I ventured down the path of meditation a year ago in search of a solution to relax more and live in the moment. I was determined to stress less with meditation in my arsenal against life’s hectic pace.
So I dug in, did my research and found a world-renowned meditation teacher practically in my own back yard. I signed up for my first meditation training with Sarah McLean, founder of the McLean Meditation Institute in Sedona, Arizona, and author of Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks With Meditation.
Meditation is for Everyone
McLean has taught meditation and inspired thousands through her writings for more than 20 years. She studied with Dr. Deepak Chopra, and worked as Program Director for the Chopra Center for Wellbeing for eight years before taking up residence at a traditional ashram in South India for six months, then a remote Zen Buddhist monastery for two years.
McLean’s warm welcome and assurance that anyone can learn to meditate made us feel at home immediately. As students sat in folding chairs, cross-legged on the floor or perched on zafu pillows, the intimate setting invited an immediate sense of calm. We were voracious learners as McLean guided us through the basics.
“You don’t have to stop thinking or clear your mind; you simply must have the willingness to do it and take a short time out for it every day. You’ll notice the benefits unfold naturally and effortlessly,” McLean says. Following a brief explanation of the various types of meditation – from counting or following our breath to repeating a mantra or gazing at a candle flame – we dove into the reason I was drawn here.
As McLean explains, meditation training helps develop better awareness of the present moment, better all-around focus, and a peaceful center point to train your mind to go to in times of stress. Meditation teaches us to:
- Focus on one thing at a time – pure bliss for us high-energy multi-taskers.
- Attend to the present moment – awesome for the worriers in the room.
- Gain more inward focus – perfect for trading emotional reactions for thoughtful responses.
McLean then led the group in our first guided meditation. Admittedly, I felt awkward at first, listening to the breathing of those around me, peeking my eyes open to check out what everyone else was doing, squirming a little on my zafu to relieve some discomfort in my back. Once I settled in, however, and REALLY focused on McLean’s soothing voice, a visual picture came into focus that latched onto my attention. I relaxed into it, and am pretty sure I came close to falling asleep at some point.
When McLean brought us out of the meditation gently about 20 minutes later, I have never felt more calm and refreshed in my life. I knew at that point that I had to make meditation a part of my daily life.
Research has proven that meditation is a powerful antidote for stress. Recent results from a randomized trial conducted at the La Costa Resort and Spa in California revealed further health benefit, specifically how meditation affected certain biomarkers of aging, as well as an array of biological processes.
The study concludes that meditation can lead to reduced inflammation, higher energy metabolism, better cellular function and improved telomere maintenance. The study participants also showed major improvements in depression, stress, mindfulness and vitality.
McLean showed us that getting started with a meditation practice is easy. I found consistency was my biggest challenge early on in my practice. Today, I block 20 minutes into my days to focus on my meditation practice, and the resulting sense of peaceful awareness has been noticeable. I don’t get nearly as stressed out as I once did, my health is exceptional, and I sleep like a baby most nights.
There are five essentials for a successful meditation practice, according to McLean.
1. It’s OK to have thoughts while meditating. Your mind never stops thinking. Meditation will help to naturally settle your mind and body.
2. Don’t try too hard. Meditation takes practice, and it won’t be perfect at first. Meditation trains you to be gentle on yourself and allow the natural experience to unfold
3. Let go of expectations. Everyone’s meditation experience is different. Just allow your mind and body to let go of any desire for your meditation to go a certain way.
4. Be kind to yourself. Don’t be tough on yourself when it comes to creating your meditation practice. Avoid the urge to control the experience. You’ll know if it’s working when you begin to see changes in your life, feel more relaxed, less stressed, more perceptive, more appreciative.
5. Stick with it. As with anything new, some days will be better than others. Make it a daily habit, and soon you will find you can’t go a day without it. McLean recommends for maximum benefit, meditate 15-30 minutes twice daily.