Until fairly recently, my mental image of meditation was strictly limited to one of a person sitting cross-legged on the floor in a candle-lit room, palms up, with index finger and thumb on each hand making a perfect circle. And I had neither the time nor flexibility to do such a thing. It doesn’t really work anyway, I thought. Fast forward to improved mindfulness and self-reflection, and I realize that I had it all wrong.

“Formal” versus “informal”

Every now and then, my wife will enjoy some quiet time and meditate with the help of a subscription service from Headspace. I’ve listened in a few times with her and, I must admit, I found it to be extremely soothing.

I prefer something a little more informal that doesn’t feel like quite as much of a commitment. I was beyond thrilled once I figured out that you don’t have to carve out any extended period of time to meditate.

Box breathing is a technique that was made popular by a former Navy SEAL, as a way to relieve stress and clear the mind. When I do this exercise, I like to actually visualize a box in my mind, tracing each side as I complete each of the 4-second steps. The link above covers the many benefits of deep breathing, but the four simple steps are below:

  1. Inhale through your nose, counting to 4, to allow air to completely fill your lungs.
  2. Hold the air for 4 seconds.
  3. Exhale through your mouth, counting to 4.
  4. Pause for 4 seconds before inhaling to begin the process again.

The thing I like most about it is that you can practice it anywhere, and for as long as you think you need. I’ve found that the most benefit is gained when I’m able to do this exercise at home, sitting in a chair with my eyes closed. Given the hellacious traffic that we have here in Atlanta, I will often practice this as well while I’m driving (but with eyes wide open!). I’ve used it before I get out of bed in the morning, and I’ve found it to be very effective at night if I’m having trouble falling asleep.

By creating the space for yourself, focusing on your breathing, and shutting out the external distractions, you are free to focus on your thoughts and the sounds happening around you. It’s amazing how doing this exercise for just a few minutes really does help you slow down and refocus. I’ve found that my heart rate and blood pressure drop, my muscles relax, and my mind is more open.

Even a 10% improvement helps

Dan Harris, a popular television correspondent and anchor, wrote a book that details his own misconceptions about meditation. The book is titled 10% Happier, and I like it because, as he explains on his website, it’s for people “interested in meditation, but allergic to ‘woo-woo’”. The book lays out some simple exercises that anyone can do and that don’t take much time.

It’s in the tag line

So, do I formally meditate, or is it more just deep breathing? Probably the latter, but it works for me. And I’d argue that I’m even more than 10% happier when I’ve allowed myself that space. Do what works for you but, for those meditation (and even deep breathing) skeptics out there, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that the word “happiness” is right there in The Ate Truths’ mission statement. Whenever you’re facing stress, rejuvenate by meditating, take time to focus on your blessings, and get your mind back on track on your own journey to finding your purpose and having a positive impact.