How and why I meditate for 15 minutes (almost) every day

c/o Tatsuya Ishida

Meditation is awesome. When I do it, I feel better and my day proceeds more smoothly.

Let me explain why I started, how I meditate, and its effect on me (that I am aware of). Alongside regular running/weightlifting, and not eating crap foods, it’s been one of the most beneficial things I’ve incorporated in my daily routine.

Why I started

For many years, I’ve read about meditation’s benefits. An incomplete list:

  • Improves focus
  • Reduces stress
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Diminishes feelings of pain

It literally changes the structure and composition of your brain, increasing gray matter and the frequency of different brain waves…

Here are some good articles if you’re interested:

NYT – How meditation may change the brain
MIT – The benefits of meditation
Psychology Today – The benefits of meditation

Because I’m interested in anything that can improve my physical AND mental health with no major downsides (unlike recreational drugs), it seemed a natural step in my quest to live forever.

For years, I tried and failed to start a meditation routine. After a few days, I would dread the idea of sitting quietly for 30 minutes letting my silly thoughts run wild.

Yet for the past 7 months, I’ve meditated for 10-15 minutes a day, usually 5 days a week or more.

I’ve kept at it, the results have begun to show, and it’s becoming more enjoyable. I still don’t ENJOY it, like I enjoy a bowl of Ichiran ramen, but the anticipation no longer fills me with dread.

How I meditate

The breakthrough came, like most behavior changes, when I realized that starting (and staying) unambitious was key.

In my failed attempts, I would start with a goal of 30 minutes. And I would try to add 5 minutes every day, hoping I could attain a Buddha-amount of focus with a Kesha-amount of time.

This didn’t work.

So instead of 30 minutes, I set 5 minutes as the goal. If I just meditated for 5 minutes, I’d consider that a win. This made it MUCH easier to fit into my day, and I didn’t procrastinate.

BJ Fogg talks about this idea of “micro” habits to initiate real behavior change.

After 7 months, I’m at 15 minutes a day with no plans to increase the time. Some days I’ll only do 10, and others I’ll do 25 or 30. But being unambitious has made all the difference.

I do a somewhat standard zen-like process.

Here are my steps:

  1. I set my iPhone timer for 15 minutes. This helps me stop wondering constantly how many minutes are left
  2. I find a quiet, dimly-lit place (usually my bedroom).
  3. I sit in a chair and overlap my hands. Keep my back straight and head up. Sitting cross-legged on the ground is too uncomfortable
  4. I close my eyes, and “check in” with my body. Starting with my toes, I notice and feel each part of my body as I move through the legs, torso, and head
  5. Once I’m in my head, I clear my mind and imagine a white room. Sometimes I focus on the buzzing sound in my head, sometimes I focus on the mental room, sometimes I focus on “nothingness”
  6. Often I’ll begin wondering what I’m eating for dinner…if I should scratch that itch on my leg…when these moments happen, I simply let go of the thought and return to the white room or nothingness. With meditation you have to accept that your mind will wander, what you’re working on is your ability to let go when it happens and return your focus
  7. When the timer goes off, I slowly open my eyes and return to reality

Its effect on me

When I finish a typical 15-minute session, my immediate feeling is one of calm, detachment, and elevation. It’s like being high, while you’re fully aware. It doesn’t matter how hectic the day has been, I always feel calm after meditating. Everything moves languidly.

This intense feeling lasts perhaps 15-30 minutes, and slowly dies off. For the rest of the day, I’m calmer and more detached. Sometimes the change is obvious, other times it feels like I jump right back into the rat race.

Meditation hasn’t allowed me to completely block negativity, but it’s allowed me to let go of stupid shit more quickly.

It’s not a shield to protect against negative arrows, but more like Wolverine’s ability to rapidly self-heal after being wounded. And after 7 months now, some things which used to bother me simply don’t anymore. I hope this side of meditation grows over time.

“Buddha had it right when he said craving, desire and attachment are the sources of suffering.” – Chris Michel

…meditation works to reduce EXACTLY those feelings.

It’s definitely improved my focus. I’ve long believed focus is a muscle which gets stronger with use, and meditation is a great focus-workout.

One fear of mine? By minimizing lows, I also reduce highs – the true pleasures from life. I feel like this is already happening, to a small degree…it’s something I’m paying close attention to, and for me, giving up a little maximum pleasure is worth reducing the frequent little pains.

Looking ahead

Like regular exercise and eating healthy, meditation is staying in my daily routine. In another 3-6 months, I’ll increase my minimum time to 20 minutes but I want to stay distinctly unambitious.

I’d like to try a multi-day meditation retreat – you know, go find a temple, meditate alongside monks, eat veggies and tofu all day. That sort of stuff :)

Thanks for reading.

Do you meditate and if so, what habits work for you? What effect has it had on your life? I’d love to hear, and maybe even try meditating together.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.