Sit Still, Shut Up... ...and Breathe! The shortest guide to meditation and mindfulness you’ll ever read... ...and for busy people and skeptics; the only one you’ll ever need!
By Jim Bouchard Author of THINK Like a BLACK BELT © 2013 Jim Bouchard ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Introduction There are thousands of books about the practice and benefits of meditation. I certainly don’t want to add to the noise. I want to make it simple. This “book” will be divided into 3 short sections: • Why you should meditate (even if you don’t believe) • How to meditate (even if you’re busy) • What to do if you really get off on it! So- in the spirit of brevity and in keeping with the title of this book, let’s learn how to Shut Up, Sit Still...and Breathe!
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One: Why You Should Meditate (Even if you don’t believe) We live in the Jetson’s age. The benefits of meditation are well documented by science and we’re learning more every day. However- we’re also exposed to an endless barrage of new age marketing touting the benefits of mind power. Most of them are pure, unadulterated crap. If you’re looking for a guide to harness the power of quantum physics and the power of the mind to manifest your every wish, you just wasted 99 cents. If you think the Law of Attraction is really a scientific law- well, just be thankful you didn’t spend more. Since I pledged to keep this book short- very short, I won’t list all the genuine benefits of meditation documented by scientists. This information is readily available. The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School is a great place to start. I’ve been studying and practicing meditation for nearly 30 years. Some of my training has been formal; most has been self-directed. I’ve read nearly 1,000 books on meditation and countless articles and scientific reports. In all of that, I found that the one consistent documented benefit of meditation is...
It makes you feel good! I concur.
Most of the reliable studies on the physical and psychological benefits of meditation build on the work of Dr. Robert Benson- the guy the aforementioned institute at Harvard is named after. Dr. Benson identified something he calls the “relaxation response.” In laymen’s terms- it means when you take some time to turn off the noise, which is what we’re doing when we meditate, good things happen to the mind and body. Let’s stick to the benefits that mean something to you today. Here’s a short list of proven and practical benefits of meditation: • Less stress • Improves focus and mental alertness • Improves immune response • Mitigates feelings of depression So taking a few minutes to meditate once or twice a day will help you: • Be more productive • Improve your health • Keep you from wanting to kill people (even kids, bosses and spouses!) And did I mention?
It makes you feel good! Let’s get started...
How to Meditate (Even if you’re busy) A martial arts friend of mine once told me about a rigorous Native American training he experienced. The goal was to have a vision- a moment of transcendence or enlightenment. The participants would run a few miles through the mountains to work up a sweat, then sit in an icy cold mountain stream until their vision came. I asked my friend if he saw his vision. “Ya!” he said, “I wanted to get out of the damn stream!” I suppose if you’re seeking enlightenment on an alternate plane that transcends tangible reality- you should really become a hermit and do nothing but meditate and practice any number of techniques like the vision quest my friend experienced. If you want to handle daily challenges with a little less stress, get more work done and feel a bit better about yourself and life in general, I recommend you start with about 5 minutes a day...
Step One: Sit Still You can spend a few bucks on a fancy cushion, bench or mat- and if it makes you feel better, go for it! A chair works just as good. The main consideration is that you can sit comfortably with your back straight and with as little strain as possible. You can also opt for any number of practices that involve painful postures, kneeling on hard wooden platforms or a master smacking you in the head with a stick from time to time- but you don’t need any of this to enjoy the benefits of meditation. You do need to sit in a comfortable position that allows you to breathe without constraint and keeps you from falling asleep... ...unless you want to fall asleep! One of the great arguments is whether or not you should meditate lying down. I say it’s up to you. Unless you find some medical evidence to the contrary, the only problems with prone meditation is that you may fall asleep. Not a bad problem to have if you’re restless at the end of a stressful day! So- here are the key points (short book, right?): • Sit straight so there is no pressure on your abdomen • Make sure you won’t have any “kinks” • Sit upright if you don’t want to fall asleep
Now some people advocate- OK, they’ll tell you that it’s essential to sit in any number of traditional postures. The fact that there are so many conflicting postures makes this a stupid argument as far as I’m concerned. You can meditate at your desk, on a park bench or a backyard hammock. Don’t meditate while driving a car or operating heavy machinery!
Step Two: Shut Up! Turn off the noise...especially yours! We’re wired for distraction. That’s OK- it’s a survival mechanism. The problem today is that our natural flight or fight response is triggered by common office stress and the guy flipping you the bird in traffic. Our ancestors evolved this response so they wouldn’t be eaten alive while they were focused on hunting other critters to eat themselves. Most of the situations that trigger this high-stress response are not life threatening, at least not in the moment. Still, we live in a noisy, fast-paced, stressful world that has our hormones popping and our minds in constant state of arousal. For our health and our sanity- we’ve got to turn off the noise from time to time; especially the internal noise. There will be people who will tell you that you can only meditate in a quiet space, preferably in nature, with gentle music, incense and the trickle of a babbling brook nearby. I meditate in airports. Having said that, it is nice to have a quiet space you can retreat to from time to time. I use a small section of my office storeroom as a dedicated meditation space. It’s next to the office where I do most of my work. In it I have a small table, a meditation bench, some spiritually themed knick-knacks...and incense to provide a conducive environment. It helps! It’s not necessary- it’s nice.
You’re just as likely to find me meditating at my desk. If you do, it may seem as if I don’t even know you’re there. You may think that while my physical body sits in front of you, my spiritual being has left the building to cavort amongst the enlightened ones on the vast quantum plane. Actually- this is just a great way to get rid of people I don’t want to deal with! Try it at work! This alone will convince you of the powerful stress reducing benefits of meditation! If you’re a normal human being, you no doubt face an endless stream of distractions, interruptions, pressures and problems. Turning off the noise means learning how to let them go. The process is simple- but it requires a little practice. As you sit quietly, pay attention to any thought that comes to mind- then just breathe out and let it go. Don’t worry about it...you won’t miss anything! Most distractions, challenges and problems will still be there when you come back from your little mental break, but you’ll be in a better head space to deal with them with less stress and strain. Meditation is not about solving problems- though that’s often a useful byproduct of the process. When you turn off the noise, you allow your mind to operate in a natural and highly efficient state. Have you ever gone to bed with leaving some daunting problem unresolved only to wake with the solution as clear and bright as the morning sun? A miracle!!!
Not discounting the natural miracle that is the human mind, what is really happening is that while you sleep, your brain keeps working. Only now it’s working free from the distractions bombarding you while you’re awake. The tricky part is not to work too hard at turning off the noise. The Chinese have an old proverb- well they have plenty of them but this one applies to what we’re talking about right now: “What do you do when you see the devil on the road? “Shake his hand!” As I said, the human mind is wired to pay attention to any changes in the environment. Without that tendency our ancestors would not have noticed that the rustle in the leaves was a saber-toothed tiger ready to pounce, and you wouldn’t notice the brake lights on the car in front of you until you were kissing your airbag. What you need to practice is letting go of the high-stress jolt that comes from anything that isn’t immediately going to kill and eat you. You don’t do this by ignoring daily pressures and challenges. You do this by paying attention, which is one of the main points of meditation. While you’re taking your meditation break, you pay attention, then let it go. Shake hands with whatever thoughts, distractions or pressures come to mind as you meditate. Then mindfully decide to put it aside for the moment. Like I said- if it’s important, it’ll still be there waiting for you in 5 minutes. Before we leave this section, take a few minutes to identify distractions and stress-inducing factors that might not be obvious: • Personal fears • Self-doubt • Pessimism
There are plenty of self-generated perceptions, ideas and paradigms that can become stressful distractions keeping you from realizing your true potential. These are the most deafening noises of all. These are truly the voices of your inner demons and devils. Learn to shake hands with them- recognize and acknowledge them... ...and let them go. That may be one of the most powerful and practical benefits of meditation.
And thatâ€™s as spooky as I get, so letâ€™s move along to the final step...
Step 3: Breathe I’ll keep this really short! Some years ago the Center for Disease Control discovered that most people spend half their lives in a state of hyper-ventilation. Not the stuff your face in a brown paper bag kind of hyper-ventilation; we just don’t breathe properly. And that causes a lot of problems! A constant low state of oxygenation causes: • Health issues • Immune problems • Stress • And poor brain functioning But if your hyper-ventilating, doesn’t that mean you’re getting too much oxygen? No- that’s the body’s response to low oxygen levels. A discrete hyper-ventilation state means shallow, rapid breathing. Pay attention to your breathing at a few random points in the day. Pay attention to the way you breathe next time you’re angry or stressed out. It’s very likely you’re not breathing properly. You’re probably hyperventilating. Fortunately, there is a solution! When you practice mediation you are training yourself to breathe properly. The type of breathing you’ll practice during mediation provides a rich supply of oxygen without stress or strain. Here’s how you do it:
• Sit comfortably with your back straight • Place one hand gently on your belly • As you breath in, gently press your hand out • As you breath out, gently contract your belly and draw your hand in Don’t try to fill your lungs to capacity, just breathe in a relaxed manner with a smooth and steady rhythm. As you feel your belly expand to where it’s comfortable, relax and let your breath flow out. That’s it!
What To Do if You Really Get Off on It! I told you it was simple! Of course, in 30 years of martial arts training I have discovered at least one incontrovertible truth: What is most simple is usually not easy. Here’s why: • You do best what you practice most • You tend to practice least what seems most simple From the ancient Samurai to Tiger Woods, we now know that the most proficient masters of any skill are those people willing to dedicate themselves to practicing the most basic elements of their craft. • There’s nothing simpler than breathing • Ergo: Most people won’t practice it There’s nothing more essential to life than breathing. There’s nothing more essential to a healthy mind and body than breathing properly. The Samurai knew their lives depended most upon their ability to make a simple cut with their swords. Tiger Woods knows that a simple putt can make the difference between being a champion or a chump. Years ago at a martial arts conference I met the great sword master Yamazaki. He told a wonderful story, mostly through an interpreter, about a sword master and his student. The student approached the master and said, “I want to be a great sword master too. Will you help me?”
The Master said, “Of course. All you need is three simple steps.” “Step one: Basic practice. Now go away and practice.” The student goes off for a time and practices. He then returns to the Master. The Master sees that the student has been practicing diligently so he gives him step two: “Step two: Basic practice. Now go away!” Away goes the student until he thinks he’s ready for the final step. He comes back to the Master and says, “Master, I’ve been practicing and dueling and I’m ready for the third step. Please give me the final step that will make me a Master.” “OK,” says the Master, “The final step...” Now Yamazaki got his English on and roared at us: “MORE basic practice! Like Nike- Just Do It!” After I was done splitting a gut, I realized that this was the best take-away of the entire event. We tend to make things too complicated. Keep this simple! Practice! Now if you’re really into it, you can certainly pursue any number of intense meditation programs. You can go on retreat, you can learn and practice an esoteric or exotic form, you could even run off and join a monastery... But- you don’t have to!
Just a few minutes a day can make a huge difference in your life. And a calmer, less stressed, more focused and more centered you just might make a difference in the lives of some of the other people in your life too! One word of caution before we wrap it up... Many people get discouraged and stop practicing because they don’t feel some profound spiritual awakening or rapture. Others feel something amazing at first, but then lose interest when they can’t get that initial rush again. Well, that happened with your first kiss too- you haven’t lost interest in that, have you? I’ve been practicing for years and have never seen angels, ghosts or spirits. I haven’t left my body, floated among the stars or conversed with any of the ancient masters. I practice meditation because it makes me more alert and productive. It keeps me from losing my mind- most of the time. It helps me when I’m stressed out or feeling low. I practice because I appreciate the evidence that says it can help me live a healthier, happier, longer life. Most of all...
I practice because it makes me feel good. Did I mention that?
Want to Learn More? You canâ€™t earn a Black Belt in an hour, but spend some time with Jim Bouchard and you will THINK like one! For THINK Like a BLACK BELT and other books by Jim, online courses and coaching packages visit: http://ThinkLikeaBlackBelt.org To book Jim for your next event, conference or meeting: http://JimBouchard.org Or call 800-786-8502
Acknowledgements First I’d like to thank my dear friend and mentor, Larry Winget. If you are not familiar with Larry, you should be. It’s rare privilege in life today when you can thank someone who has made a profound and meaningful impact on your life. Larry started to change my life when I read his book, “Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life.” I was able to thank Larry in person when he became my mentor and professional coach. He has profoundly changed my life and my business, and he can do the same for you. Visit: http://LarryWinget.com
Finally, thanks to Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. I studied taiji and qigong with Dr. Yang for a number of years when he was conducting his seminars in Boston, Massachusetts. He now operates a retreat center in California. Dr. Yang is trained in both science and traditional arts. One of my favorites of his teachings is, “Just because it’s old, doesn’t make it right.” The ancient Chinese developed many of these practices and understood their benefits through dedicated observation. They described the effects of these practices largely by describing feelings.
You could say that as the West evolved the mechanical sciences, the Chinese explored the energetic. They weren’t trying to be mystical, that’s the way they described the phenomenon they observed- and it’s been very badly translated most of the time. Dr. Yang and others like him want you to question these practices. If something works, it will stand up to scientific inquiry. If science can help us understand it better- we can replicate it and use it to help more people. Many of the ancient masters were astute observers and profound thinkers. However- a typical modern 5th grader likely understands more science than any 14th century master! Dr. Yang encouraged skepticism and scientific study of these practices. We should all do the same. Don’t believe something just because some ancient Chinese master said it was so. Most of them would have welcomed the scientific method and would have changed their theories and practices accordingly. “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.” ~Confucius
Published on Jul 26, 2013
Published on Jul 26, 2013
The shortest guide to meditation and mindfulness you’ll ever read... ...and for busy people and skeptics; the only one you’ll ever need!