Programming is hard work where you solve problems and try to manage complexity. Can you honestly say that you take measures for keeping your mind fresh? Keeping your body active through exercise is a great benefit for your mind, but I would like to talk about an exercise for your mind with benefits for your body also. This is of course not just for developers, but this is a blog aimed at developers. We live in a stressful world where our mind is bombarded with impressions that our mind is usually terrible at dealing with, so we need a tool to help our mind cope with this. The great part is that it will benefit your life in general and not just your work as a developer.
Getting my head in the right place for focus and productivity starts before I sit down at my computer to code or write technical musings. I know that many are skeptical about meditation since we often have a preconceived idea of what it is and what it isn’t, I know I did before starting out. Please bear with me as I’ll try to explain what it is and what it isn’t for me and how you can benefit from it. When I’m writing this I have only been meditating for about three months which means I’m no expert but I have been through the process of starting and continuing my practice.
What it is for me
There is probably as many explanations as practitioners to what meditation is and I can only reflect my view on this, but I believe the common ground between all these explanations is a large space.
I think many have a preconceived notion of what it is in often a stereotypical way. Perhaps I have a preconceived notion of what people think meditation is… The usual image we get of meditation is a person sitting on a mat or on the ground with eyes closed, legs crossed in a lotus position and hands resting on the knees. Maybe there’s even some chanting going on and some incense that is lit. What do people think is going on inside the head of this person? Nothing might be an answer many will resort to. This is not entirely true, it’s about being mindful and staying in the present moment. It’s about observing and acknowledging your thoughts and emotions and then letting them go. If a thought pops up or your mind wanders off you simply acknowledge that it happened and bring your attention back to what you are doing. And the beauty is that mostly what you’re doing is breathing. We all know how to breathe and you do not try to change the way you’re breathing during meditation, but you focus on it and you let your mind rest on the sensation of breathing.
And for the most part it’s about sitting there for hours and hours, right? Does not have to be true either. You do not have to sit with legs crossed in a lotus position on the ground for several hours to meditate. What you should do is find a quiet space, make yourself comfortable and have your back straight. That’s it! You can do it on your couch, on a chair or even in your bed. I wouldn’t recommend lying in bed though since it can be hard to stay awake if you’re a bit sleepy, trust me. Then you can meditate for 10 minutes or more, I usually spend 20 minutes a day doing this. You do not have to do it more than this to reap the benefits.
There has been extensive research done on meditation and the benefits are quite overwhelming, you don’t have to take my word for it but you can instead find the research out there. I’ll try to create a short list that might be of interest for developers:
- Increases happiness (happy developers produce the best code)
- Reduces stress
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves cognitive function (learning ability, memory)
- Increases creativity
- Increases compassion
- More energy
- Improves relationships, both at home and at work
- Increases ability to see the larger picture
- Helps you ignore petty issues that aren’t relevant
- Increases job satisfaction
How I started out and continued
I use an amazing app called Headspace that is available on iTunes and Google Play. Since I didn’t know how to meditate before I started I wanted something to guide me through it and teach me how it’s done, precisely what this app will do for you. Not only that but it provides you the perfect starting point, where you’ll only commit to doing it 10 minutes a day for 10 days and after that you’ll slowly progress to longer meditation sessions. After you have completed their foundation packs you can move on to a number of themed packs such as focus, relationships, health and so on.
I would also like to point out that starting to meditate can be hard, it took me perhaps 2-3 weeks before I could tell a difference. In the beginning it will be hard to form a new habit and staying focused during meditation. But stick with it and make sure you do it every single day for at least 10 days to see what happens.
I will leave you with a TED talk that the founder of Headspace gave on meditation.