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  • Written by  Erric Solomon
  • // Wednesday, 28 December 2011 18:19
Erric Solomon

Dan Goleman: Relaxing into Meditation

I caught up with Dan Goleman recently in New York. Neither of us could think of where to meet, so somehow we ended up at the infamous Olive Garden chain's Time Square Flagship. Well, it is the pinnacle of the Olive Garden experience with views in every direction of the Square. And we discovered they have gluten-free pasta for those of you where that is an issue.

Dan was especially interested in hearing about the whatmeditationreallyis.com meditation program. I posed the following question to him and this was his answer:


Q: For many people when they first begin to meditate, because they have so much stress in their lives, they can’t seem to slow down enough to practice. As soon as they hit the cushion, they become overwhelmed by all the stress in their lives, find they can’t meditate and just want to run from the cushion.

In other words, they need to learn to be able to just simply relax before they can start a meditation session. What can people do who find themselves in that position?

A: A relaxed state can help greatly with the focus we need for meditation.  When the brain is in a stressed state the emotional centers hold attention in their grip, compelling us to focus on whatever concerns us. From the standpoint of a meditative focus, these are distractions.

This is an ancient understanding. Yogis in India practiced the postures, now taught in every other city block, in order to calm their body so they could sit still for hours in meditation.  Tibetan yogis talk about “speedy wind,” which agitates the body, as an obstruction to focus.

A calm body clears the way for a clear mind.  So how, then, to relax? If you do yoga already, that’s a great prelude to a session of sitting in meditation.

Way back when I was at Harvard we did research on relaxation and stress, and found that different methods worked better to relax different people. It depends to some extent on how you experience anxiety – some people are mental worriers, others have physical signs like knots in their stomach.

If yoga works for you, stick with it. But otherwise it might be a good idea to try several different approaches to relaxation, find one you like that seems to work for you, and stick with that.

Drawing on that research, I’ve made an instructional audio that explains how to do six different types of relaxers – everything from focusing on the breath to deep muscle relaxation to suggestion.  That’s one way to try out several different methods.

An important caveat: just taking the dog for a walk, or jogging, won’t necessarily do the trick.  It’s best to practice a method that puts your mind in a focused state while it calms your body.  And once you have one you like, try to practice it most days of the week.


Dan kindly offered a guided relaxation mp3 for the whatmeditationreallyis.com community. It is posted below. You can try it out and see if it helps. If you are interested in getting more information about his relaxation CD and the other five techniques, click here.

Download Name Play Size Length
download 04 - Deep Breathing
Daniel Goleman

6.2 MB 6:37 min

iphone mp3 link