The benefits of meditation are many and varied from reducing stress, blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes to increasing one’s cognition and creativity. As well meditation decreases our need for sleep by heightening our concentration, allowing us to be more productive. Ray Kroc, who took over McDonald’s in its early days and built it into a business of outstanding success, once reported that he’d spontaneously fall into states of meditative reverie during the day and thus didn’t need a lot of sleep (Bennis 1984).
Many people think that they have to run off to a monastery or spend hours a day sitting in a lotus position to receive these benefits. WRONG! If you feel overwhelmed with work, family and personal responsibilities here are three quick and easy meditations to help you release unwholesome emotions, shift your mood and improve your relationships adapted from my new book.
1. Breathing Meditation to Release Unwholesome Emotions
This meditation can help you quickly release any unwholesome emotion or stressful situation and bring yourself back into balance whether you are traveling, at work or at home. The key is to be mindfully aware of your breathing. To do this you breathe in through your nose for a count of three, hold for three, and then out through your mouth for three. The first step is to identify the negative emotion you are feeling so as you focus on your breathing ask yourself, “What am I experiencing?” Once you can answer this question with, “I am feeling anger, impatience, irritability, frustration or even fear” after your next in breath when you hold for three replace that unwholesome statement with a positive one. For example if you are standing in a long line that is moving very slowly and feeling frustrated, focus on your breathing and replace the frustration with, “I am feeling compassion.” Keep repeating the breathing, hold and statement until you can feel all the negative emotions release from your body and mind. This meditation is a great antidote for road rage when you replace the anger with acceptance; when you get moody with your kids or a co-worker you can substitute your irritability with patience; or if you are annoyed at someone you can replace your impatience with surrender.
2. Walking Meditation to Improve Your Mood & Fight Depression
A major part of feeling despair or sadness is the lack of energy or motivation you have to get out of bed, to stop procrastinating or giving in to the feeling that there’s no point in taking action. To remedy torpor and depression, you have to experience the vital life force that sharpens the mind and focuses the awareness like a laser beam. This walking meditation focuses on your breathing and encourages a reconnection with your vitality by paying attention to what’s going on inside of you.
First find a place where you can walk that has minimal distractions such as a park, beside a body of water, a bike path or an indoor track, your living room floor, or even in an empty stairwell at the office. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and to remain silent throughout your walk, which should last about ten minutes.
As you begin, focus on your breath, mentally saying “in” on the inhale and “out” on the exhale. In a few minutes, refocus your awareness on your body. Feel how you make contact with the ground and if you are holding tension anywhere in your body. Then shift your awareness back to your breathing feeling oxygen that is always available to you coming into your lungs, being pumped through your heart and bloodstream, and reaching all the cells in your body. Feel the activity in your body at a cellular level, as each cell drinks in oxygen and your blood rushes to carry it to every cell in your brain, fingertips, chest, groin, thighs, calves, and toes. Feel your muscles relaxed and strengthened by this oxygen. Feel your heart pumping steadily and reliably as your life force is pushed through your veins and arteries being mindful of the shifting sensations you feel as you propel yourself forward.
3. Five Minute Meditation to Improve a Relationship
This “wise speech” meditation is helpful if you and a partner, co-worker or friend are having communication problems in your relationship. It can also be adapted for a manager to address any inter-departmental conflicts. The key to this exercise is mindful listening, which means you are aware of not only the words but also the body language and actions of the other person. First person A is the speaker who starts by talking about what is on his/her mind. Person B is the listener who listens in a mindful way and only after Person A is finished sincerely responds with, “I heard everything that you said and I will be mindfully aware of all your thoughts, feelings and perceptions from this moment forward.” Then reverse the roles with Person A being the listener. I would recommend that you put a time limit on how long each person can speak and practice this once a week, three times a week or every other day.
Through these simple mindfulness meditations, we can light up and build up the left-prefrontal cortex in our brain, associated with optimism, self-observation, and compassion, allowing ourselves to cease being dominated by the right-prefrontal cortex, which is associated with fear, depression, anxiety, and pessimism. As a result, our self-awareness and mood stability increase as our harsh judgments of others and ourselves decrease. Even if you can only devote five minutes a day to mindful meditation, doing it while waiting in line at the bank, sitting in traffic, or waiting on hold for computer technical support, you can receive these benefits.
Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. is the author of the widely acclaimed book, Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change. He is the Executive Director of the OpenMind Training® Institute, practices mindfulness-based mind-body psychotherapy and leadership coaching in Santa Monica, CA, for individuals and corporate clients. He has taught personal and clinical training groups for professionals in Integral Psychotherapy, Ericksonian mind-body healing therapies, mindfulness meditation, and positive psychology nationally and internationally since 1970. (www.openmindtraining.com)