Are You Getting What You Want Out Of Your Meditation Practice?
I once told a Zen Philosophy PHD student about my meditation practice. He told me it was cheating.
According to him “real” meditation means you need to sit for 12 hours each day, for 50 years, in the Himalayas, in complete silence, with your legs crossed, while saying “ohm”, give away all of your worldly possessions, eat nothing but rice and boiled vegetables and drink 35 cups of green tea each day… in order to achieve enlightenment. Or something like that.
In any case, everyone has heard about the importance and benefits of mediation and yet very few people actually make the progress they want in their daily practice. We learn how to do it and then never improve. We're like the guy who’s been typing with two index fingers for 30 years and never learned how to use both hands on a keyboard.
The biggest reason for the progress gap in meditation is the lack of clear, simple and concrete instruction. Most meditation gurus don't know how to teach others how to take their meditation practice to the next level. As an physicist and engineer the wishy-washy, "feel good", spiritual "woo-woo" instruction associated with meditation is infuriating.
I just want someone to tell me what works best dammit!
I've spent years trying to figure out the cheat code for meditation so that I didn't have to sit for 50 years in the mountains wearing an orange robe to figure it out. So, for the past 5 years I've tuned myself into a mediation guinea pig -- testing, re-testing, measuring and constantly asking the question:
"How can I get make my meditation practice better?"
Below, I've outline the best (scientifically backed) ways to get even more out of your meditation in less time. I can't promise that these strategies will work for you, so I encourage you to test and then make your own judgements.
Amplify Your Meditation Method #1: Binaural Beats.
Binaural beats work so well, that I rarely do a meditation session without them.
The technology is based off of a field of study known as brain entrainment, where sound is used to stimulate the brain into entering a specific state. While wearing high quality headphones, sound pulses elicit the brain's 'frequency following' response, encouraging the brainwaves to align to the frequency of a given beat.
Pros: The technology puts you into a meditative state, without you having to do it yourself. It's easy and a great way to start your day.
Cons: For a good program, you'll have to pay for it. There are free tracks out there, but I haven't found any that I like.
How to start: Use it for 20 minutes first thing in the morning. Just sit, breath, and allow the technology to do the heavy lifting. If a random thought enters your head, allow it to be there, and then breathe it out. Check out iAwake's starter pack for more info (aff link).
Show me the proof! : Research shows binaural beats induce relaxation, meditation, creativity and other desirable brainwave states. See the sources section below to see research related to binaural beats.
Amplify Your Meditation Method #2: HRV biofeedback
When I told the zen philosopher about this one, I could feel him getting angry. This one he said was "really cheating".
This technology is actually my favorite way to meditate as it tells you exactly when you’re in the zone and when your mind is wandering. Think of it like your personal meditation coach gently tapping your shoulder when you're thinking about the guy who cut you off in traffic yesterday.
Heart Rate Variability biofeedback is a way of measuring the time in between beats of your heart, providing immediate feedback and then teaching you to create a consistent beat of your heart. This skill could take dozens of years if using normal mediation techniques. Using HRV feedback, you'll learn the skill in about 5 minutes.
Pros: It provides immediate feedback and allows you to calibrate your breathing to stay in a state of relaxed awareness throughout the day.
Cons: Once again you have to pay for it and it takes some practice. Other than that, there's zero downside.
How to start: After purchasing the device, breath deeply, focusing on the tension in your chest (near your heart). Breath directly into your heart. Think about positive emotions and when great things happened to you -- reliving those experiences. Use this type of focused breathing for for 5 minutes. Once you get that down, add another minute. Then two. Check out the EmWave2 and the Inner Balance sensor for your iphone.
Show me the proof! : Check out the Heart Math Institute's research on HRV training. The technology has been around forever and there's a plethora of research supporting it (see sources below).
Amplify Your Meditation Method #3: Neurofeedback
If HRV biofeedback is like buying the Honda for meditation improving technologies, nuerofeedback is like getting the Cadillac.
Neurofeedback teaches you to train/tune your central nervous system, by providing millisecond-to-millisecond mirroring of the brain to itself. Your brain already uses its natural feedback systems but most systems are too slow and don't provide the immediate feedback you need to tune your central nervous system.
Essentially, neurofeedback helps the brain see what it is doing, while it is doing it.
Pros: If HRV works well, nuerofeedback works even better. It's the creme-de-la-creme of all mediation enhancing technology. Every person I've talked to who's used it has experienced tremendous growth in their meditation practice.
Cons: Wowza this one is expensive. Currently the DIY methods are unreliable and very expensive (around 5K). This means you'll need to find a nuerofeedback practitioner who can guide you through the process.
How to start: You'll have to find a nuerofeedback practitioner in your area who can help you get started. A quick google search will point you in the right direction.
Show me the proof! : Once again this is a fairly well researched area of study that you can find a ton of data supporting it's efficacy. See sources below for more studies.
Amplify Your Meditation Method #4: The Maltz-Schwarzenegger Technique For Visualization
This is a combination of technologies that I've been using for years. It combines the best mediation and visualization techniques described by two of my mentors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maxwell Maltz.
I do it everyday.
Using the binaural beats or HRV biofeedback you get your brain into an Alpha state (~10 hrz). From there, you visualize a ‘Mental Movie’ focusing on you past successes and the step-by-step achievement of your future goals. Because your brain is a sponge while in an Alpha state, it’s primed to soak up the mental movie you’ve visualized. This technique can be used to create your new self image.
Using this technique, you become a sponge, learn faster, creativity is amplified, it turns off normal over-monitoring and relieves stress.
I can’t stress enough how important this is. You have the ability to create an empowering new reality using this very simple technique. The only limiting factor is how hard you are willing to work.
From there, you stop procrastinating and execute your vision
Pros: You combine the best of several mediation methods and reap the rewards of each.
Cons: It takes some practice. You're not going to be perfect overnight.
How to start: Check out the infographic. It pretty much explains it all.
Show me the proof! : This is a combination of methods that's been proven individually and has a vast amount of research.
Like Einstein supposedly said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."
If you're not getting what you want out of your meditation practice, it's time to try something new. Or you can move to the Himalayas and start buying green tea in bulk. :)
Article Inspired By Maxwell Maltz's Psycho Cybernetics
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