I recently signed up for the extremely brutal SEALFIT+Kokoro camp in August 2014, along with a handful of Spartan Beast and Super Spartan races. Despite my 10 Ironman triathlons and history of extreme fitness sports since I was 15 years old, these events still have great potential to beat me up, spit me out, and leave me curled up in a fetal position sucking my thumb.
In just a few days, I'll give you the nitty-gritty details of exactly why I'm taking a year to challenge my body and mind by exploring new physical and mental challenges like this…
…but in the meantime: I can tell you one thing for sure: if I'm going to make it through these trials in tip-top shape, I sure do need to get mentally stronger.
So I've decided to hone in on and begin to prioritize daily practice of one aspect of mental training that has been proven to increase mental power: meditation. Even the military uses meditation to prepare a soldier's mind for battle.
If there’s one thing you probably wouldn’t associate with the stereotypical soldier in the military, it would be sitting in a peaceful, zen-like position while practicing deep, relaxing meditation. But the military has actually found the practice of “mindfulness based meditation” to be extremely helpful in overcoming stress.
And from Kobe Bryant to Joe Namath to Arthur Ashe, meditation has helped countless athletes manage stress, improve focus and enhance performance.
But here's my beef with meditation: the problem is that it's all too often associated with woo-woo science, mysticism and extremely long periods of time spent sitting and visualizing candle flames or the flow of the breath through your nostrils. I don't know about you, but even if those techniques work, I simply don't have time for them, especially when I have twin 5 year old boys shooting me with Lego rocketships.
My 5 Minute Meditation Technique
So instead, I use a simple, homemade combination that takes just 5 minutes and integrates brief periods of gratitude training with deep breathing and self-quantification. Here's exactly how I do it (and at the end of this blog post, I'll tell you how I'm going to modify it for the next 30 days with something called Envisionment):
1) Wake up. No alarm clock. I simply have an Earthpulse under my mattress set to turn off at the time I want to wake up.
3) As I hook up my Sweetbeat and begin monitoring, I start to engage in deep, diaphragmatic breathing.
4) Pick up my 5 Minute Journal and begin to write down my gratitude notes and positive affirmations for the day, while still measuring and monitoring heart rate variability and continuing deep diaphragmatic breathing.
5) Finish the 5 minutes of HRV measurements, journaling and deep breathing and get out of bed to go hunt down some coffee.
Mindfulness Based Meditation
If you try these 5 steps, it's very important to be aware of the concept of mindfulness – and not letting your mind stray into thoughts about what you need to do the rest of the day or something you're stress out about from the day before. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves focusing your mind on the present. To be mindful is to be aware of your thoughts and actions in the present, without judging yourself, and without being distracted by stressful experiences from the past (e.g. how crappy the day before was) or stressful anticipation of the future (e.g. everything you need to get done that day).
If you start into the 5 minute practice I've described above, and find yourself constantly distracted, you may need to throw some extra mindfulness meditation into the first 4 weeks or so. It won't take you long, but may involve a few extra minutes a day, and is perfect for an afternoon break. Here’s how to do it:
1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. I recommend you sit in a chair or directly on the floor with your head, neck and back straight but not stiff.
2. Try to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and stay “in the present”.
3. Become aware of your breathing, focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe using the techniques you’ve already learned in the chapter. Feel your belly rise and fall, the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth through pursed lips, or leave your nostrils.
4. Watch every thought come and go, whether it be a worry, fear, anxiety or hope. When thoughts come up in your mind, don’t ignore or suppress them but simply note them, remain calm and use your breathing as an anchor.
5. If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts, observe where your mind went to (without judging yourself) and simply return to your breathing. Remember not to be hard on yourself if you become distracted.
6. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are. Then get up gradually.
Once you learn mindfulness based meditation, you can easily start or end each day with it – a practice I highly recommend. One of my favorite free audio resources that will actually walk you through a mindfulness session, or a different type of meditation called “progressive relaxation”, can be found at: http://www.buddhanet.net/audio-meditation.htm.
Toss these track into your .mp3 player and try them out. I especially like the “body scan“. I used to think mindfulness meditation was for strange hippies, but now it’s the first thing I do every day, and it makes a huge difference in stress levels throughout the day.
The Envisioning Method
If you want to take things to the next level, then I'd also highly recommend you check out the new and free Envisioning Method course created by Vishen Lakhiani, who was my podcast guest on the episode “The World's Best Phone Apps For Meditation And Relaxation“. Designed by Vishen based on his own daily practice, the Envisioning Method is a distillation of hundreds of books on personal growth – and is created to generate a remarkable transformation in your ability to turn yourself into a complete meditation beast — in the shortest amount of time. Warning: Envisioning Method was live at the time of this publishing but is no longer available!
The program, based on scientific studies from several major universities, uses a 26 minute training video and a 6 phase guided meditation series to put you into an alternate state of mind as quickly as possible. It's been shown to boost happiness by 20% or more, condition your brain to experience more compassion, and even envision your perfect day in vivid, “HD” detail. It also includes 10 audio tracks for meditation or relaxation.
I'm going to be experimenting with the free Envisioning Method over the next 30 days to see how it compares to and complements my current 5 minute meditation techniques. Feel free to check it out and join me on the journey, and leave your questions, comments and feedback below!