I’m not what you would call a laid-back sort of person. My husband calls me a hurricane; my massage therapist says I have “tight tuchas syndrome.” I just say I’m a nervous wreck. For the past several years, I’ve given a lot of thought to meditation—and even tried it a few times. But every time I sit down to meditate, my mind wanders to the deadline I’m missing, the bagel with melted Muenster cheese I’d like to be eating or that backroom sale at Loehmann’s. I can’t help but think that my attempts at meditation are a waste of precious time.
Still, it’s hard to dismiss the mounds of scientific data proving that stress is a major health hazard with a direct link to strokes, heart attacks, depression, anxiety, insomnia, digestive disorders and infertility—and that meditation can significantly reduce stress. With data such as this, choosing not to meditate seems downright self-destructive.
So, I decided to give it another shot, asking Steve Haddad— instructor at Charm City Yoga and president of Sangha Solutions, a mindfulness based consulting firm for non-profits—to set me up with a daily mediation practice to, quite literally, help save my life.
Haddad practices Vipassana or “insight” meditation, a 2,500-year-old Buddhist mind training that increases awareness, compassion and helps us to live in the moment. It also discourages reverting to deeply entrenched, often self-defeating patterns of thinking and behavior.
“You can be mindful doing anything—washing dishes, sitting in traffic, bring it into your world,” says Haddad, who recommends that beginners start home practice by setting a designated time at least three times a week for about 15 minutes. Gradually work up to 30 or more minutes daily. For best results, combine home practice with community practice so you can get a little guidance and support. (Note: Vipassana is challenging, even uncomfortable at times, and requires dedication.) While enlightenment may be years away, you should notice a difference after 21 days of committed practice. And who knows, your blood pressure might just go down, too. http://www.charmcityyoga.com
Here’s how to meditate Vipassana-style:
• Find a comfortable seat, and sit cross-legged, or with legs splayed out in front or tucked behind you. Sitting on a chair is fine—or just sit against a wall. It’s important to sit up straight so there is a clear
passage for the breath.
• You may wish to make a resolution before each practice session. Doing so will help strengthen your determination. You can use your own words, but the spirit of the aspiration should be something like this: “By this practice of insight meditation may I reach the end of suffering. May others also benefit from this wholesome action.”
• Close your eyes, or if you prefer keep them open, casting a soft gaze at a non-moving space in front of you.
• Scan the body, noticing any areas of tension or discomfort, and try to relax them.
• Start by focusing on your abdomen. Breathe normally but pay attention to the sensation of the breath going in and out of your body. To help you to focus, silently tell yourself, “I’m breathing in; I’m breathing out,” or “rising; falling.” You can put your hands on your abdomen if it helps you to focus.
• So you might think now’s the time for you to start chanting “ommmm” or to picture yourself relaxing on a tropical beach. (That’s so transcendental, baby.) These aren’t part of the Vipassana practice. Instead, just keep focusing on your breath.
• Expect that after about two seconds, you will get distracted. Note the distraction, but don’t criticize yourself.
• Do inquire about the distraction. Is it a thought, a feeling, an anxiety? Silently label it for yourself with a simple word, like “thought” and let it go.
• Ditto if you encounter an external distraction, like a door shutting. Don’t think too much about it. Simply label it “sound” and let it go. (Note: In a 15- or 20-minute session, Haddad estimates one will get distracted 40 or 50 times. That’s OK. Just keep returning to the breath.)
• Once your session is complete, open your eyes (if they were shut) and slowly rise, making a commitment to practice mindfulness throughout the day.