"In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?"
Author and podcaster Tim Ferriss has posed this question to hundreds of successful people over the years. From actors to weightlifters to legendary investors (like Ray Dalio), he's gained unique insights into their lives through his popular interview series.
He covers the highlights of many of his interviews in the book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Advice from the Best in the World. And for this question, one answer in particular kept coming up: Meditation.
That shouldn't surprise anyone. I've written for years about the benefits of practicing meditation and how it can change your life.
I learned about meditation during my freshman year at Carleton College in Minnesota. My roommate from Michigan practiced something called Transcendental Meditation ("TM"). He swore by it. So one day, I took a bus up to the Twin Cities for a weekend class. I came away with the basics, a mantra (a phrase to say to myself to help focus), and an appreciation for how meditation affects my physiology.
For instance, meditation isn't just great for focus and concentration. It also improves your health in other ways, such as:
- Increasing your longevity
- Reducing the number of visits to your doctor
- Reducing the likelihood of a hospital admission
- Reducing insomnia
- Reducing inflammation
- Boosting the immune system
- Lowering blood pressure
Since that weekend away, I have discovered and tried variations of TM by reading about meditation, relaxation, and awareness (for instance, the works of writer Jon Kabat-Zinn, famous for popularizing the phrase "mindfulness meditation").
Although I haven't taken another class or traded my dress shoes for Birkenstocks, I still practice meditation on a weekly basis. If you learn to meditate and practice it regularly, you'll be amazed at how good you'll feel.
But for all my talk about meditation, not many people have tried it. I want you to change that today – I know it'll make you feel better if you stick with it.
Here are some of the most basic things to know to get you started with typical TM...
Sitting. You can choose to sit in the traditional "lotus" pose on a cushion, where you cross your legs and rest your feet on your knees. But I find it easier to sit up straight in a chair with my neck and shoulders balanced and relaxed, feet on the floor, and hands resting on my lap or by my sides.
Distractions. Make sure to meditate where you won't be interrupted. I find that turning off all electronics and dimming the lights helps me to relax and focus.
Breathing. The goal of meditation is to focus your attention more and more, eventually shutting out all distractions. A good way to start is to focus on your breathing. Focus on each part of your body and how it changes when you breathe in and out. You can also count your breaths as a way to focus.
Mind Wandering. Your mind will wander, particularly when you are just starting out. Don't feel discouraged or dwell on it. When you feel your mind begin to wander (like starting to tick through the dozens of tasks you need to get done that day), acknowledge it and return your attention to your breathing.
Time. Start off slow. If you can only focus for five minutes a day, start there. After a few sessions, bump it up to 10 minutes. Then, gradually increase as you like. Some people meditate just 10 minutes a day, some can meditate for an hour or more.
I've heard from a lot of folks that starting this way – without any sort of noise or guidance – is intimidating. We can't all hop on a bus for a weekend of learning about TM either.
That's why guided meditations are so popular. And although I don't use them, I've talked to some of my colleagues and found a few resources to help you get started:
Free apps: These include Headspace, Insight Timer, and Stop, Breathe & Think. My researcher has used all three and prefers Stop, Breathe & Think the most. She finds that the emotional "check-in" at the beginning helps the app match the best meditations to her current mood. Plus, there are plenty of free options.
Paid apps: Our head of copy uses an app called "Calm." It's more than a meditation app – it also offers music for relaxation and stories for both children and adults to help relax you and even help you fall asleep. It also features guided meditation and a simple breathing timer if you just need a quick break to refocus. It has a seven-day free trial and costs $70 a year... that's the same as a latte at Starbucks once a month.
Online sites: There are plenty of Internet sites for meditation as well. My managing editor recommended one called Sonima, which features a range of guided meditations. He really enjoyed the beginner's level one. You can check out all their offerings here.
YouTube: Finally, my assistant uses YouTube to find her guided meditations. There are many out there, but she recommends The Honest Guys. They have numerous videos for relaxation and meditation. They also offer ones promoting better sleep. Each week they post a new video. Check them out here.
Books: I recommend you read The Relaxation Response by Dr. Herbert Benson. It's an essential primer for meditation.
If you aren't meditating yet, I urge you to start today. Try out one of the resources I listed or go out on your own with my steps for starting TM. And I want to hear about your experience – let me know how it goes here.
What We're Reading...
- Something different: Another day, another hack.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 26, 2019