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Medication? Meditation (Part 1)

Maaheem Akhtar
Jan 9, 2014 at 3:01 PM PST

I always love when people ask me what my favorite position is. Why, lotus, of course. What were you thinking?

It may seem like everybody and their mom is meditating these days. And, well… my mom just took a meditation course after seven years of my incessant nagging, so there you have it. Yet I meet so many people who are wowed by the fact that I’m a longtime meditator (7 years and counting, son!) and that I have a daily practice at the tender age of 25. So often, I hear the sentence “I wish I could meditate…” and I’m always stunned by it. I seriously mean this when I say it: anyone can meditate. You don’t need to be a monk, hermit, or even have a guru or teacher to learn to meditate (though it can help).

Simply put, meditation is being still: physically, verbally, and mentally still (eventually at expert level). It is not a Buddhist practice (though it can be.) It is not a Hindu practice (though it can be.) It is literally just sitting with an intention for stillness. There are many types (even standing and walking ones), but the two most basic ones are:

  1. Mindful meditation – Taking your awareness to different parts of your body, breath, thoughts.
  2. Concentration meditation – Actively trying to concentrate on a thought, sensation or a visualization and bringing yourself back to that when your mind wanders.

There is no poster child for meditation. I am a rowdy hockey fan whose favorite band since 16 has been Tool and I grew up in a third world country. None of those facts have any relevance to my ability to meditate. If I can do it… so can you.

When I first started, I wondered what good could possibly come of me being still sitting in silence doing absolutely nothing. Well, let me tell you—one UNDERenlightened to another UNDERenlightened friend. I can only speak from my own experience but a lot of research backs up my positive experience with meditation.

  • I feel more energized.
  • I feel calmer and less stressed.
  • I feel more focused and clear minded.
  • I can control my emotions better (e.g. not throw my drink at the TV screen when the San Jose Sharks make a terrible play).
  • I am more aware of my own self and others around me. (This one sounds pretty new age-y and I apologize for that. What I mean is, for example, if I feel angry, it’s easier for me to pick up on the fact that I’m angry and stop to think before saying or doing something hurtful. Similarly, I am more aware of how others around me are feeling and, honestly, sometimes they don’t have to say a darned thing for me to know.)

I’m a true believer in this preflight safety message across the board: Put on your own oxygen mask before tending to others.

How did I get into this life-changing practice? A 5-day course called YES Plus. I took my first freshman semester in college. I had just moved back to the United States after 12 years and was having a tough time adjusting to suddenly not having any friends. After attending an introductory meeting for a meditation group, I signed up. Initially, I believed it would just help me de-stress and show me the ropes of yoga. But little did I know that it would change my life. YES Plus is a course offered to college students and young professionals to learn meditation, gentle yoga, some simple, effective life skills and finally (and mainly) breathing techniques. It ended up being the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and since then I’ve assisted with at least 10 seminars at various universities (including Stanford University’s own YES Plus chapter—my main YES Plus community, since I work at Stanford.) I learned to manage my emotions better (which we know is most difficult at the dramatic age of 19), learned to be happier and more energized, and gained a huge ever-growing group of incredibly inspiring friends. I’ve never looked back since.

The most impactful thing I learned in YES Plus was breathing. Sounds silly, right? Different breathing techniques help segue into meditation—the ones I learned helped me breathe deeper (Pro Tip: use more lung space; if you’ve taken a biology class, you know that respiration is an act of energizing and detoxing your body so breathing deeper means more of that), and made me feel awake yet calm afterwards.  It’s like having caffeine without the anxious jitters. For people like me who think it’s incredibly difficult to just sit and be… breathing as an active and engaging process helps the transition into peace of mind tremendously. I’ve found that I can get to a deeper space of meditation faster.

To this day, I have trouble meditating sometimes—I have been conditioned to be on-the-go and I feel like I’m wasting my time sitting and ‘doing nothing.’ But the fact is that you are doing something in meditation. You are giving yourself peace of mind (a mini brain vacation, if you may) and that will translate into everything you do. Trust me. You can’t knock it till you try it! Perseverance is key. Set a bar for yourself: ‘I will meditate for 5 minutes daily for a month.’ If it feels good, up the ante by increasing the time or number of times you do it in the day. If it doesn’t, then you learned what doesn’t work for you and are one step closer to realizing what does.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article next week!

Originally published by the UNDERenlightened at

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Maaheem Akhtar

Maaheem Akhtar

Mak Akhtar is a Research and Outreach Associate at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University and a Contributing Writer at the UNDERenlightended. Seva. Ice hockey. The Joker. Coachella. Maynard J. Keenan. Sustainability. Thom Yorke. Jedi mind tricks. German Shepherds. Mr. Magpie. These are a few of her favorite things.
Maaheem Akhtar

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