It's a stressful world these days. Most people are working harder for less pay, or just trying to find work. It is already well verified that meditation is a very effective technique for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. (For instance, check out the studies on meditation at Psychology Today.)
Now, before you dismiss meditation by thinking it's just not for you or you don't have enough time, you should definitely reconsider according to Jay Michaelson, a meditation instructor for the past five years and author of the recently released God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness, and Embodied Spiritual Practice.
"The assumption that some people make that 'I can't meditate' is false. The reason they think that is a misconception about what the practice is; but, in fact, you don't need to sit in posture, believe anything, or be spiritual," Jay assures. He compares it to muscle-building at the gym - you can't tell your muscles to grow, but if you do even a little work every week, its effect is cumulative and you see results. With meditation, a little bit regularly trains your mind.
"Like one of my teachers said, it's like cleaning house. You can't do it all in one day, but if you keep things tidy generally then when it's time to do a deep clean, there's not as much [mess] in the way."
What exactly is meditation?
While there are differing techniques related to meditation (for example, Yoga is considered a form of meditation), one of the basic practices is "sustaining selective attention moment by moment on a chosen object," according to a study titled "Attention Regulation and Monitoring in Meditation" printed in Trends In Cognitive Science in 2008.
In other words, you would focus on one particular thing and clear the mind of any distraction for a period of time, whether two minutes or two hours. Jay summarizes the words of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, on what meditation is: What's going on right now and can I be with it?
Practically speaking, the focus can be on "breathing, getting angry in traffic, or even walking in a store. The goal is to notice what you're doing and not be distracted," according to Jay. "I even have a chapter in my book on meditating on the toilet, which is most people's only private time in a day."
Can I Buy the Meditation Lifestyle?
These days, the "meditation lifestyle" is available for purchase and might seem like a quick-fix. There are meditation cushions, clothing and teas. In fact, I found one claim that a specific tea would allow a person to enter a meditative state immediately and contact the "almighty God in just two minutes." Sounds like some electric Kool-Aid to me.
Despite what manufacturers may claim, Jay Michaelson is quick to dismiss the need to buy anything for meditation. "There's a fetish in America that I have to get the right gear, like expensive sneakers. Nike was actually right ― just do it."
All You Need is the State of Mind
"It's not the what, it's the how. Whether you're feeling sensations of breath in your body rising and falling, it's just noticing. Just witnessing, allowing things to be as they are, more aware, more mindful, instead of rushing, distracted, making judgments," said Michaelson.
Surprisingly, he said that even even special breathing techniques, while they can be helpful, are not necessary. "Breathing is one of the objects of meditation, but there's no need to breath in a special way. It's just convenient because it's always there. You can also meditate on things like food, but you're not always eating."
Meditating, in other words, focusing intentionally on what you're doing while you breath, eat, or whatever, and doing it a short while regularly is an easy way to practice for busy people.
For more guidance on techniques for meditation-on-the-go, check out Jay Michaelson's book God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness, and Embodied Spiritual Practice. For further exploration of the practice of meditation, Michaelson recommends authors like Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, both well-respected teachers and authors.