Did you know you breathe in and out an average of 25,000 times in a given day?
In meditation, breath is used as an anchor to focus the thoughts and relax the body. So we all have 25,000 opportunities, each and every day, to calm our mind and tune into our surroundings. But the truth is that we only need to set aside a fraction of those to begin seeing some serious changes in our lives.
Daily meditation is a skill that anyone can learn and benefit from. From reducing stress to improving sleep and focus, there are countless physical, mental and emotional rewards to this simple practise. And yet, although most of us have heard of it, few of us have taken the next step of integrating it into our daily lives as a habit.
From reducing stress to improving sleep and focus, there are countless physical, mental and emotional rewards to this simple practise.
Why? Because we’re often ‘too busy’, or just simply uncomfortable with being left alone with our own thoughts.
But sometimes ‘busyness’ is nothing more than a flattering excuse to avoid something difficult, and our discomfort with our thoughts could be contributing to our feelings of stress and low self-esteem. Meditation can be the perfect antidote.
Making meditation a daily practise
Kuniatsu Suzuki has been a Buddhist monk for nearly two decades, during which time he’s spent 12 years doing zen meditation at Shitennoji Temple in Osaka, Japan. Earlier this year, he ran online meditation sessions with the Three Whiskey staff to help us harness the power of meditation to improve our mental health and general wellbeing.
Physical isolation and the fear of an uncertain future during lockdown has led to many experiencing strong emotions and increased anxiety. This is part of the reason why Suzuki, among others, have seen a dramatic uptake in classes since the beginning of lockdown. Since April, upwards of 4,000 new people have signed up for his online guided meditation classes and, from our experience with him, it's easy to see why.
Not only do these classes offer connection, but meditation is the perfect pandemic de-stressor, requiring neither social contact nor special equipment. It can literally be done anywhere!
Perhaps, though, this flippancy is part of the reason why we find it so hard to fit meditation into our daily routines. Five minutes of quietly sitting feels non-essential and easy to skip. Instead, Suzuki says, our concern shouldn’t be to crowbar a set amount of perfectly silent minutes into each day, but to simply try to form a daily habit; even if it’s just one, imperfect minute. Even this small amount of time will be of benefit, so keep it as simple as possible at first. Find somewhere quiet, focus on your breath, and that’s it! Do this for a month and you’ll have a daily meditation habit.
Our concern shouldn’t be to crowbar a set amount of perfectly silent minutes into each day, but to simply try to form a daily habit; even if it’s just one, imperfect minute.
Suzuki also advises to treat meditation like having a meal. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. If meditation feels forced and irritating, don’t put pressure on yourself. It will only hike your stress levels higher as you fight with resistant thoughts and the frustration of not being able to see the meditation through. Meditation should be a pleasure – a momentary escape from internal and external chatter. Work with, not against, yourself.
Becoming more mindful every day
Whenever we start a new habit, there’s always going to be resistance. A clever way around this is to simply attach it on to an existing habit, like brushing our teeth or riding the bus to work.
The mind will wander, but don’t beat yourself up. Just bring your attention back to the moment. To your teeth, to the bus, and to your little pocket of peace.
Most importantly of all, if we do forget to pay attention – which we inevitably will! – that doesn’t mean we’ve failed. Suzuki’s guided meditations help people to stick to a daily meditation habit, even if they barely get to 30 seconds before their mind starts wandering. Meditation, like everything else, is a skill, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for not mastering it straight away – especially in an age where our attention spans are under constant attack.
And remember, if you do slip back into your thinking and become unaware of your breathing, you still have 24,999 more chances.
You can get started right now, with a simple, 5 minute breathing meditation like the one below.
Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash