I first heard about meditation on a trip to Ladakh, India’s northernmost state, which shares the Himalayas with Tibet and China. Weaving our way through mountain roads (interspersed with big yellow signs bearing humorous yet ominous messages: “Better be Mr. Late than late mister”), we pulled over on the side of the road. Hidden from view, inside the folds of the mountain, was a narrow path that wound all the way to a temple tucked away from the world. After spinning the hundreds of prayer wheels that lined the stairs for good luck, we collected ourselves for a minute to catch our breath in front of the temple. In between panting breaths, we could hear a faint, rumbling noise. We finally entered the temple, to the deafening sounds of a hundred monks in red garb sitting cross-legged, humming in unison.
“They’re meditating,” our guide said, placing a finger across his lips to make sure we would did not disturb them.
I was 12, and half of me expected the monks to start levitating a few inches above the ground. The secluded location, the eerie sounds and the potent incense contributed to my belief that meditation was a mystical activity reserved for the enlightened.
I have grown up since, and so has society’s perception of meditation, thankfully. Meditation is being demystified, as countless apps (check out below), YouTube guided meditations, and mindfulness courses pop up around us. They may not help us decipher the inner workings of the universe, but they do provide practical tools to take care of our wellbeing. We all know how to treat minor physical ailments: cover a small cut with a Band-Aid, and take medicine to bring your fever down. Nobody teaches us how to deal with the small emotional wounds that weigh on us every day. It turns out that the first step is not all that complicated – just breathe.
You can do this at home, at work, on your commute, or anywhere. Eyes open, closed, by yourself, with a friend; there are no rules! Find a quiet, comfortable spot and give yourself ten minutes. Here’s a short guide:
Sit down if you can, feet on the ground, back upright. Close your eyes if possible.
Relax your body. Try to notice the sensations in your body. Where do your feet connect with the ground? Where do you connect with the chair? Do you feel warm, or cold? Are you tense anywhere? If so, try to relax those areas.
Bring your attention to your breath. In, and out. Don’t try to control it. Breathe naturally, no need to make it long or short. Where do you feel your breath? It could be in your chest, in your nostrils, in your throat. Just keep focusing on one breath at a time.
Your mind will probably wander, and that’s okay. When you notice that it does, gently nudge your focus back to the breath.
Keep doing this for five minutes. You may be lost in thought from time to time. It’s perfectly natural. Every time you notice it, just acknowledge it, and bring your awareness back to the breath. You can count your breaths if it helps your focus (e.g. count to ten breaths).
When it is time to stop, bring your attention back to your body. Maybe you moved a little bit while breathing, maybe you are feeling tension here and there. Just notice your body and your sensations, and relax.
Adjourn for now, but try to plan your next session.
There it is, you have just meditated. Congratulations! Don’t forget that practice makes perfect – ten minutes a day will go a long way, when it comes to reducing your stress.
If you want to try your hand at meditation, check out the Headspace app, which has 10-minute guided meditations. InsightLA also has some nice content, ranging from simple breath meditations to longer talks about mindfulness.