Many successful executives swear by meditation for its proven physical and mental benefits.
Ray Dalio, who manages the world's largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, has built many of the principles of meditation into his firm's culture, including the "belief that a person’s main obstacle to improvement [is] his own fragile ego."
And while Dalio may be on the more dedicated end of the spectrum, there are many different ways to meditate.
"A lot of people get discouraged about meditation because they like the idea of it, but then feel like they're 'failing' at it because they just come face to face with the quality of distraction," says Arden Pennell, Business Insider's program director. "But that's just the quality of the mind."
Indeed, one of the most important benefits of a meditation practice is a more focused mind. So here are some tips on incorporating a lightweight, dogma-free meditation system into your daily routine.
1. Set aside the time every day. Psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison told CNN that meditating for even five minutes a day can lead to major benefits. "What you should begin to notice if you’re doing it correctly [is that] you’ll feel like things are a little bit more slowed down, you’ll feel a little bit less stressed out, you’ll have a larger perspective on things," he says. "So rather than getting sort of stuck on little irritating details, you’ll find it easier to take a look at the whole picture and stay calmer in dealing with all the things you have to deal with every day.”
Raison says that while meditating, "Some people find it useful to have a little clock that they can put in front of them where they can just glance at it so they know [how much time] has passed."
On the other hand, Business Insider's Pennell—who meditates for 45 minutes every morning—uses an iPhone app called a "Zen Timer" because "it stills feels like a distraction having to worry about time," she says.
2. Create a specific space to meditate. Just like going to the gym or the office, having a designated space to perform a task is psychologically motivating. This could be as simple as having a cushion at the end of your bed, or a corner of a room decorated in a way that calms your mind.
"There have been times when I've had a really busy week and a lot has been going on and I'll sit down on the cushion and then I'll just start crying and I'll realize that I'm so sad about this one thing, but I had no space to grieve, no space to think about it; I was zipping from one thing to the other all week," says Pennell, who has studied at Insight Meditation Society, one of the top meditation centers in the country. "One of my meditation teachers likened it to a washing machine. You put the laundry in, maybe all the water comes out gray and the laundry comes out clean. It gives you space to experience what is happening, too."
3. Focus on your breathing. The key to any meditation practice is focusing on the breath. Controlled breathing stabilizes blood pressure and increases oxygen flow, thereby increasing alertness, reports Pooja Biraia at medimanage.com. She says to "stay silent and focus. Inhale and exhale in controlled and deep breaths ... your stomach should rise as you inhale; and you need to draw your navel in as you exhale." This is known as mindful breathing or pranayama.
"Meditation is a word like 'exercise,'" says Pennell. "If someone says 'exercise,' there are 3,000 ways you could do it. A very simple type of meditation for beginners is mindfulness, which is watching your breath. Find your own way and what works for you."
Pennell also says that, even after a few years of practicing, "I get distracted, too, but one of the things that meditation teaches is muscle memory, repetition. You sit on the cushion so many times, your body and nervous system start to learn the practice. It trains the brain to notice when you're getting distracted. Meditation creates more decision space around everyday tasks."
4. Read about meditation. To develop a truly successful meditation practice, it's important to understand the philosophy behind it. Pennell recommends reading "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom," by Rick Hanson, and books by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
But there's a lot of literature out there. Browse the bookstore aisles to find something that resonates and infuses your spirit. Even reading a few simple passages from a daily meditation guide can dramatically improve your perspective.
5. Be patient with yourself. Meditation, as simple as it sounds, is not easy. It's difficult to be alone with our thoughts.
"One of the things that's happening in meditation is that you're literally conditioning your brain, so you can think of it as a workout," Pennell says. "You know how you go to the gym and lift weights to work on your biceps or thighs? When you meditate, you actually work on strengthening the front parts of your brain. You're getting the parts of your brain to talk to each other and communicate better. It increases your ability to concentrate when there is a lot of noise around."