There are so many different ways that people practice meditation, and meditation means different things to different people. Without a doubt, however, all those who practice it find it has a positive influence on their lives. The Buddhist Center describes it as a means of transforming the mind, and I find that’s exactly what it does.
Perhaps you already practice a form of meditation or perhaps it’s completely new to you; either way, it’s an important practice with a host of beneficial effects. When it comes to performing at your peak, including meditation in your day in some form or another is a must!
The thing is, to practice it effectively, what you’re doing isn’t so important as how you’re doing it. And it’s all about awareness. Whatever you’re doing, you need to be doing it without distraction. Hence, when I’m practicing my breathing exercises I am, in fact, already meditating, just as, when I’m resting afterwards and listening to my Zen music, I’m meditating.
In the beginning, some people find it helpful to sit quietly and focus on just one thing, like a candle flame, for example. The aim is to clear the mind of all its chatter, emptying out all the warring thoughts and emotions, and just be.
This means the opposite of the above holds true. Even when you’re sitting down crossed-legged, in the lotus position, telling yourself you’re meditating, if you let your busy mind intrude and you find yourself going over your to-do list in your head, or bemoaning the things someone’s done to annoy you this morning, or considering the state the traffic’s going to be in when you leave the house – then you’re not actually meditating.
Putting the time aside isn’t enough. You need to train your mind. And unlike when you’re trying to learn a certain technique or adopt a set of positive affirmations, for example, you’re not training your mind to take something on – you’re training it to quiet itself. To calm itself. To empty itself.
But what is all this in aid of? What makes this a step towards peak performance?
The Benefits of Meditation
As US News reporter Kristine Crane explores in an article on how meditation can improve your life, there are several key benefits that meditation manifests. In summary, meditation:
- Reduces stress.
- Improves concentration.
- Encourages a healthy lifestyle.
- Increases self-awareness.
- Boosts happiness.
- Benefits your cardiovascular and immune systems.
If you explore different meditation techniques and find the ones that suit you, you will likely find the same as Crane. Not only is agitation and anxiety reduced by meditation, but your ability to focus increases as you practice. Not only this, but you become much more self-aware as well as more aware of what is around you, meaning you take a more devout interest in what you’re putting into your body and what you’re putting your body through on a daily basis.
As well as stimulating positive emotions in the brain, meditation also serves to relax you, mind and body. This lowers your blood pressure and allows your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in. This is the part of your autonomic nervous system responsible for repairing your body and rejuvenating your cells, so it’s absolutely vital when it comes to your overall health and wellness. The function and importance of your parasympathetic nervous system are factors we’ll return to in detail towards the end of this book, in the step on recovery.
I’m just going to offer you a couple of “beginner” options here to get you started.
The first is simple – as are so many of the exercises and principles that we go through in this book. All you need to do to get started is go for a walk!
It helps if you do this alone and (it may go without saying) if you do this outside. It doesn’t have to be a long walk or a strenuous hike. Just take ten minutes and see how you do. Just be aware that the more you practice it, the better you’ll get at it!
- Walk slowly and steadily; don’t rush.
- Now, focus on your feet.
- Feel the sensation as each different part of your foot connects with the ground, from your heel through the arch to the ball of your foot and your toes.
- Focus on that rolling motion, repeated as each foot is placed in front of the other.
If your mind drifts and you find yourself thinking about something else, bring your attention back to your feet, again and again.
I give over a significant proportion of my meditation practice to expressing gratitude. We all know the people who are never happy with what they’ve got. What they don’t get is that the more grateful you are, the more you get! But I’m not talking about paying lip service here. You have to truly feel the emotion. Consider all the reasons you have to be grateful and engage your heart alongside your mind. Feel it. There is no tricking the universe. Genuine feelings of gratitude are what grant you further reasons to be grateful.
It can take work to train your brain to be positive and it can take work to train your heart to be grateful, but it is well worth the effort! It’s about stepping out of a victim mentality, where you perceive bad things are always happening to you, and a scarcity mentality, where you perceive that you don’t have anything and are never given anything, and believing yourself to be blessed, as you are. There are so many things to be grateful for! Rather than bemoaning what you lack, you should be celebrating everything you have and everything to come.
Start off with just three things (these will certainly multiply once you get into the habit of giving them recognition), and meditate on them first thing in the morning when you wake, and last thing at night before you drift off to sleep.
Train your mind, when you wake, to stop in its tracks. Don’t think about everything you need to get done today. Don’t think about the commute to work or getting the kids ready for school or what you’re going to have for breakfast.
Simply lie still, just for a moment, and go over three things you are grateful for before you do anything – before you even move. The same in the evening. Don’t think about everything that went wrong in the day. Don’t think about the things you didn’t get done that you’ll need to do tomorrow. Don’t think about the time and count how many hours you have to sleep before you have to get up again.
Simply lie still, just for a moment, and go over three things you are grateful for. Once you are done, let yourself rest – body and mind.
Here are some examples from my own practice:
- I am grateful for being able to change the world.
- I am grateful for being the cause.
- I am grateful for saying YES!
- I am grateful for being interested.
- I am grateful for being an influencer.
- I am grateful for attraction.
- I am grateful for helping people.
- I am grateful for my wife and her unconditional love.
- I am grateful for my children’s love.
- I am grateful for knowing reality is subject to influence!
The objects of your gratitude can be things or people or events or circumstances. They can be different every morning and evening, or you can repeat the same ones. The important thing is that you really focus on them. Embrace complete awareness of what you’re grateful for and why. Focus all your attention on them. Picture them in your mind and concentrate. If one of them is a person, picture their face; see their features in your mind’s eye. Envision their smile, experience the joy they bring you, feel your heart swell. Thank them silently and with your whole being.
The next step on our journey takes us even deeper into our hearts and minds; we still have some work to do on mindset before we get onto other more physical aspects of peak performance!