Many of our lives have been turned upside down resulting in high levels of stress. It is unclear when our lives will be back to “normal” and this uncertainty results in even more stress. All this stress results in a physical outcome as tension builds in our muslces and fascia. Meditation is a well researched option for effectively reducing stress and anxiety. So why aren’t we all meditating?
Many people don’t meditate because they don’t really understand how to do it and they get crazy frustrated when they can’t empty their mind or achieve the appropriate cross-legged posture. The good news is that you don’t have to do either of those things. The bad news is that is does take some effort but if you really understand the basics, it can be quite enjoyable and helpful. The other good news is that it doesn’t just help with stress and anxiety. Meditation can improve focus, improve your mood, give you more energy and help you be more creative. Those are some great reasons to meditate.
The true purpose of meditation is two-fold. In the moment, meditation shifts the brain and body into a more relaxed and calm state resulting in an immediate positive change in physiology. Over time, meditation can change your brain and help you respond to stressful situations in a more positive manner.
Here are some practical tips to get started.
First, you can meditate anywhere and in any position. You can sit on a pillow cross legged or you can spread out on your lazy boy recliner, what truly matters is what is happening in your head. As you get started, if your body is more comfortable, you will be less distracted. You can even meditate standing in line at the grocery store! Again, what is happening inside is what is most important.
You can meditate for very short periods of time and get positive outcomes. Even just a few minutes can begin to shift your physiology and start you on the path to shifting your brain. Start with just a couple minutes at a time and slowly add a minute here and there as you gain skill and confidence. Also, time of day doesn’t matter. Fit it in anywhere you can as you get started. There are no rules.
Well, there are rules in some styles of meditation and there are many styles out there. Once you get going you may want to explore what is out there and go down a more specific meditation path, but for now let’s just get over the hurdle of getting started. In ALL meditation styles there are several common ingredients and I’ll cover them all briefly here. I have a video you can watch that explains them as well.
1. Breathe. Learn to breath with your diaphragm. Learn to breathe deeply and slowly. This one skill can help you make profound shifts in your health and well-being. The video above also covers diaphragmatic breathing. You ALWAYS have your breath available as a focus point Breath well and bring your attention to it often.
2. Focus. Your brain must have something to focus on. We are wired for awareness. Emptying the mind completely is nearly impossible. The goals is to bring your attention to the breath, an object or a sensation depending on your choice of meditation style. You can be aware of other thoughts and sensations. The goal is to learn to let them go and keep returning your attention where you want it and not get pulled down the rabbit hole of your wandering thoughts.
3. Judgement . Just let it go. As thoughts enter your mind or as you notice sensations during meditation, do not judge them as good or bad. Experience them and let them go. You will find yourself not only judging what is happening externally such as the sound of someone firing up their lawn mover just as you decide to try some meditation, but also internally. You will get frustrated with yourself when you can’t control those pesky thoughts about what you’ll have for dinner later. Do not judge yourself and your ability to meditate. Rather congratulate yourself each time you notice your attention has wandered and you have decided to bring it back to your object of focus. Treat yourself gently in the process of learning much like you’d teach a puppy or small child a new skill. You are gentle, patient and encouraging with them, be so with yourself. This is probably the number one issue most of us struggle with when practicing meditation.
4. Calm. Learn to soften your body. Learning to spot tension in your body and continually let it go will help you be more comfortable as you meditate. Soon, this will cross over into daily life.
5. Mindfulness. Keep your attention in the present. Stress and anxiety are typically past or future oriented. We can’t change the past and can plan appropriately for the future but can’t control it. Staying in the present is generally much less stressful. Use your five senses (sight, sound, touch, smell and taste) to pull your mind in to the present.
6. Process. Let go of any outcomes you are trying to achieve and simply focus on the process of meditation. It is called a meditation practice. Practice regularly and focus on the process of continually bringing your mind back to the object of focus. In a five minute meditation you may have to do this fifty times. That is OK. Next time it might only be thirty or it might be fifty-one. If you stick with it, it will get easier.
There are many strategies you can use to help yourself let go of those pesky intrusive thoughts that will continue to interrupt your meditation process. I will share those in the next post. For now, you may want to watch the introductory video, Practical Meditation. This will also introduce you to a simple meditation. My follow up video cleverly titled Practical Meditation #2 will introduce you to a few other styles of both sitting and standing meditations. Happy meditating!