How to Meditate Like 'Dancing with the Stars' Host Tom Bergeron

from Bergeron's book I'm Hosting as Fast as I Can

Quite often, in the hour before "Dancing with the Stars" broadcasts live, a producer or two will come knocking on my dressing-room door with last-minute notes or news of the latest spray-tanned meltdown. Usually they find me just sitting in my favorite chair, from which I can reach to my right, open the door, and let them in. I’m not watching television, reading a book, peering into my laptop, or doing anything else that would be immediately apparent.

I’m just sitting.

I think they’re used to it by now, but at first they’d stroll in, glance around for evidence of any other activity, and sit on the couch opposite me with nervous smiles. I understood why. People generally like to see other people doing something. It relaxes them. If you come across a person doing nothing, what’s the first thing you think? Come on, be honest. You don’t think, Oh look, there’s a person doing nothing. You think, I wonder what he’s up to.

When I was a teenager, I’d sometimes drive to my house and sit in the car for a few minutes listening to the radio while a song or a newscast finished. Almost without fail, I’d look up and see one or both parents peering anxiously at me from the front door. “What’s the matter?” they’d ask. “Nothing,” I’d answer, “just listening to something.”

They’d nod, not quite convinced. “Oh, OK. We were worried because you were just sitting there.”

Why I meditate

In addition to the hours I spend in the gym each week, the time I spend just sitting or, more accurately, meditating, are among the most beneficial. My biceps, abs, and quadriceps aren’t the only body parts I train. My mind gets its version of a bench press, too.

I’ve meditated for years, sometimes regularly (for twenty minutes twice daily), sometimes sporadically (only a few times a week), and the mental workouts have paid off. Dude, my mind is cut.

OK, maybe I’m still sporting some synaptic love handles, but why quibble? The bottom line is that my meditation practice, which I originally began only to cool my hot temper, has greatly improved my overall mental and physical well-being.

What am I doing while I’m meditating?

Am I really just sitting there doing nothing? Hardly. As with a gym workout, a meditation session requires effort, commitment, and focus. Especially focus. I happen to focus on the mental repetition of a Sanskrit mantra. You can just as easily focus on your breath, the flicker of a candle’s flame, or a word that has a special meaning to you, such as slower, calm, peace, or lasagna.

You might be wondering why, given the wide range of things on which to meditate, I chose a supposedly mystical word from an ancient language. Easy. “Sanskrit mantra” sounds way cool, and I’m a meditation snob.

I’m kidding. I use that particular mantra because it came with the meditation training I paid for years ago. Now I’m not kidding. I paid for it, they gave it to me, and so I use it. That’s how deep and mystical I am. I don’t even remember what my mantra means, although I did Google it once. I just wanted to make sure it didn’t mean “I’m Satan’s bitch” or something like that. It doesn’t. In my experience, it’s not what you focus on as much as that you focus.

Secrets of my meditation technique

Sitting while you meditate, rather than lying down, is important. Lying down usually leads to sleeping, which tends to undermine the focusing a wee bit. Sit comfortably with your back supported. You don’t have to twist yourself into a lotus position. In fact, don’t even try. Why chance cramping? It’s hard to achieve inner peace while your muscles are seizing up.

Each time random thoughts intrude, and they will, simply return to the focal point. No judgment, no frustration; just acknowledge the thoughts, mentally sweep them away, and return.

I often imagine the thoughts as Styrofoam pieces bobbing along a river current. When I become aware of them, I just imagine my arm gently moving them downstream. That may sound like one of those “easier said than done” steps, but it’s really just that basic.

Even after all my years of meditating, it often takes me a few minutes to get past the Are we there yet? Are we there yet? nagging chatter of my mind. Once I do, however, the sensation of calm and connectedness is profound.

Sometimes I’ll sit alone for twenty minutes in my dressing room; sometimes I’ll spend twenty seconds finding my center amid a crowded backstage. After close to thirty years of practice, finding that quiet place is usually easier than remembering where I left my car keys.

I'm Hosting as Fast as I Can

From I'm Hosting as Fast as I Can!: Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood by Tom Bergeron. Copyright © 2009 HarperOne. Republished with permission.

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