When I first started meditating last year, I was on a roll. I managed to squeeze in a session every day for months, even if it was only a minute long. But my search for serenity was fueled by the anxiety of an ongoing pandemic. One year on, I’ve grown much more comfortable in quarantine — and my daily meditation habit fell apart.
To build it back up, I decided to consult an expert on mindfulness. And who better than health guru Deepak Chopra? If anyone could steer me back on course, I figured, it’s the author of more than 90 books and the founder of the nonprofit . The prolific doctor also just launched two meditation apps: Chopra Meditation & Well-Being (for self-care tips) in 2020, and Digital Deepak (an AI twin that you can interact with) in 2021.
Our Q&A touched on a variety of topics including the best way to form a mindfulness habit, how long we should meditate for, and how technology can help. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m always saying “I don’t have time to meditate” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.” And then that snowballs into never. How do you incorporate a meditation habit into a busy lifestyle?
Deepak Chopra: I would say the easiest way is to stop every few hours, or stop whenever you’re feeling stressed. Then take three deep breaths. Then smile from your head to your toes and everywhere in your body. Imagine your heart is smiling, your stomach is smiling, even your genitalia is smiling, your fingernails are smiling, your skin is smiling, your hair follicles are smiling. You will immediately see a shift in mood.
And then consciously make a choice to respond to the present moment, instead of regretting the past or imagining a future. The worst use of imagination is stress. The best use of imagination is conscious choice-making and creativity. So you ask yourself, “What am I choosing right now?”
The most effective way to be in that space that we call mindfulness is to be fully present in the moment, and then choose how to respond spontaneously without getting stressed. And, if you do that regularly, you’re in a meditative state and it becomes a habit. So you’re always present.
Imagine your heart is smiling, your stomach is smiling, even your genitalia is smiling
For the Type A personalities like me, or for people who just love to plan out their day, would you suggest building meditation sessions into their schedules?
It’s not a bad idea. You know, you brush your teeth every day, go to the bathroom every day, sleep every day, talk to people every day, eat every day. So, you should schedule focused awareness time, which is meditation.
You’ll accomplish a lot more by doing less. My thing is, only busy people have time. If you say you don’t have time to meditate once a day, you should be doing it twice. Because that means you’re really stressed.
What would you consider an adequate amount of time to meditate, especially for those just starting out on their mediation journey?
All the research from the past, not recently, says 20 minutes twice a day. If you can get in 20 minutes twice a day, you’re doing amazingly well. But if you can’t, then start with 10 minutes once a day. And then, just before you go to sleep, it might be a good idea to close your eyes and do it for 5 to 10 minutes, because you’ll settle down and have a good sleep.
But slowly build it up to 20 minutes, if you can. Ultimately, it’s like taking aspirin. You know, two aspirin is good, three gives you a stomach ulcer, and one doesn’t really work.
Mindfulness is now part of our fitness routines. A lot of brands are incorporating meditation sessions into their apps and wearables, especially within cool-downs and warm ups. Is that a good thing?
With the Fitbit and Apple Watch, there’s a real time benefit. I think these devices are helping us by giving us feedback and information, and helping us to intervene in real time. And there’s something very interesting that happens when you meditate even for a minute. Your heart rate slows down, your heart-rate variability goes up, and you can see what is happening.
Now, given that feedback, what happens is people feel enthusiastic. You know, it’s like, “I burned so many calories today, I feel good about that,” [or] “I walked 10,000 steps, I feel good about that” and “I was able to change my heart rate variability just by meditating, I feel good about that.”
The more you feel good about it, the more you’re likely to do it. That’s the advantage of technology.
Is there anything else you want to add about how we can give people motivation to meditate?
Don’t waste your life. You might work really hard and you might become very successful, but at the end, there’s a price to pay. What’s the point?
Be present right now. Make choices that make you experience a joyful, energetic body, a loving, compassionate heart, a clear, creative mind, and lightness of being.
If you can have those four aspects as part of your life, then you can do anything, because you have the energy, the joy, and the emotion to do it.