- How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
- How to Choose a Good Bottle of Wine
- How to Start Your Own Company
- How to Know When It’s Time to Go Fishing
- How to Prepare Your Home for Sale
- How to Make Sure Your Will Protects Your Family
- How to be a Good Teacher
- How to Find a Good Doctor
- How to Raise Media-Savvy Children
- How to Look Good on Paper
- How to Train Your Dog
- How to Evaluate a Stock
- How to Coach a Youth Sports Team
- How to Get the Most Out of Your Vacation
- How to Meditate Like a Buddhist Monk
How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
The Expert: Lee Loree (Col ’95) is the inventor of Sleeptracker, a watch device that monitors sleep patterns throughout the night and looks for the optimum moment to wake you so you feel refreshed and alert. Sleeptracker was named one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2005.
Work it out
While it is best to work out in the morning to get your energy up for the day, it’s not always possible for everyone. If you save your workouts for the evening, be sure to get them in at least two hours before bedtime. Otherwise, your body may still be screaming with endorphins, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Our bodies work hard to digest what we put in our stomachs. While work and family schedules can throw off a regular dinner schedule, it is important to give your body enough time to digest your food. Try to eat dinner at least three hours before you go to bed, allowing enough time for your body and digestive system to mellow out.
Cut down the temperature
While you should experiment with your own comfort level, your room should be on the cooler side. Nothing is worse than waking up in the
night because you are sweating (or shivering), so it’s best to keep it room temperature at 65 to 70 degrees.
Turn off the tube
Your brain needs time to wind down after running on high gear with sights and sounds for the last 18 hours. Turn off your TV. Whatever program you have on, your brain will be paying attention to the stimulus of the sound, sight and emotion. It is much easier to fall asleep with calming silence.
Get a good mattress
Since the average person spends nearly a third of their life in bed, no other piece of furniture in your house is used as often or affects your overall health more than your mattress. A mattress that does not offer enough support for your spine can lead to muscle fatigue and a poor night’s sleep. A good mattress will allow you to maintain the same natural spinal alignment that you have when standing. When your body is allowed to rest in its natural position, muscles are relaxed and sleep is more refreshing. It is important to turn your mattress frequently to maintain even wear and to give you the best support.
According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people perform much worse on cognitive tests in the first three minutes after awakening—a temporary condition they call “sleep inertia.” Previous studies have also shown that sleep inertia may affect cognitive performance for up to two hours after awakening. It is important to monitor your sleeping habits and become familiar with what lifestyle choices affect your quality of sleep (e.g., food choice, alcohol consumption) so that you can wake more mornings feeling rested and alert.
How to Choose a Good Bottle of Wine
The Expert: Chad Zakaib (Col ’94) is the general manager of Jefferson Vineyards, just outside Charlottesville.
Know the rules
Most people just don’t want to order the least expensive bottle on the list. Knowing this, restaurateurs generally “over-deliver” on the second and third least expensive bottles in each category to make sure we get a good wine at a good price. If nothing else, start there. I rarely order a bottle of wine that’s so expensive I can’t afford the second one.
Know your stuff
With wineries in all 50 states (yes, even Alaska), you have convenient access to a great source of basic information. At your local wine shop, look for international wines from the best importers (Kermit Lynch, Fran Kysela, Eric Solomon and Peter Weygandt to name a few.) Attend the shop’s weekly tasting. Form a tasting group with friends, have everyone pitch in $20 and try a $100 bottle; or pick a specific category of wine (such as Merlot from Long Island) and have everyone bring a bottle. Brown bag them, taste, discuss and reveal. Then finish them.
Know the staff
Every restaurant and wine shop has a wine buyer or sommelier that selects the wines. They know more about their wines than anyone else, and generally speaking, they’re excited to share their knowledge with you. Ask for advice.
Know what you like
Make up your own mind. There’s no right or wrong—only opinions. One friend refuses to drink red Burgundy (French Pinot Noir) except in October, November or December. He argues that you need the smell of dried leaves in the air to appreciate the full aroma and flavor of the wine. True or not, wine is subjective, and for him, it’s true.
Know you don’t need to know it all
Before it was recommended, I’d never even heard of what was one of the greatest wines of my life. And maybe it was a great wine simply because of the circumstances—a rainy night, in a quiet restaurant, on a small island in an Italian lake, with my wife and a shallow bowl of lake perch risotto. Wine is an exploration. Embrace that and celebrate it, and every bottle will be better than the last.
How to Start Your Own Company
The Expert: Ben Crumpler (Col ’93) is a partner in the business section of Williams Mullen law firm. His practice focuses on corporate and business transactions.
Plot your course
So you have an idea for the next big thing. Before spending time and money to develop your new idea, develop a business plan that provides a road map for the company. There are many excellent resources to help you create your business plan, such as the Small Business Administration Web site (www.sba.gov).
Do you want one or more partners? A partner can help shoulder the financial and time burdens associated with a new company. Keep in mind, however, that partner disagreements are a leading cause of failed companies. A written agreement between the owners at the outset is highly recommended.
As you develop your business plan, develop relationships. In particular, strong relationships with professional advisers, such as bankers, accountants and lawyers, are crucial in a company’s early stages.
Your alternatives for financing the company generally include loans and capital investments. The types and sources of financing vary widely. You should complete your business plan before approaching financing sources, since most of these sources will require one. Also, if your initial financing will include the sale of company ownership interests, you must comply with applicable securities laws.
Pick an entity
In most instances, you should operate the company through a legal entity that provides limited liability for the owners. Two of the most common forms are corporations and limited liability companies. The tax implications for each entity require close examination. A lawyer and accountant should guide you through this decision.
Once an entity is formed, it is helpful to think of the company as a separate person. For instance, the owners of the company should always avoid commingling their assets with the company’s assets. Otherwise, the owners’ limited liability protection may be jeopardized.
Take care of the paperwork
Depending on the type of business, the company may need to obtain licenses, permits and fictitious name certificates. In most instances, you will need to obtain a federal employer identification number from the IRS. The IRS Web site can guide you through this process.
You should consider the legal protections available for your company’s intellectual property, including patent, trademark and copyright protection, and obtain insurance coverage for its business operations. If your company will have employees, you must comply with all employment-related requirements.
Organization is critical to the success of a new company. A new business owner should maintain all of its records in a clear and organized manner. Solid organization early in a company’s existence will set a solid framework for future growth.
How to Know When It’s Time to Go Fishing
The Expert: Britton Shackelford (Col ’90) is the captain of the Doghouse, a 61-foot fishing boat based in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. His company, Doghouse Sportfishing, conducts year-round offshore fishing trips to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.
Catch of the day
“So, captain, what are we going to catch today?” This question is one of the most frequently asked questions in the charter business. Our business falls into two camps: Those who want to catch a particular species and want to increase their chances of catching it, and those who don’t care what’s at the end of the hook, just as long as they catch something. Being able to talk intelligently to both camps goes a long way toward putting clients in the right place at the right time.
A fish for every season
For those who want to catch a particular species, such as a marlin or a tuna, the time of year you choose to pursue your fish is the most important variable. Warmer water (mid-May through mid-September) is the best temperature for marlin, dolphin (mahi-mahi) and wahoo. Colder water is generally best for tunas, sharks and king mackerel.
September through December is generally the best time for bluefin tuna fishing, and March through May is the best time for our spring migration of yellowfin tunas. Most people who come during this time of year are looking to catch their limit of tunas.
More options than you think
Many of our clients are here for vacation, and they don’t have the option of choosing another time of year to come. They often feel they have to take what they get, and like it. Not necessarily so! Although the majority of vacationers are here during the warmer months, there is still the possibility of catching a fish such as a tuna, that we have better luck catching during a colder time of year. This is when talking to your captain comes in handy. Although dolphin and marlin may be the predominant species we are catching, we can alter the spread of baits we use to increase our odds of catching a tuna.
The captain knows
The best rule of thumb to remember is this: Always ask your captain. In this age of the Internet, it is still best to take a moment to call your prospective captain and ask a few questions. The good ones will take the time to direct you to the time of year that is best suited to what you want to catch.
How to Prepare Your Home for Sale
The Experts: Kate Hart (Col ’99) and husband Chris Hart (GSBA ’00) are the owners of Hart & Associates Staging and Design. Their techniques help home sellers all over the East Coast.
A recent downturn in the real estate market has made sellers concerned about getting the most value for their home. If you want to sell your home faster and for top dollar, consider the following guidelines used by professional real estate stagers.
Are you selling your space or your stuff?
The clutter that you collect eats up the valuable space that you are trying to sell, making it hard for buyers to look beyond your personal items and see the selling features of your home. Start preparing your home for sale by packing up personal items such as awards, trophies, collections and family photos.
Get rid of anything with eyes
Not sure about a specific item? A good rule to follow is to pack up anything with eyes, such as stuffed animals, doll collections, photos and figurines.
The blind date challenge
First impressions do matter. Just as you would not answer the door on a blind date with curlers in your hair, wearing a tattered bathrobe and slippers, you don’t want your home to make a bad first impression on potential buyers either. Consider repainting the walls and trim in your home a neutral color that will appeal to the most potential buyers. Make sure to have your home professionally cleaned and focus on problem areas such as the grout in the bathrooms and stains on your carpets. Washing the windows and edging and mulching beds will also leave a lasting impression on buyers.
What is the purpose of each space?
The way that you currently live in your home may not be the best use of each space. Take for example a home with three bedrooms upstairs and a small den on the first floor. In a neighborhood where other homes boast four bedrooms, perhaps it is best to show the den as a bedroom so your home measures up to the competition. If your older home lacks a great room off the kitchen as found in new construction homes, consider turning your formal dining room into a more casual eat-in family room, or make the living room more family friendly so buyers can see this as a multipurpose space.
How to Make Sure Your Will Protects Your Family
The Expert: Robert M. Dunn (Com ’71) is an attorney in Franklin, Tenn. He and his wife are the authors of Wills: The Big Myth—What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Your Family.
Your will probably controls less of your property than you think
Your will doesn’t control property that passes to an individual named as beneficiary of your life insurance policy, IRA or 401(k) account. Similarly, upon your death, property you own jointly with right of survivorship passes outside of your will directly to the surviving owner(s). It would not be unusual if your will controlled virtually none of your property. A will that doesn’t control your property can’t protect your family.
Consider what can go wrong
By having your life insurance proceeds and other assets go directly to your spouse on your death, the stage is set for your spouse to inadvertently lose the assets and disinherit your children. For example, if your wife remarries and later dies, improperly titled assets often go to her new husband rather than your children.
Naming a guardian in your will isn’t sufficient to safeguard your minor children
While babysitters usually receive detailed instructions on caring for their charges, guardians generally are given none. Because your will becomes a public document that anyone can read after your death, you may prefer to leave your instructions in a revocable living trust, where they are visible only to those who have a genuine need to know them.
You don’t have to pay out your assets in one lump sum or at specified age intervals
When you leave money outright to your loved ones, you lose an opportunity to influence their behavior and to protect them from losing their inheritance. Rather than leave your assets outright, you can create separate trusts that come into existence after your death to hold each child’s share, tailored to each child’s needs.
Fixing your will to get guaranteed results
To guarantee that your assets get to your loved ones and are protected for them, the solution is to leave your assets in trust rather than outright, preferably by using a revocable living trust. If you’re adamant about using a will, at a minimum don’t leave your assets outright to your spouse. Instead, create a marital trust in your will for your spouse’s benefit, and leave your assets to the marital trust.
How to be a Good Teacher
The Expert: Diana Fleming Beasley (Educ ’82) teaches high school biology and was recently honored as the 2006 North Carolina Teacher of the Year.
Whoever said “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” has never taught! It is the most difficult yet rewarding occupation around, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. How do you motivate young people today to want to learn? To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson in his poem, Success, you live fully, laugh often and love much.
It is important to connect each child to the learning environment by making it an inviting, safe, fun, relevant place to be. I believe that children are our most precious resource and that showing them how to become life-long learners helps them shape the future. They need to know that we believe in their abilities and their character. We keep expectations high for our students and ourselves. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”
Make it matter
Students will be more motivated to learn that which is relevant. Good teachers emphasize the connectedness of what is to be taught to the real world. Learning should be student centered, and project oriented, with teachers as facilitators for learning rather than disseminators of information. Children need to have opportunities to work together to solve real-world problems to enhance critical-thinking abilities and learn the dynamics of group interactions.
Uncover individual strengths
Every child can and will learn. They just don’t all do it at the same pace or in the same way. Good teachers use different teaching styles to reach all learners and capitalize on each child’s strengths. We need to find out “how” our children are smart, and let them fly!
Show the love
Lastly, we need to love them. Children will run through fire for you if they know you care. It is important to see the whole child. Going to their ball games, band or choral concerts, church recitals and drama performances is as vital as what goes on in the classroom. Mother Teresa said, “Do no great things, only small things with great love.” You let them know that you admire, trust and respect them, and it will be returned a thousand-fold.
How to Find a Good Doctor
The Expert: John Hong (Med ’93) is a primary care physician trained in internal medicine. He is also a clinical instructor at UVA and author of a weekly health column.
Finding a new primary care physician (PCP) can be quite an undertaking. For example, suppose you are Brooke Shields, you just had a baby, you’re feeling depressed, and so you Google for a new PCP. There are an overwhelming number of doctors’ names, but you come upon a Top Gun-looking doctor, a Dr. Cruise. However, when you finally meet Dr. Cruise, you experience a War of the Worlds and you just want to get Far and Away.
How does one find the right PCP? There is no sure-fire formula, but there are a few things that might help.
Word of mouth
Ask people how long they have been seeing their doctors, and why they like them. For example, one woman said to me, “I prefer my doctor because he doesn’t have a personality. I’m not there to socialize.” So make sure you consider the source.
Be sure your doctor is board certified in the field you want him/her to be. A friend in Los Angeles said to me, “Oh, you have to see my doctor. He is great and wears Prada.” I didn’t know what Prada was, but I went anyway for a general check-up. He was board certified in anesthesia, not internal medicine as I had thought. Let me tell you, the visit was not a gas.
PCP doctors include internal medicine, family practice, pediatrics and ob-gyn. Which you choose is up to your needs and preferences.
Like in real estate, location might be an important factor for you—especially if you work and can’t afford much time away from the office. Transportation, in particular for the elderly, is often the deciding factor in choosing a doctor.
You can search the Board of Medicine online to learn more about
a doctor’s history and qualifications. But you’ll never really know if you will like the doctor until you see him/her. Remember, going in Eyes Wide Shut can be a precarious experience for you.
How to Raise Media-Savvy Children
Raising a child these days without them being taken over by MTV, E! and the The Simple Life with Paris Hilton can be difficult. Destroying the TV is one option, but here are a few tidbits of advice to help your child handle the constant media barrage.
No TV in the bedroom
Whatever you do, don’t get a TV for your child’s bedroom. Even if it’s just for videos, it sends the message that the bedroom is a place for television, and eventually you’ll cave in and get cable in there, too. While this is convenient for us parents so that we can get dinner ready, it takes us out of the mix and there is no longer any control over what is watched and when. Eventually, it makes the room a difficult place to study and can also interfere with sleep.
Internet in family rooms only
Some parents try to control the Internet by not getting it. I assure you, these children will find a way on the Internet when at a friend’s house, at school, or wherever. It’s a much better strategy to have the Internet available in the family room so that your child can use it as a positive learning tool, and if he or she stumbles onto a salacious Web site (which is inevitable) you can have a meaningful discussion about what you should and should not do on the computer.
Watch TV with your child
First, you’ll be surprised how wonderful some children’s programming can be. Watch the cartoon Arthur on PBS with your kids, and you’ll be stunned that it really deals with the kinds of issues that kids face every day in school. I even saw an episode in which one of the children was worried about spending the night out because she had a problem wetting the bed. Believe me, this is a real issue for kids, and the fact that cartoons discuss it is great. This offers a great time for parents to talk to kids about their fears, hopes and concerns. Second, by watching with your kids, you are able to point out inconsistencies and help them realize that TV is not reality. You can then help your children learn that commercials aren’t always the whole truth and that the way kids act on the Disney Channel may not be the only way to act.
How to Look Good on Paper
The Expert: Amy Gardner (Arch ’92) started her first business, Scarpa shoe store, just two years after graduating. She’s since opened Rock Paper Scissors, a store specializing in stationery and invitations.
It’s not just paper
As an undergraduate in the Architecture School, I thought the only design decisions that mattered were any that had to do with building or interiors. I’ve come to realize that just about everything is a design decision, including all of those pieces of paper floating around in our lives. So when purchasing or commissioning any piece of stationery—be it a party invite, a wedding invitation, a birth announcement, a change-of-address announcement or a business card—consider this personal style decision with the same level of care as picking out a wedding dress or a seal-the-deal business suit.
Beyond what information you want to send, this piece of paper is also an opportunity to evoke feelings. Do you want people to think you’re serious and proper or whimsical and original? All of these traits and more are easily conveyed by countless combinations of paper, fonts, colors and printing methods.
Fonts can convey mood, like the quality of a person’s voice. Choosing a serif font (like Times New Roman) generally connotes tradition and formality, while sans-serif fonts (like Helvetica) usually signal a more contemporary, casual sensibility. A thick card stock communicates quality, luxury and gravitas.
Collectors and credit card companies value signatures as a representation of the individual’s personal touch, their fingerprint, their authorization. Your monogram or personal logo can be thought of in a similar fashion. When designing a custom monogram or logo, brainstorm about what speaks to you. Collect business cards and images you find striking. With a knowledge base of your strong preferences, it’s far easier to create a personalized logo. The good news is that stationery is more like clothes than like marriage; you can change your mind regularly and no one will think less of you for it.
How to Train Your Dog
The Expert: Tamara Mount (Col ’88) is a former guide dog instructor who now spends her time raising her two children.
Start from day one
A dog is never too young or too old to be trained. You are “training” a dog from your first interaction with him or her—does he get a pat on the head when he jumps up on your legs, or do you make sure he is sitting before you pet him? If you’ve already let some bad habits develop in a dog you’ve had for a while, change your response to the behavior to get the behavior to change. It will take more time and persistence on your part, but you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Use tone of voice as your primary tool
We can communicate with dogs very well with tone of voice. Use a high, happy, perky tone to express pleasure and give positive reinforcement—it doesn’t matter what you say, just the tone of it. Use a low, growling angry tone to express displeasure and give negative attention. Think of how a wolf or mother dog would “discipline” her pups.
Only ask once, then enforce it gently and use praise
Be very careful about not repeating yourself to a dog and only really meaning it the fourth time you say it. Say it once, “Fido, SIT.” If he doesn’t, growl, “No, Fido, SIT.” Then gently tug up on a leash and press down on their back end, or tuck their back legs under at the knees (especially for a young puppy), or use a food lure above their nose to lead them into a sit. As soon as they sit, use cheerful praise and/or give them the food reward.
Never ask a dog to do something you can’t enforce
To only ask once, you must be able to enforce what you say. For example, if you know the dog is going to jump on your next house guest, then put her on a leash before the guest arrives, so you can enforce “Sit” before the person comes in. Don’t let the guest acknowledge the dog until the dog is sitting nicely. Or, if you want to teach the dog to come, don’t do it with the dog running loose, but have the dog on a leash, first short, then long. Call the dog once, then, if she doesn’t come, you can give a tug, then a great reward for coming.
Adopt a dog
If you are looking to get a dog, please consider going to your local shelter and getting a dog there. There are wonderful dogs that need homes!
How to Evaluate a Stock
The Expert: Michael Beall (Com ’76, Grad ’82) is a portfolio manager/stock researcher and executive vice president of Davenport & Company.
Durability over time
When looking for a company that would be a good investment, make sure it’s a business that’s going to be durable over time. You want your business to produce a proven product in a proven market that has a low risk of being made obsolete or otherwise no longer attractive to consumers. Don’t invest in a fad or trend.
A competitive edge
Secondly, you want to make sure that in their business, this company has an advantage or competitive edge. They need to make a better or less expensive product than the competition. This advantage can be something as simple as a patent or cheaper manufacturing.
You want the company to be run and managed by people who have a reputation for being good at what they do and for being honest.
Spends profits wisely
You need to know where the company is in its life cycle. If it’s a mature company, with little growth, that company should be paying dividends to its shareholders. If the company is still growing, it should keep the profits and reinvest them. Both a growing company and a mature one can be good investments, as long as that company’s management spends their profits wisely. You don’t want a mature company acting like a growing one.
The company should have good financial strength to withstand downturns. You don’t want this company to have a lot of debt—that company could go bankrupt if it goes through a bad time. You want a company that has financial reserves, can weather the storm and can buy things (such as other companies) when others in their business are running short.
Tools to find this information
First, obviously, is your financial adviser or broker. Secondly, tools such as Valueline.com and Morningstar.com are helpful. The Internet has been an incredible tool for do-it-yourselfers. Previously, presentations that companies made to their sophisticated investors weren’t available for public consumption. Now, these presentations are often available on a company’s “investor info” section of their Web site.
How to Coach a Youth Sports Team
The Expert: Lori McCarty (Col ’96) is a pharmaceutical sales representative who has volunteered as a youth lacrosse coach for the past eight years.
Never played the sport? No problem
It helps to know the basics, but you don’t have to be a star to be a good coach. The best coaches are not necessarily the best players. Get the rule book, Google the sport for Web sites on coaching and network with those in the know. Before my first year of coaching a high school girls’ lacrosse team, I met with UVA women’s lacrosse coach Julie Myers to get her take on establishing plays and inspiring the players.
Make it fun
If you ask young Junior why he is playing summer league, he will tell you because it’s fun, or because his friends are playing. Ask Dad why Junior is playing, and he might mention something about a college scholarship. The greater the understanding between coaches, players and parents, the better. As a coach, you have the power to make the experience fun, even if the team does not win. Positive attitude, unbridled enthusiasm and knowing how to keep all of the players moving and involved is paramount.
What a great chance to teach some life lessons! Lead by example. A fellow coach taught her players to shake hands with the officials immediately after each game to show appreciation and respect. The way you and your team treat your opponents and opposing coaches should be the way you would like them to treat you and your team.
Try to win
Just because coaching a sport is a great chance to teach life skills, winning shouldn’t be a forfeited goal. If you are having fun, leading by example, exercising the little ones and getting everyone involved during practice, you still need another element: trying to win. A few natural superstars will help, but don’t forget to be creative in drills to help the players master concepts. Try switching players to different positions to uncover new talents, and don’t let the future star have all the glory.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Vacation
The Expert: Julie Currier Arbelaez (Col ’92) opened Peace Frogs Travel/Outfitters, a full-service travel agency, in 1993 after a year-long adventure in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
The biggest mistake people make when planning a trip is over-scheduling their time. Quite often I hear clients say things like, “this is the only time I may be in a particular place.” If you try to do too much, you can end up taking in very little. A great trip is defined not only by the physical sites you see, but also by the people you meet and your immersion in a different culture, place and pace (it is a vacation, for Pete’s sake!). If you are too busy running from monument to museum, you’ll miss the nuances that make that destination so special in the first place.
Leave time for the unexpected
Think about what you remember most from your last vacation. Apart from whatever disasters inevitably ensued, you probably recall those few moments of pure bliss—travel Zen if you will—when it seemed that all the stars were aligned for you. Keep your nose out of the guidebook long enough to take in what’s immediately around you and appreciate the beauty of just being wherever you are. Talk to the locals and ask their advice on the town’s top restaurants, most stunning views and best-kept secrets. One of my favorite memories was in Bruges, Belgium, where my husband and I found ourselves in a small pub. A group of girls showed up for a few drinks wearing clown costumes for a bachelorette party and prompted lengthy and interesting discussions on wedding traditions around the world among us and nearly everyone at the bar.
Prepare for the worst
It’s nearly impossible to avoid all travel mishaps. Weather and flight delays often play a key role in this area, and there’s nothing you can do about either. So if you go to Costa Rica during the rainy season, bring waterproof shoes and a rain jacket. Consider travel insurance. Leave a time cushion on the outbound and return of your trip. Bring a good book, a snack and your patience, knowing that no matter what happens, you’ll get somewhere special.
How to Meditate Like a Buddhist Monk
The Expert: Greg Butler (Col ’04) spent a summer living as a monk at the Fo Guang Shan monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
All those pesky negative emotions
Buddhists believe that the root cause of suffering is desire, whether you desire material objects or intangibles. Desire causes afflictive emotions, such as greed, jealousy, hatred and fear. Buddhists believe that to eliminate suffering, you must eliminate those negative emotions, which requires intense concentration of the mind.
So why meditate?
The primary purpose of meditation in Buddhism is to clear the mind of distraction. Monks meditate for hours every day to sharpen their minds. A well-trained monk can focus his mind on what he chooses, blocking out all other sensory experiences.
Most people can’t dedicate enough time to honing their mind to the degree required by devoted practitioners. But there are simple exercises that improve attention, concentration and awareness of your surroundings. The goal is to develop focus and willpower so that you are aware of what is happening in your mind and can exercise control over it.
A monk just beginning his practice will usually be instructed to concentrate on his breathing. Sit comfortably on the floor with the crown of your head high, your shoulders dropped and your chin tucked into your chest. Don’t hunch forward or pull your shoulders back. Leave your eyes open, but unfocused. If you close your eyes, your imagination and attention will wander. Inhale and exhale slowly, focusing only on the feeling of air passing through your nose. Take long, deep, slow breaths, counting once for each inhalation and exhalation. If you find yourself getting distracted, start over counting from one. Do this for about 15 minutes a day.
We don’t have to think about walking, it just happens. Most of the time, we focus simply on getting to our destination. In walking meditation, the goal is to make walking a concious effort. When you walk, notice the hinging of your knee, the tension in your hamstring, the pressure of the ball of your foot on the ground. Ignore all distractions and other sensory inputs, and concentrate only on these sensations. The idea, just as with the breathing meditation, is to develop the ability to bring your attention to what you want to focus on.