Meditation. If you’ve never tried it, understandably the very word can feel charged. For me, I always viewed meditation as a bit of a waste of time; the idea that someone has the ability to just sit there with their thoughts seemed like a luxury I did not have nor one that I needed. I am a highly energetic person with most of my days filled with work, workouts, courses, and socializing. Quiet time of nothingness felt quite frankly, trite.
It wasn’t until COVID-19 lockdown happened when my life got turned upside-down and I started to recognize that I needed to find more productive ways to be reduce my anxiety and be more present in my life. After some research, I learned that to become more present and therefore reduce feelings of fear and worry, one needs to first establish the ability to control one’s thoughts; one way to do this is through the practice of meditation and so I started, reluctantly.
Day 1 I was dreading and for good reason. The idea of wasting 15 precious moments doing nothing, already gave me more anxiety than I normally had, but I put on some music and lay on my yoga mat anyway. I tried to focus on the breath but then felt like I somehow couldn’t breathe; I tried to shut out the mental pictures in my head but then had to squeeze my eyes super tight out of frustration. I tried to focus on my fingers but that caused my hands to clench. After only 12 minutes, my eyes welled, and I manically shut off the music while furiously saying to myself “I can’t even do this right”.
With little success the first time around, I was even more apprehensive to try again, but a week later I decided to give it another go. It didn’t go well, but it certainly didn’t go as badly as my first attempt; this time I managed to make it the full 15 minutes and although I had to clinch my fists, the session did not end in a fury of emotion. I tried again the next Wednesday and the Wednesday after that.
Overtime, it got easier; more importantly, over time, it became almost joyful. As I improved, I craved it more and my weekly meditation session turned into twice-weekly and then eventually daily. Now when asked about my morning routine, I say I start by “taking my daily meds”. Although I only do it for 10 minutes each day, these 10 minutes have become my most important moments.
HOW I HAVE BENEFITED FROM DAILY MEDITATION
As I once wondered myself, you may be asking, what is the point of meditation anyway? So let’s start with a brief overview.
Meditation is, in essence, the act of taking charge of your own mind in the present, allowing you to be more relaxed, open and available which will have a positive impact on how we react to situations in the future. For beginners however, meditation is simply working on mentally being okay with doing nothing at all and accepting one’s thoughts as they are.
Since I began my practice, I find I am able to catch my thoughts and feelings faster. I have a greater ability to calm my spiraling thinking and therefore control my emotions better. Without countless minutes, if not hours, of daily anxiety, I now have more time to do the very tasks that were contributing to my stress; I also find that I am more open to situations that arise in my life for which are unexpected. People and events don’t impact my mood as often or for as long as they once did, giving me a much greater sense of peace and an overall happier demeanor. This means that I have more patience, opening me up to giving more time and effort toward the people and things that matter more to me, and that’s pretty awesome!
HOW TO START
Changing habits can be overwhelming and all-consuming; sometimes making drastic adaptations in your life can cause resentment toward this new goal, eventually causing people go back to their regular ways. My suggestion, just start with 10 minutes, one day a week. Mark this in your calendar as if it were an appointment and be sure to stick with it for one month. That sounds easy enough right? I prefer to do my practice early in the morning, so find a time that works for you which will allow you to be consistent.
You may have to try a few different places and a few different positions before you find what works. For me, I like to lay on my yoga mat with a pillow, blanket eye pillow, and weighted balls in my hands; something about the weight keeps my fingers from getting fidgety. Other people prefer sitting on their mats, sitting on the couch, and some even like standing. You may prefer to have your eyes closed or slightly open; the key with all of this, is there is no one-size-fits all. Just because one format doesn’t work, does not mean you should give up all together. Switch it around until you are comfortable.
Regardless of how you go about it, keep in mind, you are making major changes to your life and this will take time and a lot of patience. Go in expecting the process to be slow. I look at it like weight training; you wouldn’t go to the gym for the first time expecting that you will be able to lift the heaviest weight with perfect form, right? That same principle applies here; your mind is a muscle and you are going to have to start with light meditation weights and adjust over time as you get better.
HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO WHILE LAYING THERE
When I first started, I YouTube’d “meditation music” and tried listening to that; the sounds of waves crashing, although very pleasant, was not going to work however. The reason for this is that I didn’t have the understanding of what I was supposed to be doing with my thoughts. I had the preconceived notion that my mind was to be blank and every time I had a thought during my 10 minute practice, I assumed I was failing in some way.
I decided to purchase the “Calm App” on my phone and started with “How to Meditate” by Jeff Warren. This guided training for beginners I found extremely helpful because the professional taught me what meditation was really all about. He taught me the act of acceptance of one’s practice each day and ultimately what you’re supposed to be doing with your mind while laying there.
As it turns out, I was looking at it all wrong. The act of meditation isn’t to have any thoughts; instead, it’s the practice of allowing those thoughts to enter your mind, acknowledge them and then let them pass by like clouds in the sky. Without a guide, I never know would have known this.
Let’s use the gym example again. Me trying to meditate on my own would have been like a person waltzing into a gym, having never seen a person lift weights in their entire life and attempt to do it on their own. Seems silly right? Of course it is. You’re new at this, so don’t expect to be good at it and don’t expect that you should know how to do it. Download an app and use the advice and help of professionals, like you would with a trainer.
DISCOVERING YOUR OWN HOMEBASE
A home base will look different for each person but it is essentially a place where you choose to direct your attention to during your practice and a place you can go to outside of your practice when you need to reset. Some people like to focus on their breath while others like to focus on a specific area of the body. Some people like to focus on the sounds in their environment while others like to picture something vivid in their mind.
I have tried all of them and I’m not going to lie to you here, most I find extremely frustrating. Focusing on my hands makes my hands tense, focusing on my breath makes me lose air. I like to pretend that I am a mountain, a big huge single mountain in the far off distance of a meadow. I picture it with one peak and snow capped, strong and unfazed. Something about that gives me a lot of peace.
During my practice, my thoughts of course drift away from the mountain; many times I start going over my to-do list for the day but I keep trying to remind myself to come back to my Homebase, come back to my mountain top. Initially, I found myself mind wandering more than I wasn’t but again, because your mind is a muscle, overtime it got better and I could focus on my mountain for longer and longer.
Even when I’m not meditating, sometimes I catch myself going down a path of thoughts and will remember, out of the blue, to bring myself back to my mountain top which has a calming effect, allowing me to put my current situation into perspective.
I also find this works in the middle of the night. I used to wake up with a number of thoughts on my mind and would lay there awake for hours not able to stop thinking. I tried focusing on my breath but that would make me more anxious. Now, I’ll quickly tell myself to focus on the mountain top and somehow that seems to work. Just as I mentioned before, you may have to try a few things out to see what works for you.
LEARN TO ‘POP OUT’
You know the feeling when you’re trying to get out of the house in a hurry but you drop toothpaste on your blouse, spill coffee on the floor, stub your toe, and break a shoelace, all to finally get in the car and drive off, to realize you’ve left your phone at home? All the bad stuff seems to happen all on the same day right? Then you find yourself stewing in your thoughts and feelings, obsessing over the injustice of it all. This trickles through the remainder of your day and by the time you get home, you want to throw yourself in bed and just wait for a new day to start.
Well imagine if you didn’t have to wait until you were able to sleep the day off to reset; imagine if you could reset the day in the present moment. The idea of meditation is to be able to recognize when our thoughts are getting the best of us, “pop-out” of those thoughts and view them for what they really are, thoughts.
Here’s an example. Think of a raining day. What does it look like to you and how does it make you feel? Is it gray, cold and drab out? Do you feel lazy, lethargic, uninspired? That’s the thing we humans do, we tend to associate thoughts and emotions with things as simple as the weather. What if I told you that the rain is just that, rain. It’s neither good, nor bad. It just is. Now imagine if you could take anything that happens in your life and look at it through the same lens, doesn’t that sound like mental freedom?
“Popping-out” of your thoughts allows you to observe your mind, without judgement. You are simply acknowledging that the thought exists while at the same time, understanding that emotion tied to that thought was put there by you and you alone. This in turn can give you more mental space which overtime can lead to less anxiety and more internal peace.
Again, recognizing that need to ‘pop-out’ of your thoughts will take time and a lot of work but the first step to progress is recognizing that you’ve been in a trance all this time. So don’t beat yourself up if you let your emotions get the best of you. Accept it, understand that would have been a good situation to ‘pop-out’ of your thoughts and emotions and make a commitment to try it next time. Eventually, you will think about this technique right in the moment, you will separate the emotion from the situation and you will find the ability to recognize that most things are neither bad nor good, they simply just are and there’s something super powerful about that.
FIND YOUR FLOW
Flow is a mental state where a person is fully immersed in, focused on, and absorbed by performing an activity which in return energizes them. As it turns out, being in a flow state is correlated with a person’s overall happiness. So how do we find flow?
The good news is, Flow can be learned. It does require work and consistency but through practice, this can become an automatic part of your life. So even when you’re not working on your meditation practice, try slowing it down for just a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths and think about the moment you’re in. In the shower for example, think about how good the warm water feels on your skin, think about how wonderful it is to clean yourself after a long day. Find stillness for a few brief moments and hang out in this mental space for a few minutes. Continue to find moments throughout your day when you can give this a try and you’ll find it becomes more and more natural to you overtime.
GIVE IT A TRY
Most of us don’t even realize how tense we are on a daily basis and this is caused by constantly resisting our own reality. Through meditation, you can learn to accept what is happening with openness and relax more in the moment, allowing you to better deal with life’s challenges.
As mentioned, there is no one way to meditate; work with what you like but the most important key is to get started and keep trying. Know that each person’s experience is different and each person’s growth will vary, but what you can expect is that overtime, you will have better mental and emotional health.
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