So the story goes, there once was a stressed out business woman whose life seemed to be a constant whirlwind. The days were as fast as they were long. Upon hearing that meditation could help her feel better and manage the chaos that seemed to dominate her internal state. Once she found someone to teach her, the teacher told her she should meditate for 20 minutes every day. Her response was, “I don’t have 20 minutes”.
The teacher responded, “Then you should meditate an hour”.
The benefits of meditation only require a few minutes of your day, but the effects don’t stop when you finish.
The point of this story is not about how long you should meditate, it’s about our perception and relationship to time. Time is the great equalizer. It’s the one thing none of us can buy, and it’s something we all get the same amount of each day. Yet some of us are much better at using it than others. While organization with your daily schedule is a great way to get more things done, it’s things like meditation that actually slow down the way we use and perceive time in our lives.
A simple way to explain it would be to say meditation makes space in our internal headspace. It makes the thoughts come at you a little slower, and keeps our thoughts from being too sticky or heavy. On a scientific level, meditation changes our brain wave activity. During a typical busy day, your brain will likely be in a frequency of brain waves called “Beta”. This frequency is associated with goals, decision making and problem solving. However, it also is a very active frequency that can slip into thoughts of worry and anxiety. When we meditate our brain waves can slip into a “Delta, Alpha or Theta” state. These frequencies are associated with a more relaxed yet still alert and perceptive state. Heightened attributes like creativity, empathy, calmness and feeling present are symptoms of these brain frequencies.
I was born in raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. A relatively large and busy city. At age 24 I moved to the even larger metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Since I was a child, I was accustomed to the congestion and speed of life of that environment. Then at age 29 we moved to a much smaller micropolitan community in Western Kentucky. For the first year my body and brain were out of sorts. The speed and size of life felt completely foreign. Yet as time passed I found my ability to be calm, productive and make time for things like my health were suddenly more available than ever before.
Moving from a big city to a much smaller one freed up space in my day and my mind. Much like the traffic, the hours of my day flowed instead frantically speeding and stopping to a halt with no warning. This is exactly how meditation affects our sense of time and presence internally. The frequency of everything becomes a little more tempered and spacious. Allowing us to experience more of our lives instead of racing to our graves.
The benefits of meditation only require a few minutes of your day, but the effects don’t stop when you finish. Keep it simple at first and just set a timer for 5 minutes. Sit in a chair comfortably, close your eyes and just feel your breath go in and out of your body. When your mind begins to wonder into a stream of thoughts simply go back to paying attention to your breath again. That’s it. You’re simply trying to strengthen the mechanism that allows you to not go down the rabbit hole of unproductive and random thinking. As you gain some consistency in integrating these 5 minute sessions into your week, then you can try to increase your sitting time gradually. It’s better to be consistent with short sessions than sporadic with long ones.