Woman meditating practicing yoga outdoors

Secular Meditiation: How to Meditate without the Mumbo Jumbo

There are dozens of life-changing reasons to meditate but most men won’t do it for one simple reason:  they associate it with religious or spiritual beliefs (or the lack thereof) that do not match their own.  And, almost without exception, if you pick up a book on the subject, you will be bombarded with religious terminology that can make it a barrier for most men.  Another problem can also be the fact that meditation is actually quite simple, but many articles and books add pages and pages of “fluff” that you really don’t need to know.

But fear not!  Below I am going to give you some very simple step-by-step approaches to meditation.  In fact, before I go on, let me just mention that there are really just three basic approaches to meditation:  concentration, mindfulness and mantra.  These three overlap and are not perfectly separate as you’ll see below, but do not be concerned because all 3 of these have stellar research records as far as cortisol control, psychological improvement, cardiovascular health and – it’s true! – brain building.

Many guys also struggle with just sitting there.  It seems a tad bit unmanly to just sit their doing nothing and it just seems like a big waste of time.  However, nothing could be further from the truth and secular meditation can helpyou directly with your sex life, career and other things that are important to virtually any man on planet earth.  Stress, especially in modern societies, is a root cause for almost every nasty medical condition that plagues us.  We have to learn approaches that will help us overcome this enemy and secular meditation should certainly be a the top of the list in this category.

Here are just a few examples as to why meditation should be front and center to every man and why meditation is actually downright manly:

1.  Cortisol Reduction and Visceral Fat. Cortisol accelerates the most dangerous kind of fat:  visceral or stomach fat.  This kind of fat is associated with insulin resistance, endothelial dysfunction, heart disease and, ultimately, that’s not going to be good for your erections.

2.  Muscle Preservation. This could go under #1, but anything that controls cortisol will help keep your precious muscle mass.  Testosterone buildeth;  cortisol taketh away.

3. Erections. Remember:  one of the stress hormones puts the brakes on erections, in order to prevent priapism.  Lowering stress will, in general, increase your libido and optime your erectile strength.

4. Anxiety. Meditation helps with a host of anxiety-related psychological issues.  Many of you need to admit you’re overly stressed out and this is impacting your relationships and/or family.

5.  Repetitive Thoughts. Meditation teaches you to control runaway and repetitive thoughts.  This is a HUGE problem for many men.  When the consequences of something seem too horrible to bear, just about the only thing that can help is meditation.  It teaches you to control your thoughts

So I urge you to get over your bias against meditation – it’s mostly cultural after all – and try it out.  I can’t emphasize this enough, but it takes time – usually a few weeks.  Meditation is just exercise for the brain.  And when you start working out for the first time in your life, it can be painful when you start.  Keep that in mind when you start to meditate.

Again, you will be plagued with thought flooding your head, sleepiness and various other distractions.  But stick it out:  you won’t regret.  As a motivator, look at this summary as well:  The Many Benefits of the Relaxation Response.

NOTE:  PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) is a related technique but not really true meditation.  It is, however, uniquely powerful and has some distinguising properties, such as being a nice cure for insomnia.  It is VERY good at lowering cortisol and stress and is also known for improving many of the worst psychological issues.  However, it does not yet have the documented brain building benefits of meditation and I would also argue that it may not help as much with learning to control your thought life.  But it is VERY powerful and can produce a relaxation response any time and anywhere!

Concentration Meditation
1) Choose an Object. You have to start by choosing something to focus on. The most common is your breathing.  If you choose breating, it can either be the sound of your breath or the feeling of the breath entering/exiting your nostrils. Other common meditiation “objects” are the end of your nose or the forehead at the top of your nose between your eyebrows, called cosmically the “third eye point” by some.

2) Close Your Eyes. I recommend closing your eyes as you will find it much easier to relax and concentrate.  However, you certainly do not have to and many practioners meditate sometimes with their eyes open.  If you leave your eyes open, you can either concentrate on your breath or on an object in the room, preferably something neutral.  Leaving your eyes open can be a useful technique for those who easily fall asleep.

3) Counting or Alarm.  I’m a numbers guy and love to count.  It really helps me with each breath to count up from 1 to some preset number.  I usually find that when I hit about 50, the relaxation response kicks in.  For some of you, setting an alarm – preferably your phone on a gentle vibration mode – is what you need.  I encourage this, though, so that you know there is a time limit and won’t be stressed out about time management-related issues.  Many studies show just two times of 15 minutes per day will achieve the benefits mentioned above.

4) Distractions. The most important thing to remember when you start meditation is that you will initially have great trouble with distracting thoughts.  The normal person will think of a 100 different things besides your breath in a relatively short amount of time. But do NOT get frustrated with this.  It is natural and is part of the learning curve.  When you notice your mind off on a tangent, just gently bring it back to your breating (or whatever other object you decided to focus upon). You will get better as time goes on and may take weeks before you can focus consistently.  However, it is well worth the patience and effort. Also, you will notice that if you do 15 minutes of meditiation, your mind will slowly calm down and enjoy the peace and quiet after a few minutes. It will get easier and easier later in your meditation session.

One of the big advantages that I see with Concentration Meditation is its ability to quickly bring about a relaxation response.  With just a few weeks practice, you should be able to produce significant stress reduction after just a few minutes.  This is worth gold.

Here are a few other items that you may wonder about:

a) Posture.  Forget about posture or whether you are sitting or standing or what position your hands are in.  All that matters is that you focus your mind.

b) Mudras.  Forget about finger and hand position.There is some interesting research that ties the standard “lotus” finger positions to brain activity, but this is for the advanced class.  You will get 90% of the benefit from just the above simple techniques.

NOTE:  Just to give you an idea how bad most meditational guides are, I remember one that was carefully giving directions on how to do meditational breathing.  Their advice?  “First in, then out.” Okay, I guess there are a couple of alternatives, such as non-stop exhaling, but, really, did we need that reminder?  How many of their students continuously inhale until they hyperventilate or pass out?  I doubt it’s very many…

Mindfulness Meditation
The apostle of Mindfulness Meditation here in the U.S. is a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn, an M.I.T. Ph. D. molecular biologist that left behind his original training to study meditation and its effects on the brain and body in an M.I.T.-based research center. He has authored many books and scientific papers on the subject and is considered one of the foremost experts on meditation in the world.  For those interested, some of his lectures are on YouTube and are enjoyable for their lucidity and unpretentiousness.

I find Mindfulness Meditation to be the easiest, but some say it is the opposite.  Regardless, it is packed with proven benefits to one’s health and well-being.  Here is all you have to do:

1.  Close Your Eyes.  Again, it’s not a requirement, but I recommend closing your eyes, especially when you are first learning this technique. However, you can engage in Mindfulness Meditation anywhere, even when you are on a stationary bike at the gym for example.  But start with your eyes shut.

2.  Be Aware (~33%). Sound like I’m giving Stranger Danger training to your kids? Well, Mindfulness Meditiation requires you to actually be aware of your environment and not try to tune it out as you do in large part with Concentration Meditation. The noise of air blowing through a vent, your son dropping his PS3 controller in the room above you or the neighbor talking outside are all to be “embraced” instead of dismissed.  However, this is the key:  you pay attention to these outside noises only briefly for a few seconds and then return to “being aware”.

3.  Stray Thoughts (~33%). One unique thing about Mindfulness Meditation is that it actually emphasizes the fact that you will have stray thoughts entering your brain as you meditate.  It’s part of being a stressed-out human in the 21st century, eh? However, rather than dwelling or analyzing or attaching emotion to these thoughts, you simply “look at them” and pass onto something else.

The power of this technique cannot be overestimated.  It takes several weeks to really be able to do it effectively, but, eventually, you learn to not react with dread or anxiety or panic at thoughts entering your brain.  I think Mindfulness Meditation is the most powerful technique to show you how to control repetitive and destrutive thought patterns.  Some day the light bulb just seems to go off and you realize, “Everything is going to be okay.  The world isn’t going to melt down if X happens.”

4.  Breathing (~33%). Mindfulness also encourages you to go back and listen to your breathing.  No intense concentration here.  The idea is that you let your mind gently go back between focus on your breathing, stray thoughts and sounds and stimuli around you. You are merely an “aware onlooker” and spend no more than a second or two on each.

This may sound like the most useless activity that you’ve heard of, but trust me:  Mindfulness Meditation produces big results.  If you stop to think about it, you end up building up the ability to, in a relaxed and focused way, deal with whatever crosses your path throughout the day.  And you learn to control your mind and thought patterns.  That is something that can help your health, your career and your relationships.

Mantra Meditation
Ever heard of Transcental Meditation? You probably have, but it is nothing more than an expensive and popularized version of one of the oldest meditational techniques on planet earth, Mantra Meditation. TM is a licensed, trademarked program that will set you back a few grand from what I have read.  Now this may seem like a bad thing to some – making money on something like meditation – but the truth is that it was very good to increase our understanding because it led to a slew of studies that greatly advanced our knowledge of meditation.  Mindfulness and TM Meditations have accumulated the greatest number of studies over the decades, both with great success.

So is taking a TM course worth it? My take on it is that it is analagous to hiring a personal trainer in the gym. In other words, if you need one-on-one attention and learn better with a tutor or mentor, then TM may be right for you. However, I should point out that some people claim that Transcental Meditation display many cult-like qualities and you can read some of them at Suggestibility.

Reall there is no reason not to just get started with the techniques below. It is VERY simple and easy to get powerful resuls almost right away and will cost you nothing but a little time each day:

1.  Choose a Mantra.  TM practitioners receive a “special” mantra.  Now it is true that chanting of any sort likely stimulates the pituitary and hypothalamus which are very near the back of the throat.  However, I think it’s a real stretch to say that we have evidence that certain vowels or consonants produce differing results.  Even if that is true, I doubt that TM instructors have any idea what those sounds would be.  So pick short phrase of about three syllables, such as “Wah tah hey” and you’re done.  You want something that is easy to say, flows well and will produce a nice vibrational effect at the back of your throat.

2.  Say the Mantra.  You knew I was going to say that?  Yes, you have to repeat the mantra and the key here is for it to slow, repetitive and monotonous – er, excuse me – soothing.  You want to say each syllable about every half second or second.  In other words, you want a pattern that will produce a relaxed, calming effect on the mind – no reggae beats here please.

3.  Return to the Mantra.  If you are human, you will have stray thoughts.  As in concentration meditation, you simply return your mind, without stress or self-judgement, to repeating the mantra.

NOTE: You may not realize it, but you should really thank me for this simple three step procedure. I just read a 15 step procedure that included as step five: “Take bath in holy river.”

Mantra Meditation for some people will produce a relaxation response even more pronounced and rapid than standard Concentration Meditation.  One could argue, actually, that Mantra Meditation is actually just a subcategory of the Concentration anyway.  However, I see them as separate entities because of the powerful effect of chanting and sound upon the brain in many people.  So try all three techniques and see which one works best for you.  If you can, do about a half hour per day.

NOTE:  Some say that stimulating the pituitary through Mantra Meditation could in turn stimulate signaling to the testes and increased testosterone and androgen output.  As far as I know, this has not been verified by any studies however.

Why does meditation work so well?  Well, no one really knows the answer to that yet. It somewhat reminds me of laughter, which has incredible and poorly understood benefits, such as Increasing Growth Hormone.  The bottom line is that meditation just plain works you’ll want to use its superpowers in your life while scientists take another decade or two to figure out its source of powers.

Now there are actually several kinds, such as Zen, (certain exercises in Kundalini Yoga and so called “loving kindness” meditation.  These all have value, but, again, the above three meditational techniques (Concentration, Mantra and Mindfulness) have heavy backing in the research and literally dozens and dozens of studies backing up their value.

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