Categories
Personal Growth

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation 2.0

Last year I wrote “A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation” and it was – and still remains – the most popular post I’ve written on my blog. In an effort to update some of the resources and learnings, I’ve updated this post and created version 2.0. For additional resources on meditation, check out this conversation I had with meditation teacher, Mary Meckley. We cover topics including the benefits of meditation, recommendations for beginners, techniques, and much more.

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious, you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
– Lao Tzu

I started to meditate about 4 years ago and it’s become an important part of my daily ritual. I must admit, however, that it wasn’t easy getting started and it still isn’t the most natural thing for me to do. It’s taken some experimentation with what works for me and adapting a meditation practice around that. Your meditation practice might look completely different from mine – and that’s okay. The important part is that you put in the time to meditate to create the space for silence and calm during your busy day.

I’ll take you through a bit of my journey with meditation and the process and tools that have worked for me so far. If you already believe in the positive effects of meditation, you can skip Part I and just go right into the techniques and resources that I’ve been using. Either way, Part I will be helpful in helping you understand the why behind meditation.

So let’s begin!

Part I: Why Meditate?

There are a lot of reasons why it’s beneficial to meditate and in no particular order here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced and heard others experience.

  • Helps you move into the present;
  • Brings about peace and calm in your mind;
  • Builds your perspective and compassion for others;
  • Helps you feel like you’re in greater control of your day;
  • Helps you detach yourself from situations and outcomes;
  • Slows down your day;
  • Allows you to cut through the busywork and focus on doing what matters most;
  • Creates silence during our noisy, busy days.

In The Tim Ferriss Show the majority of top performers (80%+) Tim has interviewed have some sort of meditation practice, and his podcast has some incredible guests including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tony Robbins, Sam Harris, Chase Jarvis, and many others. To me, there seems to be a trend with meditation and mindfulness that helps people be there best.

I know some of the benefits above might sound “woo woo” but there’s growing scientific evidence that meditation not only reduces stress, it also changes your brain. According to a study done in conjunction at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, long-term meditators had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision-making. As we get older, the frontal cortex shrinks, and mindfulness practices like meditation can help slow this process down.

As you’re getting started, the important part is how meditation affects you personally. If you get even a modicum of peace and calm from a 5-minute meditation, maybe it’s worth it for you? After all, 5-minutes is not a bad tradeoff for that kind of feeling.

Part II: How to get started

I initially struggled to get my meditation practice going. When I first experimented with meditation, I picked up a meditation book, read it, and listened to the accompanying CD with guided 20-minute meditations. I found the experience to be extremely difficult – especially sitting in silence for 20 straight minutes. I began to dislike meditation after realizing I wasn’t particularly good at it.

In retrospect, I think I tried to do too much too soon. In my opinion, a 15-20 minute meditation is too long for a beginner to do on their own especially without a meditation teacher to guide them along the way. The key is to start small with a 1 or 2 minute meditation. This way you get a small “hit” of that calm, rewarding feeling to get you going.

The “calm” feeling could be different for you. It might not be a feeling of calm but rather a feeling of inspiration and excitement. It could be a feeling of understanding and love. Try to remember that positive, rewarding feeling so that it brings you back your next meditation session.

Rain Wilson (from The Office fame) shared in an interview that meditation for him is like watching the ticker symbol of a stock market go by. The symbols are your thoughts and they just scroll past you. You’re not attached to the thoughts, you just observe them and let them by. I think that’s a pretty good analogy. (You might want to use clouds in the sky if ticker symbols make you anxious).

The important part is realizing that meditation is not about eliminating all your thoughts and getting into a “blank” mindset. It’s about recognizing the thoughts as they appear and keeping yourself detached from them.

So here are a few tips to help you start to meditate and I’ll break them down for you in a bit more detail below:

Start with just 2 minutes.

Meditation is just like any sport or exercise in that the more “reps” that you put in, the better you get at it. You wouldn’t run a marathon on your very first run, right? So it makes sense to not make your first meditation session a marathon session.

Start with something small – like, very small. Start with a 2-minute meditation and see if you’re able to handle that. From there, up the timing to 5-10-15 minutes. But take it really slowly. Don’t rush yourself. It’s one of those things where you won’t just be able to “will” your way to doing more. Mary Meckley, meditation teacher at Sip and Om, suggests that you meditate just to the point that you can go a little bit longer so you can come back the next day excited to pickup where you left off.

Let’s make meditation fun by making it simple and easy to start.

Learn simple techniques to get you going. (e.g. box breathing technique)

I learned a simple breathing technique called the “box-breathing technique” from Ben Greenfield at a conference in 2015. The technique is simple but surprisingly hard to master. Basically, you slowly breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breathe for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold (your empty lungs) for a count of 4. Then repeat. This technique allows you to oxygenate your body while allowing you to focus on your breath – not your distracting thoughts – during your meditation.

If you find yourself having difficulty concentrating, this is a good technique to practice. If you find that 4 seconds is a bit too long to hold your breathe, try 2 or 3 seconds. I recommend trying it once or twice during your first meditation.

Discover what time of day you are best able to meditate.

I’ve experimented with all sorts of times during the day but early mornings and evenings seem to be the best time for me. For you, it might be different. Try experimenting with a 2-minute meditation at different times during the day to see which one delivers the greatest benefits. When I used to work in the corporate world, I would find time to do a quick 5-minute meditation over lunch which created some calm in an otherwise busy environment. It was super helpful in helping me reset and get ready for the second half of the day.

Part III: My favourite resources

There is a ton of great resources available to get started with your meditation practice. Books, apps, podcasts, and so much more provide resources that you can often tap into for free. Out of all the resources that I’ve experimented with, here are a handful that have allowed me to cultivate my meditation practice.

Calm

For beginners, Calm is a good app to start with. It’s got a clean and beautiful interface and comes with a number of calming background sounds. What I like the most about Calm is that you can use their timed meditations for free. If you’re just starting out, I recommend using Calm to do a 2-minute timed meditation everyday. That way you’re not spending any money and you’re getting to benefit of trialing meditation for yourself.

If you really like the app it’s got a ton of great additional guided meditations – including a new daily meditation – that you can use to further establish your meditation practice.

Sip and Om

Once you’ve established your meditation practice and you can meditate up to 10-15 minutes with relative focus and calm, I recommend checking out Sip and Om. It’s the resource I’m using for my daily meditations.

This subscription-based service provides a new meditation everyday. Each week is a different theme and each day utilizes a different technique to get you deeper into your meditation. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Mary Meckley who runs Sip and Om if you’re curious to learn more about how this meditation service came to be. You can check out their free 2-week trial to see if this might be the right fit for you.

The Daily Meditation Podcast

If you can’t afford the monthly subscription, Mary does do a free podcast called the The Daily Meditation Podcast where you can listen to Mary explain a new technique everyday. It doesn’t give you the full meditation but you can get a sense of the techniques that are out there. The podcast episodes are shorter so you can even use it for your daily meditations as you’re getting started.

HeadSpace

Another notable app is called HeadSpace. I’ve tried HeadSpace in the past and they’ve got a great beginner program called the Take-10 which provides 10 short meditations with helpful video explanations to get you started.

The good news is current meditation apps are constantly updating and innovating to make meditation more accessible and new apps are being created as more people begin to meditate!

Final thoughts…

I hope this gets you started with your meditation practice. It’s a powerful practice to cultivate which impact so many different aspects of your life. Just make sure to be kind to yourself. Your first few weeks or months of meditating won’t be easy. I still struggle to convince myself that it’s worth the time to meditate especially when I’m in the midst of a busy day. But those just might be the days where you need to meditate the most.

Good luck! And feel free to post your personal experiences with meditation. I’d love to hear from you.


Featured image by Isabell Winter.

Categories
Conversations

A conversation with meditation teacher, Mary Meckley.

This conversation features Mary Meckley from Sip and Om. I was really happy and honoured to get Mary onto a call with me as she has been my meditation teacher for the last couple of years. I first started following Mary after we met at a productivity conference in New York City and learned about her Daily Meditation Podcast. Everyday she would record a brand new meditation to share with her listeners and her calm and soothing style of meditation really helped take my meditation habit to another level.

In this hour-long conversation, Mary and I talk about a variety of topics including how she got started with meditation, the benefits of meditation, recommendations for beginners, breakdown of various techniques, tips for consistency, and so much more. We even do an impromptu meditation from 41:00 to 44:45 into the conversation.

If you’re interested, Mary runs a membership community at Sip and Om with full guided meditations, monthly support calls, and a private Facebook for her meditation community. If you’re interested in meditating or are looking for support/help in improving your meditations, this might be a great resource. You can try a 2-week trial here. You can also access some of her free, unguided meditations on her Daily Meditation Podcast.

Connect with Mary:

Website: https://sipandom.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SipandOm/
Twitter: @SipandOm

Resources from the interview:

Daily Meditation Podcast
Sip and Om
Tulsi tea
Mate tea
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
Categories
Weekly Learnings

Weekly Learnings Roundup (July 24, 2016)

Thanks for checking out the Weekly Learning Roundup. These bite-sized, weekly posts are designed to give you a quick hit of interesting learnings and articles I came across this week.

It’s a motley assortment of tips, resources, and links that will hopefully give you a bit of inspiration for the upcoming week. Enjoy!

What I’m reading —

The Pivotal Stories Every Startup Leader Should Be Able to Tell by First Round Review

Don Faul, a former Marine and former VP of Online Operations at Facebook, shares how stories impact the way leaders connect with their team members. Great tips on the key levers for good stories and the three types of stories that leaders should be thinking about. I was surprised at how much time leaders like Faul and Sheryl Sandberg spent crafting the stories they shared. Definitely a great read.

A podcast I’m enjoying —

Invisibilia

Last week, I mentioned Revisionist History as a new podcast series from Malcolm Gladwell that I’m enjoying. This week, I’m adding Invisibilia from NPR’s Lulu Miller, Hanna Rosin, and Alix Spiegel to the list. This fantastic series (now in Season 2) covers the “invisible” things that influence many aspects of our lives. It’s well researched, entertaining, and you’ll definitely learn something new with every episode. A couple of episodes to check out from Season 2: Frame of Refrence and Flip the Script.

A quote that’s inspiring me —

Learning to write is learning to think. You don’t know anything clearly unless you can state it in writing.

— S.I. Hayakawa

Productivity tip of the week —

Use Skitch to markup screenshots, images, maps, etc. to send to friends and colleagues

If you’re a Mac user and you find yourself having to markup images a lot, Skitch will be your best friend. Much like how Microsoft Paint allows you to add arrows or words onto an image to point certain things out, Skitch does that… and way better. I recently did a tutorial with a few screenshots in my PowerPoint and I used Skitch to point out specific areas in my screenshots. It’s so easy and intuitive to use. If you use Evernote, it’ll beautifully integrate into your account as well.

App that I’m loving —

Calm

I’ve written about the Calm app a couple of times before on my blog including in my A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation. It’s my favourite meditation app on the market and they’ve continued to make improvements. I love their 7-Days and 21-Days of calm course along with their new Daily Calm program which features a new meditation everyday. Kudos to the Calm team for putting together this beautiful, intuitive app.

As always, thanks for checking out this Weekly Learnings Roundup. Be sure to follow me on Twitter – @peternakamura – to see the full list of interesting articles that I share on a daily basis.

Categories
Weekly Learnings

Weekly Learnings (Mar 6, 2016)

Hey there! Thanks for checking out the Weekly Learning Roundup.

This week there are some interesting articles on the negative impacts of empathy (is too much bad?), five rituals to optimize your brain, and a link to a great new book coming on about coaching. I also share with you a new wrinkle I’ve added to my meditation practice and a free-to-try app that may save you some time with your automations. Enjoy!

Interesting links from the week:

Being a good parent will physiologically destroy you, new research confirms (Quartz)

How Millennials Can Help You Work Faster (Shift)

Stefanie Williams pens ‘open letter to Millennials after Yelp employee complained (Mail Online)

How to Achieve Self-Ownership (Tim Ferriss)

It’s good to be German: The world’s most powerful passports (Quartz)

Neuroscience says these five rituals will help your brain stay in peak condition (Quartz)

The Coaching Habit Book (Box of Crayons)

Productivity tip of the week:

I’ve written about the benefits of meditation in the past. I’ve also recently added a wrinkle to my meditation practice which has really helped – a meditation journal. After every morning meditation, I take two minutes to scribble a few thoughts about my meditation. I write a score between 1 to 10 and very briefly explain what came across my mind during the meditation. It’s helpful because I get a better sense of how my meditation went and the progress I made. If you meditate, give it a shot – it might further enhance the experience.

A quote that’s inspiring me:

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” — Nelson Mandela

Product/service I’m loving:

Zapier

This free to try automation service works very much like IFTTT where you can connect two apps to speak to each other and automate tasks. What makes Zapier different? It offers way more customization and selection of apps you can connect. Not to mention, it now gives you the ability to do multi-step automations for complex automations you want to process.

I use Zapier at work to automate new lead emails, customer feedback scores, and importing new webinar attendees to our CRM. For personal tasks, I use Zapier to help me automatically setup templates in my blog and connect certain email messages to my SMS so it catches my attention.

It’s free to try for up to 5 “zaps” (i.e. automations) so give it a shot with any task that you find yourself doing more than once. The key is to experiment then tweak as you discover more tasks you can automate at home or at work!

Documentaries/books I’m enjoying:

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Ghana with a student group. We visited the Cape Coast Castle where hundreds of thousands of slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas. It was an eye-opening experience to see cramped underground cells where the slaves were kept and hearing about the stories of the torture, disease, and death that the slaves faced.

I just started reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and it has further opened my eyes to the history behind the slave trade. The story is told from the perspective of an African woman who is captured and taken to America. It’s a powerful story of one woman’s survival and one that I highly recommend picking up.

As always, thank you to those that liked, re-tweeted, or commented on my Tweets. See you on next week’s round up!

Categories
Weekly Learnings

Weekly Learnings Roundup (Feb 28, 2016)

Hey there! Thanks for checking out the Weekly Learning Roundup. These bite-sized, weekly posts are designed to give you a “hit” of interesting learnings I had over the previous week. It’s a motley assortment of tips, resources, and links that will hopefully give you a bit of inspiration for the upcoming week. Enjoy!

Productivity tip of the week:

Smiling for 10 seconds at the start of your day

This week, I decided to add a wrinkle to my meditation practice. After I finished my meditation, I took 10 seconds to smile. Most of the time I needed to fake my smile but just the act of smiling put me immediately into a good mood. In fact, the rest of the day felt lighter and more playful just because I took a moment to smile. Try it out yourself sometime this week. You might be surprised!

A quote that’s inspiring me:

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.” —Lao Tzu

Product/service I’m loving:

Bulletproof Coffee

I’ve been drinking Bulletproof Coffee for the better part of the year now and it’s been such a revelation for me that I can’t go without it every morning. Bulletproof Coffee is a mixture of high-quality coffee, grass-fed butter, and concentrated coconut/palm oil. It’s a powerful alternative to regular coffee as it puts my body into a state of ketosis and a feeling of consistent energy all morning.

Documentaries/books I’m enjoying:

Amy – A look into the tragic life of Amy Winehouse. Whether you lover her music or not, it’s a deeply moving documentary. Nominated for an Oscar this season as well.

In The Heart of The Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick – The incredible story of the whaleship Essex and the incredible challenges the crew faced after being shipwrecked in the middle of the Pacific. So many lessons on leadership and human resilience. Definitely worth a read.

Top links shared on Twitter:

On Employee Engagement: Life’s a Bucket (Inquirer.net)

Canadian Millennials Sick Of Their Jobs: 55 Per Cent Want Career Change This Year (Huffington Post)

McDonald’s secret sauce for employee engagement (The Globe and Mail)

Use Digital Technology to Improve Employee Engagement (Business 2 Community)

Effective Strategies to Measure Employee Engagement (Huffington Post)

As always, thank you to those that liked, re-tweeted, or commented on my Tweets. See you on next week’s round up!

Categories
Personal Growth

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious, you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
– Lao Tzu

I started to meditate about 3 years ago and it’s become an important part of my daily habits. I must admit, however, that it wasn’t easy getting started and it still isn’t the most natural thing for me to do. It’s taken some experimentation with what works for me and adapting a meditation practice around that. Your meditation practice might look completely different from mine – and that’s okay. The important part is that you put in the time to meditate to help you achieve greater mental control and calmness.

I’ll take you through a bit of my journey with meditation and the process and tools that have worked for me so far. If you already believe in the positive effects of meditation, you can skip Part I and just go right into the techniques and resources that I’ve been using. Either way, Part I will be helpful in helping you understand the WHY behind meditation. So let’s begin!

Part I: Why Meditate?

There are a lot of reasons why it’s beneficial to meditate and in no particular order here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced and heard others experience as well.

  • Helps you move into the present
  • Brings about peace and calm in your mind
  • Builds your perspective and compassion for others
  • Helps you feel like you’re in greater control of your day
  • Helps you detach yourself from situations and outcomes
  • Slows down your day
  • Allows you to cut through the busywork and focus on doing what matters most
  • Creates silence during our noisy, busy days

According to Tim Ferriss, the majority of top performers (80%) he has interviewed through his podcast have some sort of meditation practice. I know some of the above might sound “woo woo” and some of it probably is. But the important part is how meditation affects you personally. If you get even a modicum of peace and calm from a 5-minute meditation, maybe it’s worth it for you? After all, 5-minutes is not a bad tradeoff for that kind of feeling.

Part II: How to get started

I initially struggled to get my meditation practice going. When I first tried to meditate, I read a book called Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield. I listened to the accompanying CD and went through the guided meditation practices but I found the experience to be extremely difficult. In fact, I began to dislike meditating after realizing I wasn’t particularly good at sitting in silence for 15-20 minutes.

Retrospectively, I think I tried to do too much too soon. In my opinion, a 15-20 minute meditation is too long for a beginner (especially without some sort of meditation coach) to do on their own. The key is to start small with a 1 or 2 minute meditation. This way you get a small “hit” of that calm, rewarding feeling to get you going.

The “calm” feeling could be different for you. It might not be a feeling of calm but rather a feeling of inspiration and excitement. It could be a feeling of understanding and love. Try to remember that positive, rewarding feeling so that it brings you back your next meditation session.

Rain Wilson (from The Office fame) talks in a podcast episode about how meditation for him is like watching the ticker symbol of a stock market go by. The symbols are your thoughts and they just scroll past you. You’re not attached to the thoughts, you just observe them and let them by. I think that’s a pretty good analogy. Meditation is not eliminating all your thoughts and getting into a “blank” mindset. It’s about appreciating the thoughts and that they exist, but not getting caught up in it.

So here are a few tips to help you start to meditate and I’ll break them down for you in a bit more detail below:

Start with just 2 minutes.

Meditation is just like any sport or exercise in that the more “reps” that you put in, the better you get at it. You wouldn’t run a marathon for your very first run, right? So it make sense to not make your first meditation session a 60-minute session. Start with something small – like, very small. Start with a 2 minute meditation and see if you’re able to handle that. From there, up the timing to 5-10-15 minutes. But take it really slowly. Don’t rush yourself. It’s one of those things where you won’t just be able to “will” your way to doing more. Mary Meckley, host of the Daily Meditation Podcast, suggests that you meditate just up to the point that where you’re able to continue a little bit longer but you save that “little bit” so you can come back excited to meditate next time.

Learn simple techniques to get you going. (e.g. box breathing technique)

I learned a simple breathing technique called the “box-breathing technique” from Ben Greenfield at a conference in 2015. The technique is simple but surprisingly hard to master. Basically, you slowly breathe in for a count of 5, hold your breathe for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 5, and hold (your empty lungs) for a count of 5. Then repeat. This technique allows you to oxygenate your body while allowing you to focus on your breath – not your distracting thoughts – during your meditation. If you find yourself having difficulty concentrating, this is a good technique to practice. Try it once or twice during your first meditation.

Find out what time of day you are best able to meditate.

I’ve experimented with all sorts of times during the day but early mornings and evenings seem to be the best time for me. For you, it might be different. Try experimenting with a 2-minute meditation at different times during the day to see which one delivers the greatest benefits. When I used to work at a fast-paced sales organization, I would find time to do a quick 5-minute meditation over lunch which created some calm in an otherwise chaotic environment. It was super helpful in helping me reset and get ready for the second half of the day.

Part III: My favourite resources

There is a ton of great resources available to get started with your meditation practice. Books, apps, podcasts, and so much more provide resources that you can often tap into for free. Out of all the resources that I’ve experimented with, here are the two that have allowed me to cultivate my meditation practice.

Calm

Calm is a meditation app available on iOS and Android. It gives you the flexibility to do a timed, non-guided meditation or a guided meditation based on different themes like gratitude, happiness, sleep, etc. It’s the first app I used to help me create a meditation habit – starting with a 2-minute meditation. It has a ton of great background sounds that you can choose from and I like how simple it is to use compared to other meditation apps that come loaded with too many extras. Download the app and start with the 1 or 2 minute meditation then go from there.

The Daily Meditation Podcast

This (free) podcast allowed me to take my meditation to the next level. Led by a fantastic meditation teacher, Mary Meckley, a new podcast episode is released everyday. Every episode is unique as there is a new weekly theme and every day of the week features a new style of meditation from affirmations to mudras to walking meditations. When I started getting bored of my 5-minute Calm app meditations, I was looking for alternatives to help me improve my meditation practice and The Daily Meditation Podcast was the perfect fit. I wouldn’t be able to meditate now for 10 to 20 minutes without having learned the meditation techniques Mary teaches through her podcast.

HeadSpace

Another notable app is called HeadSpace. I’ve tried HeadSpace in the past and they’ve got a great (and free!) called the Take-10 which provides 10 short meditations with helpful video explanations to get you started.

The good news is current meditation apps are constantly updating and innovating to make meditation more accessible and new apps are being created as more people begin to meditate!

So I hope this gets you started with your meditation practice. It’s a powerful practice to cultivate which impact so many different aspects of your life. Just make sure to be kind to yourself. Your first few weeks or months of meditating won’t be easy. I still struggle to convince myself that it’s worth the time to meditate especially when I’m in the midst of a busy day. But those just might be the days where you need to meditate the most.

Good luck! And feel free to post your personal experiences with meditation. I’d love to hear from you.