The Most Important Thing You Learn To Do In 2013

If someone offered you a vacation, no strings attached, would you take it? Sure, why not? If you had the key to peace, contentment, and better health would you use it? Of course you would. Is meditation already practice part of your daily routine? Are you new to the idea of meditation? Or are you like me, an on-again, off-again meditator?

Despite my good intentions, taking time to meditate has been a hit-or-miss, now-and-then, hot-and-cold sort of thing. Though 20 years have passed since my first meditation instruction, a regular sitting practice has continued to elude me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the potential benefits. By strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system, meditation (like other yoga practices) reduces stress, relieves pain, and helps ease a myriad of medical conditions. It can help smooth emotional bumps and improve immunity to respiratory infections. And, according to the New York Times, meditation has become so hip that it’s inspiring fashion trends.

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Fashion aside, the benefits of meditating have been widely reported, but the one that finally inspired me to shift good intentions into action was reading that meditation’s effects on brain structure may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. After watching my dad’s memory and personality slowly crumble, beginning when he was in his late 60s, I’ve been proactive about preempting that devastating condition.

What about you? If none of the benefits listed above have inspired you to establish a regular meditation practice, consider this: A yogi doesn’t live by asana alone. That’s not to say that asana and meditation are exclusive and separate. Many experience deep awareness or one-pointedness during asana practice. But a separate meditation practice is an opportunity to go beyond the boundaries of ego and discover the essence of truth.

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Meditating is a “no-brainer” in terms of decision-making—it offers high reward for little or no risk: 1. It doesn’t cost anything. You’ll likely find free or donation-based classes, and instructive materials are widely available…like this inexpensive e-book or this guided meditation app. 2. No special gear is needed, not even a sticky mat. 3. You can start this very minute, sitting at your desk. Set this nifty online meditation timer, or follow this guided 9-minute practice.

Are you already thinking up excuses? After 20 years, I’m pretty familiar with most of them: “I don’t have time.” (Not even five minutes?) “I’m not doing it right.” (That’s why it’s called “practice.”) “I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t do anything for me.” (Like asana, meditation practice must be consistent and sustained before benefits manifest.)

So stop what you’re doing, and start doing…nothing. Just sit.

What inspires (or would inspire) you to meditate regularly?

This is Part One of a three-part series. Part Two offers explanations of different types of meditation and tips on how to establish a regular practice. Part Three will offer suggestions for staying inspired.

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