward focus. If you can create a calm environment to do these in: great. But if not, they’re just as useful during your lunch break or sitting on a train when you’re limited to a smaller space.
For the early riser: “Set an intention for the day. After focusing on the breath, contemplate, ‘What quality do I want to cultivate today?’ Let whatever answers come up wash over you like a wave and keep returning to the question as the object of meditation. Notice if one answer feels particularly relevant to you. As you emerge from meditation, commit to focusing on that quality for just this one day.”
For the night owl: “Contemplate, ‘What am I grateful for today?’ Similar to before, start with the breath then move into the contemplation; whatever answers come up are fine, just keep coming back to the question. At the end of the session, see if you notice increased feelings of appreciation and gratitude in your body.”
For the person who needs a break from their desk: “Take a moment to feel the weight of your body on the earth. Gently lift upward through your spine. Connect to the natural cycle of your breath, feeling the rise and fall of your belly. When your mind wanders, come back to the physical sensation of the breath.”
And if you’re looking for a little more guidance or enjoy being in a classroom environment, studios like MNDFL offer hands-on help from meditation pros.