Bija Bennett

Emptying the Cup: 3 Steps to Help You Meditate Today

If you’re a high-powered executive, or even your own boss at home, chances are you’ve heard about the benefits of meditation. In 2015, a Harvard Medical School neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, was one of the first to test the benefits of meditation via brain scans. What she found was compelling, especially for those who want to build their capacity for focused attention at work and in life.

“Meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the auditory and sensory cortex, which makes sense,” said Lazar in a Washington Post article. “When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment, which enhances your sensory experience.” “We also found that [meditators] have more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.”

Lazar’s discoveries about the effects of meditation have exciting implications, not only for brain health, but for personal performance and success — and for radically enhancing a fully energized and focused workforce.

A Closer Look at How to Approach Meditation

(photo: Lois Greenfield, 2002, from Emotional Yoga, Simon and Schuster)

I have been practicing meditation for over 35 years, and have studied with some of the greatest yoga and meditation teachers in India. What I’ve learned is that meditation doesn’t happen by itself. It occurs as a result of turning the mind inward. In other words, you have to “do” something in order to lead yourself into the meditative state.

While meditation is an ancient science that's survived for thousands of years, the practice itself is surprisingly simple:

Step 1: Preparation

Preparation in meditation is the process of changing your physical, mental, and emotional energy so that you can move from an “external” state to an “internal” state — from being active on the outside, to being active on the inside.

By turning the mind inward in preparation, your senses progressively withdraw from external stimuli — the office, the phones, your email, noise — and come alive in the inner environment of your mind. Preparation is used to reduce the distractions within your body and mind. It’s a practice that trains your mind to move inward and prepare you for deeper sensory experiences.

This movement is what makes meditation possible.

In the yoga tradition, the metaphor of the cup is frequently used: It is said that if you want to fill a cup with something, it first has to be empty. If your mind is full, there is no room for anything more. This is why you prepare before you meditate. You create space so that something new can come in.

You first begin by performing certain actions to empty your mind and change the condition of your physical and sensory perceptions. This is an active process. By altering the focus of your attention, or your breathing, or by performing simple movements or postures — you will successfully prepare yourself to meditate.

 — To Prepare Your Mind: “Intentionally” decide that it’s time to meditate. Also, select a certain amount of time you want to meditate for, or get up and go to a quieter place. These are intended actions by which your meditation depends.

— Consciously Focus on Your Breathing: Deliberately altering the pattern of your breath affects change on all levels: physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual. Ancient science, now validated by modern science, confirms that breathing is one of the fastest and most powerful tools you can use to calm agitated states such as anxiety and fear and promotes mental clarity and focus. (So important is the breath, I’ve written two books on the topic).

— Prepare Your Body to Meditate: Shift your physical state, by deliberately moving or stretching your body while bringing your awareness to the breath. Give your mind permission to let go, easing out of the day’s busyness. Keep following the flow of your breath. Notice the quality of your attention and the overall sensations in your body, feeling relaxed and alert.

Once you’ve “emptied the cup” you’re ready to fill yourself up with something new. This idea of taking charge of both emptying and filling the cup provides the foundation for all meditation practices — and is a key variable for mental and physical renewal.

[To read the rest of this article — and for Steps 2 and 3 — please visit my blog here.]

Learn more about the multitude of benefits that meditation can bring to profoundly re-energize and transform your work, your workforce, and your life at

Create a new culture of wellness — and let me speak to your business or team to provide a practical set of strategies and tools for engagement, performance, and success.

Bija Bennett is a Chicago-based author, teacher, and public speaker who is able to convey the tenets of mind-body health in remarkably engaging ways. She has produced numerous films and books on wellness, yoga, and lifestyle, that powerfully impact the way we work and live.

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