Ours is a culture that values multi-tasking and constant stimulation, leaving many people feeling scattered and fragmented, drained of energy, always in search of more intensity to feel alive.
Daily meditation helps to counter those bad habits, and can bring clarity and calm during moments of stress.
"When we practice concentration, that's a lot of power," says Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass., and author of several books on meditation. "We have much more of a sense of integration and centeredness."
Salzberg offered tips for how to get started.
1. Choose a time when you're not going to be interrupted — as short as five minutes if that's all you've got, but 20 minutes in the morning is ideal. Turn off your phone, computer, TV and any other devices that could be distracting. Set an alarm or use an app that will bring you out of your meditation with a calming sound (try Insight Timer, $1.99).
2. Sit comfortably anywhere, on a couch, chair or cushion on the floor — it doesn't matter. Keep your back straight without being stiff or rigid. Close your eyes or leave them a little bit open and find a low spot to rest your gaze.
3. Listen to the sounds in the room, which helps to relax you. Then bring your attention to the area where you feel your breath most clearly — your nostrils, maybe, or your chest or throat. Feel one breath completely, and then the next. It can help to make a soft, quiet mental note of "in" and "out" with each breath.
4. When you realize your attention has drifted away from your breath — which, realistically, might happen after the first breath or two — let go of those thoughts without judgment or rancor and bring your attention back to your breath. You might have to do this several times but it's normal, so don't get frustrated; finding that you're distracted and that you can begin again is crucial to the training and a useful life lesson.
5. Once you've established the breath, you can stick with that or switch the primary object of your concentration to a visual image, such as a color or a "happy place" like a beach. You can also speak a mantra, such as "om," "peace," "joy" or "love."
6. To deepen your practice, incorporate mindfulness. That means that when you're meditating and intense thoughts or feelings hit — not banal thoughts about picking up the dry cleaning, but rather a rush of anxiety or joy or heartache or anger — let go of the breath and open yourself to that experience. Pay attention to how the anger, for example, is manifesting itself in your body, how the sensations change and what exactly you're feeling. "Maybe there's a lot of sadness in that anger, or helplessness that we're rebelling against," Salzberg said. "It's different from getting lost in the anger, it's a way of understanding the nature of anger, it's taking a look at and exploring things in the body."
7. When the alarm sounds, resolve to bring mindfulness and compassion forward into your day. Open your eyes, and get on with it.
Degree of difficulty: Medium. The rewards are great, but tuning out a hectic world takes practice.