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In between periods of revitalizing down time, political life is nonstop. There’s a constant barrage of information through the 24/7 news cycle, the hours, the travel — it takes a toll. Some days it can even feels like you barely have enough time to shower and brush your teeth, let alone pause and contemplate the infinite.
Which is why people tend to do a double take when I tell them I help elected leaders, staffers and operatives integrate meditation into political life.
Yes, seriously - and it’s easier than you think. Most people have an image of meditation complete with pillows, chanting and waterfalls. If you fancy that kind of thing, go for it. Otherwise, there are ways to gain the benefits of meditation even in busy campaign offices, airplanes, and congressional halls. Not only will you feel better, you’ll perform better, too.
Political leaders in the United States Pentagon and even on Capitol Hill are taking note of meditation’s upside: mounting research links this practice to stress reduction, lower blood pressure and an equalized nervous system.
So whether you’re taking some time in between campaign gigs or ramping up during the start of the new Congress and incoming Trump administration, now is the perfect time to hone your meditation game. Here’s how to get started:
1. Choose a space where you’ll be free of interruption. This can be a room in your home, office or even your car.
2. Set a timer for three minutes.
3. Sit in a comfortable position. If on a chair, place your feet firmly on the ground. If you’re on the ground, sit with your legs crossed. In yoga speak, this position is called lotus pose. Place your hands gently in your lap or at your sides. The important thing is to feel alert, awake and at ease.
4. Now, close your eyes. Breathe normally.
5. Begin connecting with the inhale and exhale of your breath. Keep your attention on your breath. As you inhale, repeat to yourself, “I am breathing in.” As you exhale out, say to yourself, “I am breathing out.” Continue like so for three to five breath cycles. Next, begin counting your breaths on the exhale from 1 to 10. For example, inhale, exhale, 1. Inhale, exhale, 2. When you reach 10, begin counting down: inhale, exhale, 10. Inhale, exhale, 9. Repeat.
If at any time you notice your mind wandering – which it is sure to do – please don’t get discouraged. Minds explore. This is what they’re conditioned to do. Congratulate yourself for noticing and bring your attention back to your breath, starting again with 1.
6. When the timer sounds, gently wiggle your fingers and toes, and open your eyes.
Just like starting any new habit, set manageable and incremental goals that position you for success. Commit to meditating for three minutes for three days. Next week, up your practice to four minutes for three days and then four minutes for four days and so on. Just like other areas like sports and political acumen, meditation deepens with time and dedication.
Frieda K. Edgette is principal of Novos Consulting, a civic-minded organizational strategy and coaching consultancy.