an everyman's guide to meditation
Fitness is as trendy as it’s ever been. We have all types of workouts, with exercises designed to train every muscle and movement we can imagine. But for our minds, there is one fundamental that everyone can use: meditation. Meditation helps us reset, relax, and quiet our over-active, over-anxious, over-stressed mind. In the article below, I’m going to give you some insight into starting your own practice.
What Is Meditation?
At its core, meditation is very simple: Sit still, relax, and let your mind wander.
Most of us think of meditation as the absence of thought, letting the mind go blank. A blank mind is the goal, but getting to that point will take time and practice. And, though you’ll hear different people explain meditation in different ways, it’s best just to dive in as long as you’re getting some semblance of the above: sit still, relax, and let your mind wander.
Why Do I Need It?
You probably don’t think that you do.
However, meditation can benefit you if you’re especially susceptible to stress or anxiety.
The following are a few of the benefits you can expect to experience:
When you finish meditating, you’ll feel calm, serene, and refreshed in much the same way as when you awaken after an amazing nap or night of sleep.
You’ll feel less anxiety when presented with a typical stressor, you’ll focus better and find yourself with a stronger ability discard negativity. The more you meditate, the more this becomes the new you: focused and calm, even under pressure.
Meditation may help alleviate performance-related anxiety by helping you stay calm, focused and confident in high-pressure situations:
At work: Delivering a speech, presentation or conducting an interview
In sports: Performing well in high-pressure situations
In social settings: When approaching an attractive woman or entertaining a group
Visualization within meditation sessions, as we’ll discuss in a moment, is what helps you get the confidence to feel like you’ve been there before, and that you’re in control of any situation.
Most people would probably agree that living a stressful, anxious life detracts from good physical health. Panic and anxiety attacks produce profound physical symptoms, so it seems that anything we can do to reduce our daily stress and anxiety load could only benefit us. If you’re a difficult sleeper, you’ll likely find that falling asleep – both at home and on planes, buses, etc. becomes much easier.
How To Start
Let’s get you started – it only requires some patience and planning.
Step 1. Carve out 10-40 minutes of time
Choose a time of day when:
You’re unlikely to fall asleep
You don’t have to leap up to get to your next obligation
You’ll have a good venue to sit quietly
I recommend choosing a block of time that will allow you a buffer where you won’t have to immediately get up and run out the door. Just like waking up, build in some “snooze” time where you can slowly come back, or even stay in your meditation for a few extra minutes. If ten minutes is all you have time for one day, that’s fine, but try to give yourself a little extra time if you can.
Step 2. Find a comfortable space
Choose your time wisely, where you’ll have access to a place that is:
Temperate and sheltered from the elements
Quiet and free of distractions (though tuning them out can be a great exercise in itself)
Private, if possible
As a baseball player, I often have to meditate in public places like a locker room, team bus, hotel, weight room, etc. But, I try to stay away from prying eyes as much as I can. Rather than feel the stares of strangers on my skin, I try my best to stay out of the public eye.
Step 3. Sit or Lay Comfortably
You don’t need to sit in the lotus position or in any special way – just find a position that will allow you to settle in and be as still as possible. A cushion to sit on is ideal, and laying flat on your back is okay too. But, I’d caution against laying down on a couch or bed, because you’re just setting yourself up for a nap.
Step 4. Plan to Meditate for 10+ Minutes
10-60 minutes is a pretty standard range, with up to 20-30 minutes being more of the norm. I’ve done up to an hour, but it gets long and I personally get restless at about 40 minutes. It takes 5-10 minutes to really settle in both mentally and physically, so if you can, try for twenty minutes – if you can make it ten, you’ll want to stay in for the next ten.
Step 5. Think About…Nothing
Just get into a comfortable position, close your eyes and try to relax. You’ll probably ask, “I’m just sitting here, reviewing the work on my to-do list, waiting for the alarm to go off…what’s the point?” Just give it time.
Your mind won’t be at all quiet at first. You’ll sit there and actively have a conversation with yourself, review your work day, review the fight you had with your wife and the score from Monday Night Football…that’s normal. Give yourself time to adjust and you’ll feel yourself relax faster, both mentally and physically. The busy conversations in your head will fade.
Step 6. Stay Present and Listen to Your Breath
Meditation is about being present. When you’re present, you’re not worrying about the past and not dreading what could happen in the future. Being present separates you from the fear of botching the big presentation, dropping the game-winning touchdown pass, or messing up the words
To help you stay present and keep other thoughts at bay, we can focus on certain words or on the breath. We can only breathe in the present – you can’t take future or past breaths. In your head, upon each breath, you can insert a word you want to instill, such as:
(Breathe in) “Confident”
(Breathe out) “Leader”
If you decide to use focus words, make them whatever you want. They block out the bad and help you fixate on the good, all the while staying present.
What To Expect
#1. You Won’t Be “Blank” At First
The first time I meditated, I sat there and was actively bored, anxious, and felt like it was pointless; I didn’t think I was cut out for it. It felt like my mind was a little kid and I just dropped him off at the playground – because I wasn’t doing something, it was free to run amuck.
But, this changed over the next week. It wasn’t that I stopped thinking, but rather that I stopped engaging my own thoughts. Thoughts entered my brain just the same as they always had, but they didn’t have the podium anymore, and they started flowing right back out as quickly as they had come.
#2. Deep Relaxation Comes In Time
After consistently meditating for a week, I started to relax, not only mentally, but physically as well. At first, I was fidgety, uncomfortable and somewhat tense. This quickly gave way to an extremely deep relaxation, which was very refreshing the midst of a busy workday.
#3. The Static Fades
You’re in a restaurant with friends, when suddenly you hear a baby crying at the top of his lungs just a few tables away. It’s the only thing you can hear, that is, until your friend asks you about your favorite football team. Suddenly, wrapped up in a heated conversation, you don’t hear the crying baby. Did he stop? Nope – still going strong. But because your attention was elsewhere, you completely tuned him out. This is how meditation works.
The negative thoughts, the obsessive thoughts, the anxious thoughts, the big bad wolf on your shoulder telling you that “you can’t!” – they never go away. However, when we train our mind through meditation, we stop tuning in. And when we stop listening to the negative stuff, we’re free to pump in our own positive words, building our confidence.
#4. Visualize Yourself Succeeding
After about a month, the smoke began to clear. The thoughts running through my brain weren’t in my way anymore, and so I started to insert myself into baseball situations that I struggled with. I played my own video game in my head, and I was in complete control. Now, in real games, it’s like I have already been there and done that.
Even for those not involved in sports, this type of internal rehearsal and confidence can apply to whatever you want. Starting a conversation with the beautiful woman you want to date? No problem. Flawlessly pitching an idea to an executive? Easy. Rock climbing up an insanely high cliff? Let’s do it.
Give it A Shot
Regardless of your reason – stress reduction, performance enhancement, or just a boost in confidence – meditation can be a great tool to help get you there. Like anything, it takes effort and consistency, but the benefits are great and can be realized quickly. Take just a few minutes each day to give meditation a try, and you’ll be hooked.
Dan Blewett is a professional baseball player, strength coach and fitness educator. As owner of Warbird Academy, a sports performance facility in Illinois, he spends his offseason teaching young athletes how to build the physical and mental strength necessary for a successful career in sports.
Dan’s writing has been featured in T-Nation.com, Bodybuilding.com, Stack.com,
EliteFTS.com, and Collegiatebaseball.com. His first book Pitching Isn’t Complicated was published in December of 2013. Follow Dan on Twitter and Instagram @coachdanblewitt