It’s been around for more than 2,500 years, but meditation is having its moment.
It seems everyone is obsessed with seeking inner calm. Celebrities like Oprah, Russell Simmons, Russell Brand, Jerry Seinfeld and Jennifer Aniston swear by it. Even top CEOs like Rupert Murdoch are doing it.
“What makes it so hot right now is that we are not turning off anything,” said Suze Yalof Schwartz. “We have our iPods with us 24/7. We’ve got our computer. We’ve got information coming in at all times. People want to unplug, they want to decompress.”
Meditation is so hot that Schwartz, who calls herself a spiritual entrepreneur, opened unplug meditation in Los Angeles, a center offering drop-in group classes. So is meditation the new yoga?
“You can’t win at meditation,” Schwartz explained. “People say the only way to do it wrong is to not meditate. So any way that you meditate is a great way. The top three words that come to mind after successful meditation for me are calm, stillness and centered.”
But can anybody do this? Can anyone get down with the mantras? Or quiet the voices constantly chattering in our heads? ABC News’ Sara Haines decided to get help from one of New York City’s top meditation teachers, Ethan Nichtern, at the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York.
After sitting comfortable with spine straight on a floor mat – “you want to sit so your knees are not higher than your hip joints,” Nichtern explained – he led Haines through a meditation session. He offered a way to overcome a wandering mind.
“If you try to suppress your thoughts, they do tend to multiply, like space invaders,” he said. “People think meditation is about killing your thoughts. But the purpose of meditation is to make friends with yourself. I call it accepting your own friend request.”
Practicing meditation is not just for you. Your state of mind affects not just your daily life, but everyone around you, as Nichtern explained that “people who aren’t being mindful actually have an effect on other people.”
That’s the golden ticket: mindfulness. The rewards speak for themselves. Lower stress and some research even shows it can help with chronic conditions such as allergies, heart disease and sleep problems. Corporations like Google, Nike and Target offer meditation classes to their employees. And Haines’ colleague and ABC News Nightline anchor, Dan Harris, has written a book about how it’s made him 10% Happier.
“Meditation is always hard,” Harris said. “If it’s easy for you, you are either enlightened or you’re cheating. It’s like when you go to the gym. If you run on the treadmill and it’s easy for you, you’re not doing it right. That’s what this is, this is exercise for your brain.”
But don’t let that discourage you. His top pointers:
--- Just do 5 minutes a day: “There’s some power with the daily-ness of it.”
--- Don’t worry if it’s a struggle: “The process of getting lost, then coming back, then getting lost again, is meditation.”
“The term meditation is just paying attention to what you’re doing,” Harris explained. “So you can literally meditate anywhere. Any time you’re actually paying attention to what you’re doing, you are meditating.”
ABC News' Mary-Rose Abraham, David Miller, Greg Brouwer and Maurice Abbate contributed to this episode.