Do you meditate? I get asked that question a lot.

I usually go on to say that I don’t have one set way of meditating, which can be surprising for people who assume that meditation looks like this.

Woman meditating in a yoga studio, Vancouver, British Columbia

For some of us it can look like sitting on the floor or a cushion with our eyes closed for several minutes or more. For others of us, we need to dance, walk, chant, or listen to a recording of music or guided mediation. We can use a mantra, repeating a word or short phrase in our minds, or we can read a passage (1-3 sentences) from a spiritual or inspirational text and reflect on that.

What do I mean by “meditation” anyway? Here’s a definition that is simple and clear: Meditation is a way of focusing the mind on an object, thought, or activity to bring about clarity and peace both mentally and emotionally.

The biggest challenge to meditation for me, and probably for you, is the fact that my mind is convinced that it must be active in order to survive and be “doing its job”. Thus, meditation becomes an exercise in “putting the frog back on the plate” as the Buddhist saying goes. Meditation is the art and practice of refocusing where we intend our mind to focus without becoming angry or frustrated…which is what makes it challenging! Every time I start to relax and focus on my breath, which is one way to meditate, my mind starts up with the mental gymnastics: plans for the day; music, jingles and songs; wishes for the future; concern about my children; wondering¬† or worrying about something I read on a news website; remembering that I promised to call a friend, etc.

In each of these examples the “frog” of my thoughts jumps off the “plate” of calm focus. My job is to simply return to focusing on my breath and the frog is once again on the plate. This also works when we are practicing a movement meditation such as walking or dancing or Tai Chi. Our minds wander, fidget, urge us to go faster, and we get to keep re-minding¬†ourselves to slow down, focus on the immediate present, and simply be.

When I was first starting to meditate, I would set a timer for 2 minutes. Surely I could sit still for 2 minutes! Not so easy, as I discovered. It took a while until those 2 minutes didn’t feel like 20 minutes of discomfort. Ten years later, and I can sometimes sit for a whole 20 minutes in silence just breathing and being present. But, that’s not my norm.

I do think cultivating sitting meditation is valuable as a spiritual and a physical practice because the rewards are quite significant: lowered blood pressure and heart rate, decreased levels of stress hormones in the blood, increased mental clarity, increased ability to handle stress creatively rather than react out of fear or anger, alleviation of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADD, OCD, and others (the degree varies by individuals but the overall results of research show improvements).

As you build up your meditation “muscle”, you don’t have to do only one exercise. Using other techniques to guide the mind into a calm and relaxed state are also helpful. I’m a fan of guided meditations from many spiritual traditions. You can find many styles online. I’m currently very into Yoga Nidra meditations. I also create guided meditations for others, and I’m working on learning how to record them and post them here. (Stay tuned for developments!)

The bottom line: Finding ways to calm the mind and emotions helps in many areas of life. Meditation is a spiritual practice with centuries of effectiveness for body, mind, and spirit. And, choosing to take time for meditation will lead to being more fully present in all areas of your life.