One of the questions clients most frequently ask me is…how do I meditate? It can be tricky to figure out, or at least it was for me. I started my meditation journey in 2007 out of sheer desperation. At the time I was intensely working out 5-6 times a week to help manage my anxiety. However, after an accident, I wasn’t able to work out for a minimum of four months.
I felt trapped. Terrified that my anxiety, constantly operating right below the surface, would get the best of me again. Willing to try anything, but limited in options, I turned to meditation. And it paid off. Being housebound for several months ended up being one of the most peaceful experiences of my life, which I primarily credit to my meditation practice.
While I’d love to say I kept up my meditation practice after my injury healed, I’d be lying. My ego convinced me I no longer needed it. I became a yo-yo meditator for several years, eventually surrendering to a regular practice. The benefits were too amazing not to do it regularly. Now it’s a permanent part of my life whether things are flowing well or not flowing at all.
Here are the lessons I learned over the years…….
It’s not like watching thoughts pass in your mind like clouds
For years I heard that phrase calmly delivered by various yoga teachers… allow the thoughts to pass through your mind like clouds passing in the sky. My racing thoughts never felt or looked like beautiful cumulus clouds against a bright blue sky. They felt more like bombs dropping in a war-zone. And then I’d get frustrated. Where were the damn clouds? What was wrong with me?
Now I know — meditation isn’t about having a blank mind or passing clouds. It’s about allowing thoughts to surface as they arise, becoming aware of them, and releasing them. Not getting attached to them. Sometimes I’ll become aware of them right away. Other times it’ll take a couple of minutes before I realize I’ve been hooked by them. Sometimes I’ll have a few minutes of joyful space in between thoughts, other times only a few moments. Just go with it. Don’t judge. Know that you’re releasing stress as each thought surfaces.
It’s like building a muscle
Have you ever been out of shape? It’s hard getting back into shape. Meditation is also like the process of building a muscle or getting it back in shape. It takes discipline and commitment. Start with a reasonable amount of meditation time (even just 5 minutes a day) and work your way up. I started my practice with 8-minute meditations. Just as you can’t run a marathon without training, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sit down for 60 minutes to meditate your first try. Twenty minutes a day is a great long-term goal! Begin to notice and celebrate your progress each week. Add a minute or two every week. Before you know, it’ll feel easier. More natural. Like a great run.
There’s no right or wrong style – it’s more about awareness
Should I do a breathing meditation, a guided one, a visualization or something else? Get rid of should and listen to what your body needs. Have fun with it.
Some days I like music playing to help me relax. Other days, music seems like another form of stimulation that’s too much for my brain to handle. Some meditations I’m alone, and others my cat or dog is on my lap. While I was trained that it’s better to not have the fur balls on my lap, sometimes it feels great to break the rules.
If I notice I’m breathing through my chest (a sign of a stress), I’ll do a gentle breathing meditation to get my breathing back to my belly. If I’m frustrated or wired, sometimes I’ll recite words I want to feel as I breath in (peace, calm, joy) and breath out what I no longer want to feel (tired, stressed, angry). I also love to visualize bright light and vivid colors running into my body. Other times I’ll use my mantra in meditation.
Basically, the sky is the limit when it comes to meditation options. Instead of worrying about what’s right/wrong, best/worst, enjoy experimenting with what feels good for you! Your body will tell you if you are willing to listen.
Even when you think you’re doing nothing, you’re doing something
Meditations are also like a workout. Just like some runs are better than others, some meditations are better than others. When I got trained in transcendental meditation I learned that even when we think we’re not doing it right, or not doing anything, we are doing something. Something good! When they hooked participants up to machines, they found that even those who felt like they had a terrible meditation registered brain activity indicating a more restful state.
It’s all about finding your sweet spot
Should you meditate in the morning, during lunch, when you get home, or before bed? It’s up to you! I encourage you to explore and see what feels right for you. It’s different for everyone. Don’t create more stress in your life by worrying about these details!
Some days I meditate once, but more often than not it’s twice. I do a 10-minute morning meditation, which usually stinks to be honest. My mind is often bustling with thoughts about the day! But, I do find some benefit from that morning meditation even though the experience of it isn’t as relaxing as my evening one.
Some others experience the opposite – finding morning to be a peaceful time to meditate. For clients with kids, sometimes this is a great option – get it done before the kiddos are awake.
My second meditation is 20+ minutes either in the late afternoon or before bed. Late afternoon is usually when my meditations are most enjoyable, but right before bed also helps me fall asleep. Some have trouble falling asleep after meditations though, so again, it’s all about discovering what works for your body.
Typically I sit cross-legged in my same comfy chair so the good juju can accumulate over time. Bottom-line — pick a time, place and position that work for you!
You’ll feel immediate benefits
Within a week of meditating I felt benefits. Eventually I’d crave it. It made my energy feel so light. Today there are many benefits I regularly experience…I feel mentally stronger. My listening skills are better. My internal happiness grew. My workouts are stronger (that extra mental strength helped!). I am more patient. I feel peaceful that I have another trusted tool to help me. I sleep better. My anxiety is down.
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