Author’s Note: I originally published the following article in 2015.
Chicago Ideas Week presented what everybody needs — especially anyone who exists in a noisy environment: A class on how to meditate amidst distractions. It was held outdoors so participants could truly practice this concept. The class was billed thusly: “…learn how to use your surroundings – even the bustling Michigan Ave. – to become grounded and meditative.” And that is exactly what we did – even more so than expected, actually, because it was surprisingly chilly with a cruel wind that just wouldn’t stop. Talk about learning how to meditate in challenging conditions!
For those of us who dwell in the city, the distractions of traffic and people passing by are so common anyhow, we barely notice them. But sitting in an open plaza exposed to a wind that rumbled between the buildings with the sound of rolling thunder, trying to keep our hoods from blowing off and our noses from running — now that was distracting.
But part of a meditative philosophy is to accept what is – embrace it even – and not just cope but make the best of it. And so if we could meditate and do our minds and bodies some good in this setting, we could probably succeed at this just about anywhere.
Our meditative lecture and exercises were led by Jacquelyn Brennan and Kelly Moore of MindFuel Wellness, a company that organizations hire to come in and counsel their employees on all things wellness. We managed to do three meditative sessions throughout the event: A two-minute meditation for openers, a five-minute mid-class meditation and ended with a full ten-minute meditation.
We also did some light stretching; it felt good to move around a bit and get the blood circulating in hopes of generating some body heat. We learned about breathing, anatomy and posture and how these interrelate to meditation and affect our well-being in day-to-day living. Despite the cold weather, concentrating on one’s breathing took us inside our bodies, where it was warm; and as long as we continued to focus inward, this was ideal.
Kelly opened with mention of just a few of the benefits of meditation: A decreases stress and high blood pressure as well as mental clarity, good immunity and whole-self well-being. Jacquelyn introduced the concept that breathing properly is key, not just while meditating but in our lives at every moment. Today’s civilization creates a fast-paced lifestyle and we tend to react to this with shallow and sometimes even rapid breathing. Breathing like this is not good for the body or ones hope for peace of mind. An interesting bit of trivia was mentioned: Navy Seals snipers slow down their breath for accuracy.
We may be cutting down on our capacity to breathe properly by 30 percent with poor posture. Ideally, we need 60 to 70 percent of our lung capacity to breathe deeply and all the way down to our core. Slouching can reduce your lunch capacity by 30 to 40 percent. When it comes to posture, how is your forward head position, also known as FHP? For every inch your head is forward, you add 10 extra pounds of stress on your neck joint and back and this stress spreads out to impact the whole body. Mind your posture!
Here are some tips to meditate well: Focus on breath so your mind won’t wander. Find a yoga pose you like and sit comfortably. Yoga poses are actually designed for comfortable sitting. You can create meditation at any point during your day. Try to put yourself in a position where you won’t be disturbed – but don’t make the lack of a quiet place an excuse not to meditate. Even five minutes of deep breathing, really concentrating solely on your breath as much as possible, is a form of meditation. Heck even a one-minute meditation can be helpful. And there are several ways to meditate. Do what works for you.
Now you know a bit more about meditation and that it is important and distinctly possible to incorporate at least mini-meditation – anytime and anywhere – into your life – you have no excuse: Just do it – every day!
And I highly recommend being present at Chicago Ideas Week, which happens every autumn, to enhance your life immeasurably.