Hitting the gym and eating wholesome meals is only one part of a healthy lifestyle. To ensure more complete and well-rounded health, you need to focus on achieving inner strength and balance as well. Meditation is an equipment-free, take-anywhere exercise that can do wonders for your mind, body, and spirit; it's also a non-caloric energy fix.
Just 15 to 20 minutes of meditation a day can be more invigorating than an afternoon nap. Studies indicate that regular practice also contributes to improved circulation, digestion, and even longevity. "Although mediation has been wrapped in an aura of mysticism for many centuries, at its heart lies this extremely practical and unmystical process of healing," explains Deepak Chopra, M.D., best-selling author, speaker, and chief executive officer of The Chopra Center for Well Being in Carlsbad, Calif. "It allows a person to go beyond the domain where fear, anger, and all other forms of mental [negativity] hold sway."
But what about all of the negative thoughts and noise already in our heads? "Meditation is not forcing your mind to be quiet; it's finding the quiet that is already there," explains Chopra. "Behind the screen of the internal dialogue, there is a silence of a mind that is not imprisoned by the past that we can harness through meditation. When you discover the silence in your mind, you no longer have to pay attention to all those random images that trigger worry, anger, and pain."
Here, Chopra's own step-by-step approach to flexing your mental muscle through meditation:
- Sit upright with your legs crossed, resting your hands (palms up) at your side or on your lap. (If you need extra postural support, use a BackJack or a similar stabilizing floor seat.)
- Close your eyes and turn your focus inward by concentrating on your breathing. Recognize the continuous rhythm of your breath; concentrate on the flow up through your nostrils and down into your lungs. Don't inhale deeply or hold your breath; just breathe normally. As you exhale, let your attention follow the air up out of the lungs and softly through the nostrils. Let the deep-seated stress flow out with it.
- When you are comfortable with this effortless process, add the mantra "so-hum." Visualize the word "so" with each inhalation and "hum" each time you exhale. Continue this exercise for several minutes, just closing your eyes and focusing your mind on easy, natural breathing and silently repeating the "so-hum" mantra in your mind with each cycle of your breath.
- Finally, do not time yourself or think about the clock; your body should naturally awaken from this subconscious state after a maximum of 20 minutes. The more you lose track of time, the better, says Chopra. It's a sign you are nearer to reaching inner peace.
- Repeat daily, at least once a day, whether that means as soon as you roll out of bed or at night to ensure a restful sleep.
Joe Marino is a Hollywood, Calif.-based, healthy lifestyle writer.