“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” ~Robert M. Pirsig

I know meditation is good for me. I know it can do wonders for my mind, body, and spirit. I deeply desire having a daily meditation practice.

And yet I can go months without meditating. I’ll think randomly, “I should really meditate sometime,” but when it comes down to it, I don’t.

My thing is this: I know meditating is good for me, and yet I don’t do it. I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I’ve read countless books on how to meditate. I have gone to so many meditation retreats and classes it’s not funny.

I know the meditation routines. I know the old staring at a candle flame one. I know the stilling your mind thing. I know the nose-breathing-in-and-out thing. I know about making your own visualization.

I also know that they feel like work. They feel like something I have to work at. It feels hard.

I know I’m not lazy. If you’re like me, I know you’re not, either. It’s just that we haven’t found the right way of meditating for us yet.

Here are some ways to make meditation less of a chore and more like a fun, doable thing for you.

1. Try the 100 breaths technique.

This is a highly complex meditation technique!

I take 100 breaths. I count them. I try not to think about anything else.

Yup. It’s revolutionary. And it also really works for me. It gives my brain something to do (wee! counting!) while the rest of me is just hanging out, inadvertently meditating.

The lesson here is this: There are so many ways you can meditate. Explore them to find a way that’s really easy for you, and just do that.

2. Take a meditationap.

Be careful. This one is complex. Oh yes—it’s the love child of a meditation and a nap.

Lie down on a bed, couch, or sun lounge, or pile your (empty) bath with pillows and blankets.

Close your eyes and do nothing. Maybe you’ll fall asleep. Maybe you’ll have Zen inspiration. Maybe you’ll just happily float along. Either way, it will be sublime.

My favorite meditationap consists of a sun lounge, a blanket, an afternoon, and my ipod filled with lovely music. If 10-day Zen master meditation retreats consisted of this kind of meditating, I could totally do them!

The lessons here is: Meditation should be enjoyable. We only consistently do things we actually like doing!

3. Use the alarm clock meditation.

If 100 breaths isn’t going to cut it for you, set a timer for 5 minutes. Then meditate until the timer goes off. This way, you don’t have to wonder about how long it’s been, or how much longer you should meditate for. It’s like meditation on cruise-drive.

The lesson here is: Make your meditation as cruise-drivey as possible.

4. Get comfortable.

I started looking at things that annoyed me about meditation – the stuff that held me back from doing it. And one of the annoying things was this:

I don’t like being uncomfortable.

I don’t think anyone does. And sitting cross-legged in lotus with a straight back and poised mudra fingers doesn’t spell comfortable to me. It spells pins and needles, sore butt, and achy back.

Maybe when I’m a woo-woo yoga guru master it won’t, but for right now, I’m not, and it does. So for me, it’s an exercise in getting comfy without falling asleep.

What this looks like for me is sitting in a comfy armchair inside, lying on a sun lounge on the back deck, or leaning against a wall outside. What comfy looks like to you might be totally different.

The lesson here is: Meditating isn’t an exercise in feeling uncomfortable. It’s a place of rest, stillness and comfort. So get comfy.

5. Fake it for 10 breaths.

When I really, really need to meditate, and I don’t feel like I have time, I make a little pact with myself. I say to myself:

“Okay, we so don’t have to meditate for any pain-in-the-ass time at all. Let’s just do ten breaths.”

And my logical brain says:

“Ten breaths? You think I have time for ten breaths of meditation? Are you kidding me! I have stuff to do lady! We’re not on retreat you hippy!”

And I say:

“Oh. I know you’re really busy. I really feel like I need this. You and me. Besides, it’s only for ten breaths.”

Logical brain:

“Fine. But only ten. And I’m counting.”

And then we do our ten breaths and it’s nice. And we either stop there because we feel like we’ve refreshed just enough, or we keep going for another ten or twenty because it just feels so good.

The lesson here is: Start small. Everyone has time for 10 breaths. See what happens. It’s a little way of moving around resistances.

6. Make it a reward.

Meditation should be fun and easy, and it should feel good for you—not excruciatingly boring or painful. Work out the thing about meditation that makes it really, really useful for you. Not “I should meditate because everyone says so.” Not even an “I should meditate.”

Find a way that makes you think “I want to meditate.”

Here’s the meditation pay-off for me:

Whenever I take 100 breaths, it’s kind of boring for the first 59. But then I hit 60, and for the next ten seconds, it feels like nirvana. I don’t know if it’s a rush of oxygen to the head, or just because I finally relax then, but whatever it is, 60 is good.

And it makes those 59 seconds before it so very, very worth it. My little reward is the 60-second release.

The lesson here is: Find your personal treat from meditating. And keep remembering it. Use it as a reward for getting yourself there.

7. Use help when you need it.

When I need extra help in meditating, I use CDs. They’re like my own little personal guides into sweet-calm-space.

Try out different CDs, guides, and meditation techniques, and see what works for you. And what works for you, make that the golden wisdom in your life.

The lesson here is: Don’t think you have to go it alone. Everything’s easier with a little support.

8. And most of all…

Remember that the reason you aren’t meditating right now is not because you are lazy. It’s because you haven’t yet found a way to meditate for you that is fun, easy, and comfortable for you. Find the way that does, and then it’s much, much easier.

Remove the annoying parts from meditating. Try out all the different ways you can to make it as lovely an experience as possible.

And remember: you are the expert on you. Find the wonderful things that work for you, and ignore the rest.

There are 6 billion paths to bliss, and your path is your own. Make it a happy one.


Goddess Leonie

Goddess Leonie is an incorrigible optimist, serial gigglesnorter & a fairy who is living her dreams in tropical paradise. She blogs & runs an online goddess circle at

The Benefits of Meditation

As an adult, I first started my meditation practice with just two minutes per day. Two minutes! I got that idea from Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog, where he points out how starting with a tiny habit is the first step to consistently achieving it. So even thought two minutes won’t make much difference, that’s where I started. Whether you’re as skeptical as I used to be, or you’re well ahead of me with a meditation habit of several hours, I think it’s always interesting to find out how new habits affect our brains. I had a look into meditation to see what’s going on inside our brains when we do this, and what I found is pretty interesting. P

What is Meditation?

There are different ways to meditate, and since it’s such a personal practice there are probably more than any of us know about. There are a couple that are usually focused on heavily in scientific research, though. These are focused-attention, or mindful meditation, which is where you focus on one specific thing—it could be your breathing, a sensation in your body or a particular object outside of you. The point of this type of meditation is to focus strongly on one point and continually bring your attention back to that focal point when it wanders.

What Happens in Your Brain When You Meditate

This is where things get really interesting. Using modern technology like fMRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate. The overall difference is that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would. We start to show a decrease in beta waves, which indicate that our brains are processing information, even after a single 20-minute meditation session if we’ve never tried it before.

In the image below you can see how the beta waves (shown in bright colors on the left) are dramatically reduced during meditation (on the right).

What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How it Benefits You)

Below is the best explanation I found of what happens in each part of the brain during meditation:

Frontal lobe
This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go offline.

Parietal lobe
This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down.

The gatekeeper for the senses, this organ focuses your attention by funneling some sensory data deeper into the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.

Reticular formation
As the brain’s sentry, this structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal.

How Meditation Affects You

Now that we know what’s going on inside our brains, let’s take a look at the research into the ways it affects our health. 

Better Focus

Because meditation is a practice in focusing our attention and being aware of when it drifts, this actually improves our focus when we’re not meditating, as well. It’s a lasting effect that comes from regular bouts of meditation.

Less Anxiety

This point is pretty technical, but it’s really interesting. The more we meditate, the less anxiety we have, and it turns out this is because we’re actually loosening the connections of particular neural pathways. This sounds bad, but it’s not.

What happens without meditation is that there’s a section of our brains that’s sometimes called the Me Center (it’s technically the medial prefrontal cortex). This is the part that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from the bodily sensation and fear centers of the brain to the Me Center are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong reaction in your Me Center, making you feel scared and under attack.

When we meditate, we weaken this neural connection. This means that we don’t react as strongly to sensations that might have once lit up our Me Centers. As we weaken this connection, we simultaneously strengthen the connection between what’s known as our Assessment Center (the part of our brains known for reasoning) and our bodily sensation and fear centers. So when we experience scary or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally. Here’s a good example:

For example, when you experience pain, rather than becoming anxious and assuming it means something is wrong with you, you can watch the pain rise and fall without becoming ensnared in a story about what it might mean.

More Creativity

As a writer, this is one thing I’m always interested in. Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest thing to study, but there is some research into how meditation can affect our creativity.

Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands studied both focused-attention and open-monitoring mediation to see if there was any improvement in creativity afterwards. They found that people who practiced focused-attention meditation did not show any obvious signs ofimprovement in the creativity task following their meditation. For those who did open-monitoring meditation, however, they performed better on a task that asked them to come up with new ideas.

More Compassion

Research on meditation has shown that empathy and compassion are higher in those who practice meditation regularly. One experiment showed participants images of other people that were either good, bad or neutral in what they called “compassion meditation.” The participants were able to focus their attention and reduce their emotional reactions to these images, even when they weren’t in a meditative state. They also experienced more compassion for others when shown disturbing images.

Part of this comes from activity in the amygdala—the part of the brain that processes emotional stimuli. During meditation, this part of the brain normally shows decreased activity, but in this experiment it was exceptionally responsive when participants were shown images of people.

Another study in 2008 found that people who meditated regularly had stronger activation levels in their temporal parietal junctures (a part of the brain tied to empathy) when they heard the sounds of people suffering, than those who didn’t meditate.

Better Memory

One of the things meditation has been linked to is improving rapid memory recallCatherine Kerr, a researcher at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Osher Research Center found that people who practiced mindful meditation were able to adjust the brain wave that screens out distractions and increase their productivity more quickly that those that did not meditate. She said that this ability to ignore distractions could explain “their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.” This seems to be very similar to the power of being exposed to new situations that will also dramatically improve our memory of things.

Less Stress

Mindful meditation has been shown to help people perform under pressure while feeling less stressedA 2012 study split a group of human resources managers into three, which one third participating in mindful meditation training, another third taking body relaxation training and the last third given no training at all. A stressful multitasking test was given to all the managers before and after the eight-week experiment. In the final test, the group that had participated in the meditation training reported less stress during the test than both of the other groups.

More Gray Matter

Meditation has been linked to larger amounts of gray matter in the hippocampus and frontal areas of the brain. I didn’t know what this meant at first, but it turns out it’s pretty great. More gray matter can lead to more positive emotions, longer-lasting emotional stability, and heightened focus during daily life.

Meditation has also been shown to diminish age-related effects on gray matter and reduce the decline of our cognitive functioning.

What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How it Benefits You)

A Note on Getting Started

One of the best (free!) apps I’ve come across to help you get started with meditation is called Headspace. Invented by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, this is meditation geared towards busy people like you and me. Andy guides you through 10 minutes of simple meditation every day. You don’t have to do anything—just sit down and turn on the app and let Andy’s calm voice (his voice is truly amazing–the app is worth trying just for that!) explain how to approach meditation.