From my own experience, meditation seems to have really taken off in popularity recently. A number of recent news stories and podcasts I have listened to proclaim its usefulness in keeping a healthy mind and body. However, not everyone sees it like that yet. Many see it as some Buddhist exercise that’s not relevant their Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Atheist belief system. This could not be further from the truth; in fact, your religion (or lack thereof) is completely irrelevant to the benefits you can gain from it.
What is meditation?
In short, meditation is simply very effective method of training your mind. Training for what, you might ask? Personally, I have been focusing primarily mindfulness practice, which is training the mind to be mindful. What is mindfulness? I’m glad you asked…
As I understand it, mindfulness practice comes from a specific form on Buddhist practice. Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment” (Wikipedia).
In every day life, mindfulness means recognizing thoughts and emotions as they come, and accepting them for what they are, without judgment.
In meditation, this often means sitting with your eyes closed, focusing on one thing, often the breath. However, the goal is not to keep your mind clear of all thoughts. Doing so is absurdly difficult (I have tried), and will just lead to discouragement and frustration. Rather, you should simply note thoughts as they come, and then return to focusing on the breath.
Now we know that mindfulness is the act of focusing on your thoughts and feelings in the present moment, but how is this useful? First, it is always helpful to have a good grip on your thoughts and emotions, especially in stressful situations. I have found doing so helps me remain patient in otherwise tiring scenarios. Second, the act of focusing on the breath, and bringing focus back to the breath when it drifts away, is an amazing way to train your focus. The best explanation I’ve heard, from an episode of the Smart People Podcast, is that each time you lose focus, and then realize that and bring your focus back to your breath, is like doing one rep of meditation practice. That practice also flows over into anything else that requires focus.
Where’s the coding?
The title promised “Meditation and Coding”, so how does this relate to coding? Meditation can really help with any activity that requires focus and concentration, including coding, writing, or problem solving. Coding just happens to be something I do often enough to see the benefits of meditation. The “reps” of losing and regaining focus have helped me realize when my mind is drifting off, helping to keep me on task, and not losing the delicate mind-blueprint of the code I’m writing.
For a guided meditation, I use the Headspace app. The first ten days are free, and after that it’s about $13/month. I’ve paid for a month so far, and it works well, but I do not know how much longer I will keep that up before I find something different. The podcast I mentioned earlier also mentions the lift app, recently renamed to coach.me. I have not tried that yet, but if I do I will write a short post on it.
One of my 2015 New Years Resolutions is to meditate every day. Hopefully this post will encourage some of you to try the same. I think it’s a great way to improve focus and general well-being, and it only takes 15 or 20 minutes a day.
Note: The header picture is mostly irrelevant to this post. I just liked it enough to add it. I will probably do that a lot.