Yesterday my client, Susan, said to me, “I’m a stress ball. I want to learn how to meditate, I know it will help me relax. But I’ve tried and I’m just no good at it!”
Susan had heard about meditating from the pros and she’d been following my previous two Mastering the Mind articles. But she was at a loss about how to actually do it.
Does this sound familiar?
To help her get started, I shared a meditation practice that I’d learned in my Mindfulness Certification Training. The practice has helped me personally and also helped many of my clients during competition and even test taking. The practice, which has been around for 2,500 years, can help you relax, refocus, and re-center. Certainly, something we can all use during these challenging times.
It’s important to note that there are many types of meditation: guided, unguided, loving kindness meditation and so on...and many places and teachers from whom to learn meditation. The practice I will share here is great on its own and serves as a solid foundation if you would like to explore other kinds of meditation.
As with learning anything new, consistency is important. I recommend beginning your practice three or four days a week, for five-to-10 minutes a day. As you progress, you may want to increase the number of days and also the duration.
In the beginning, try to meditate on the days and time you commit to. This in itself will be a great success! Mornings are great, as there are usually less distractions, and you can start your day with success and calm.
Step One: Find your spot. Where are you going to meditate? You can meditate on a chair, on the couch, on the ground or anywhere you can find a nice quiet, comfortable location that’s relaxing. In the beginning stages of your practice, try to keep your spot the same.
Step Two: Bring your attention to your body. Notice your feet making contact with the floor. Slowly, scan up through your body. Feel your sitz bones and notice how the floor, chair or couch supports you. Continue up your body to your back, creating a straight back, upright shoulders, neck and head. Allow your hands to rest easy on your thighs with your palms down. During the meditation, you can always move and/or reset to be comfortable.
Step Three: Bring your attention to your surroundings. Allow your eyes to slowly wander. Do this with curiosity; just noticing things as if it’s the first time you are seeing them. Slowly turn your head, simply being curious, almost like a puppy would do when it first enters a room. No judgment, no attachment. Then lightly gaze forward six to eight feet ahead with your eyes half-open. It’s important to note in this meditation practice we are not closing our eyes to block out what we might see; rather we are allowing what we see, and think, to be there, just not attaching to it.
Step Four: Bring your attention to your breath. The good news is that you already know how to breathe; you’ve been doing it your entire life! The difference now is that you are bringing attention to your breath. Notice the feel and rhythm of your breath as you inhale and exhale. Maybe notice the breath on the tip of your nose. You might also notice your diaphragm expanding and contracting. Be with your breath.
Step Five: As your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath. Notice I didn’t say “if” your mind wanders, rather “as” your mind wanders. This is what our minds do! Our minds are in the past and future, while our awareness is in the present. Notice the flow of thoughts and emotions. Then, calmly, patiently and without judgment, label the distraction as “thinking” and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
These steps provide an introduction to meditation practice. Remember, this is not about becoming good at the practice. This is not a goal-oriented activity. This is about taking a step back to be with yourself, where you are, in the moment. Each time you meditate, you will have different ideas, thoughts and distractions; allow them to happen with an attitude of curiosity. Each thought or distraction is a golden opportunity to refocus and come back to the present moment.
Imagine if you could do this on the court? For example, when you think of someone’s expectations of you, or when your mind wanders to the score, or a bad call. Rather than getting caught up and stressing about it, you could simply notice the thought, take a step back, bounce the ball and re- focus on your breath and what you can control. This can become your intention and new mental strategy as you compete.
The meditation practice may seem simple, but it’s not easy. Some clients say, “How can it be hard? I’m not doing anything!” You actually are doing something. It may be the first time you are setting aside time to be with yourself in a non-judgment, no comparison mode, where you can just be where you are without trying to force an outcome or pushing to go somewhere. Every moment is a new moment to be in the now. Settle in, take a pause, and enjoy your meditation practice.
Rob Polishook, MA, CPC is the founder of Inside the Zone Sports Performance Group. As a mental training coach, he works with athletes helping them to unleash their mental edge through mindfulness, somatic psychology and mental training skills. Rob is author of 2 best selling books: Tennis Inside the Zone and Baseball Inside the Zone: Mental Training Workouts for Champions. He can be reached by phone at (973) 723-0314, by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, by visiting insidethezone.com, or following on Instagram @insidethezone.