By John Bobey
Meditation is one of those ideas in modern life that seems like it should be the simplest thing in the world to adopt into your daily routine. Just sit for 20 minutes and quiet your mind—no problem! Yet for many (myself included), it has always been a challenge. I equate it to getting into shape—just eat less and move more! Yeah, right.
But just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, and even more so, it doesn’t mean that the upside isn’t well worth finding the discipline to not just speed by the dollar menu drive-thru, but to find a meditation practice that works. Mindfulness could be the best place to start—think of it like a “gateway drug” that can lead to the hard stuff, and it’s all really good for you.
There are a host of more “formal” meditation options out there, and several tools such as apps that guide you through mindfulness exercises (we reviews a few of the best HERE). But mindfulness meditation is one you could start today—right now—with absolutely no training.
When you type “mindfulness” into Google, you get the following definition:
A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
That’s about as succinct as you’re going to get, and I came to understand the beauty and power of that mental state with the help of an unconventional guide: A monster truck rally that was showing on the TV near my treadmill during a recent workout. I found myself fixated on the monotony of truck after truck making its way around the track. Being mindful of this repetition, a sort of visual mantra, I not only completed my run, but crushed my old PR. Through focusing on something other than my workout (and as you can see, that focus can be on almost anything), I ran faster and farther and harder. (I also came away with a greater appreciation for a driver with the skills to flip over in a giant truck three times, land on the vehicle’s roof, and not die.)
"Life is busy, so you have to take your meditation opportunities where you find them, and Mindfulness lets us do exactly that."
So, am I using this new meditation technique to become an uber athlete? Not even close. While I’ve yet to see a reappearance of the monster trucks on any of the TVs, I have found similar success “being mindful” of the action on other shows. My normal, scattered “monkey mind” where a million thoughts and feelings come and go without rhyme or reason quiets, and at the end of my workout I feel a sense of calm and accomplishment instead of my usual, “oh thank you merciful universe for letting this be over.” I can’t get there all the time. I guess that’s why they call it a practice, because the more you do it, the better you’ll get. The biggest takeaway for me is that life is busy, so you have to take your meditation opportunities where you find them, and Mindfulness lets us do exactly that.
Of course, there are other (and probably healthier) ways to zone out besides trashy television. Other forms of Mindfulness Meditation can be equally effective, and there’s something for everyone.
Often described as training the mind through training the body, yoga in all its wonderful variations offers plenty to the mindfulness seeker. In many a Bikram session, I’ve found the static quickly dissipate as I tried to place my head on the knee of my outstretched leg. While Sweating. And standing. And not falling into the sweating person next to me once me standing with my head on the knee of my outstretched leg was no longer an option.
Yup, even something as pedestrian as walking can be meditative if you’re mindful of both your breath and steps, and while your body is in motion, you give awareness but no judgement to the movement of your body and thoughts in your mind. Also be mindful that not everyone sharing the streets with you is also being mindful…some are texting and driving, often at the same time.
In studies conducted on happiness, it’s been found that people describe themselves as happiest when they are in the groove or a state of “flow,” where they lose sense of time and themselves and their surroundings. On a good day, I feel this way when writing, and friends have described similarly blissful states when painting, dancing, playing an instrument and even an organized sport. (Really, is there anything that looks more “in the moment” than a well-executed fast break?)
"People describe themselves as happiest when they are in the groove or a state of “flow,” where they lose sense of time and themselves."
I once read that a 19th century utopian community in Upstate New York used to have its members clean the bread ovens when they were on, presumably as a way of training attentiveness. That’s certainly an extreme (though perhaps not a bad way to squelch someone’s addiction to carbs). No question, taking a meditation practice “seriously” though a formal approach with perhaps even instruction works for a lot of people. But the more I’ve delved into the topic of meditation, the more I’ve realized that it’s endlessly customizable, and there’s a version that’s the right fit for you, guaranteed.
We’d all be better off being more mindful, focusing on the present moments, and just getting the hang of that takes some time (hint: enlightenment isn’t in your phone, so quit staring at it). However, everyone agrees (two words you rarely get to type in succession) that meditation is wildly good for you, mind, body and soul. So I say jump on the mindfulness bandwagon…even if at first it looks like a monster truck.
John Bobey is a writer/producer living in Los Angeles whose work includes The Today Show, Huffington Post, Saturday Night Live, and The Late Show with David Letterman. He can be reached at [email protected].