Your Monthly Check-Up: Meditation, Down Time and the Power of a Good Night’s Sleep

Part II: Meditation

(Click here for Part I: Relaxation)

While you’re on one of your breaks, why not try a little meditation on for size? Meditation may seem like a fad due to its recent rise in popularity in the States, but it’s a wellness practice that’s been helping people around the world for thousands of years. As daunting as it is to even think about sitting still and being quiet in this time of hustle and bustle, even adding a few minutes of meditation into your daily or weekly routine promotes life-sustaining benefits.

In “The Strength to Sit Still,” EXPERIENCE L!FE fitness editor Jen Sinkler recounts her first attempt at meditation as a fitness buff and how it not only altered her thoughts about meditation, but her thoughts about thinking in general.

Instead of “crack[ing] open the meditation CDs that I bought three years ago,” Sinkler went all out for her first meditation experience with a 3-day beginner’s retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) in Red Feather Lakes, Colo. “…stillness emanates from the surroundings here, and when I arrive I finally feel like I have time to meditate,” Sinkler says. “Cell phones don’t work and my laptop is back home, edged out by the towel on the SMC packing list. I suspect this sort of sacred space can be created anywhere, but signing up for a retreat has given me formal permission to carve it out for myself.”

According to Sinkler’s instructor, Charles Rosicky, “The first rule of meditation is to have no expectations,” Sinkler recounts in the article. “It’s like being excited to go on vacation. The vacation you go on is never the vacation you think you’re going to go on. In the same way, it’s better to meditate without ambition.”

Unfortunately, Sinkler broke this rule. “I didn’t expect to find enlightenment over the weekend, but I did want the act of meditating to feel blissful, life-altering and important,” she says. “I didn’t go on the vacation I thought I was going on. Meditation felt…ordinary. Unspectacular and, at times, like déjà vu.”

But here is where Sinkler’s moment of insight came through. Although she arrived at SMC thinking she had never meditated before, she had in fact experienced the “flow state” of meditation many times, “during particularly good workouts or standout rugby games, where my focus was so singular it became everything.”

That’s all meditation is, anyway – focusing your attention on the task at hand; remaining in the present moment when unrelated thoughts attempt to disrupt your meditative flow. Focusing on your breath is a great way to get started. Sit comfortably and breathe. When your mind starts to wander, which it inevitably will, bring your focus back to your breath. The point of meditation is not to clear your mind. That is impossible. The point is to allow your thoughts to pass by your consciousness without reacting. You can always come back to them later.

“One of the first benefits is that you begin to see that you are not your thoughts,” says Ron West, ecologist for Boulder County Parks and longtime meditator, who was one of Sinkler’s instructors on the retreat. “We self-identify with our thoughts – meaning, bad thoughts equal bad person. You slowly see that thoughts arise in a vast and neutral space, and that it is possible to see that the mind is not solid. The thoughts just become interesting-to-look-at fish swimming in a very large aquarium.”

Sinkler has since incorporated 10 to 30 minutes of near-daily meditation into her weekly routine and has been singing its praises and reaping its benefits ever since her weekend retreat.

Stay tuned later this week when we wrap up our series with Part III - Sleep!