The scientific benefits of meditation are well established — increased happiness, reduced stress and drastically improved overall health. Yet still, many people have not embraced this simple daily practice. “Meditation isn’t for me. My mind is too busy and I can’t sit still.” Sound familiar? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these words throughout the years. My response is always, “Yep… you’re human!” We’re all wired with a hectic, darting mind that can make us feel restless and uneasy; and that’s exactly why we need to be meditating, not avoiding it.
A misconception about meditation is that it must be performed in a specific way, but there aren’t as many rules as one would expect. While it is important to learn the proper way to meditate, it’s actually a practice that focuses on simply being, instead of doing.
Even though I’m a health coach and yoga teacher, I struggled for years to find a practice that worked for me. I put too much pressure on myself to meditate and realized I was going about it all wrong.
Once I learned that I didn’t have to sit in a cross-legged position in complete silence for twenty minutes each day to meditate, I was able to actually enjoy meditating. Simply checking in with your breath a few times each day will allow you to come into a meditative state. Or, popping headphones in your ears and turning on a guided meditation while sitting on the commuter bus can become a highly relaxing and beneficial exercise.
Over time I started noticing that my simple meditation practice was making positive shifts throughout my life. My moods were lighter and I wasn’t rushing as much. More deep breaths were happening throughout each day and I began noticing things that I used to ignore. Also, I started sleeping more soundly. I encourage you to take a few of the steps outlined below to create the practice that inspires you to keep it up!
Before starting a meditation practice, think about what’s drawing you to it. Set an intention. My most recent intention for my meditation practice was, “I intend to smile more often, embrace spontaneity and practice patience.” As a new mom, I am often overwhelmed with the struggles of balancing work/life, making meals and raising a toddler. When I think about carving out time for meditation and my mind comes up with ten reasons why I’m too busy, I recite that intention. I’m instantly reminded that it’s my meditation practice that will help me to achieve it!
Many of us feel we have little time throughout each day, but try to carve out some time just for YOU each day whether it be sixty seconds, ten minutes or an hour. You might want to give a hard look at where your time is being spent each day. Are you spending a little too much time on social media, or is there a show that you can give up watching on TV to free up time for yourself? If you’re always in the kitchen preparing meals, maybe it’s time to bring out your slow cooker and start letting it do the cooking for you. If you need some recipes, check out my favorite slow cooker meals. Either way, become aware of where your time is going each day and notice where you can inject some much needed “me” time!
A major lesson in meditation is observing. From the moment that you wake up, start to become aware of how you feel as you take a deep breath or as your feet make contact with the floor while getting out of bed. Savor the taste of your toothpaste and the smell of your soap. Notice the sound of your car warming up before you back out of the driveway, and so on. Continue this practice of observation throughout your day, becoming aware of your body as it engages all five senses. This will help you to slow down and you may discover that you’ve been missing many juicy moments in life that make it worth living! They may be subtle observations throughout your day, but #itsthelittlethings that really do make life more enjoyable.
It may sound incredibly simple to just take a deep breath, but many of us go ALL day, if not day after day, without ever pausing to take a slow, mindful breath. Even though we’re breathing throughout the day, our breath is usually shallow and up in our chest. When we deepen the breath and allow fresh air to flow to the bottom of our lungs, parasympathetic nerve receptors instantly send a calming message to our brain as soon as oxygen hits them. Our breath is constantly flowing and because of that it’s our best tool for mindfulness.
Taking a deep breath can happen anywhere at anytime, no matter what is going on. That means that whenever you feel tension, stress, anxiety or frustration…you can take a deep breath. Or, to simply become more relaxed and chill…you can take a deep breath. This is helpful during a commute, a meeting, an argument, or while listening, trying to getting the kids out the door, etc. My favorite time to take some deep breaths is right after I get cozy in bed for the night. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale out a big sigh through your mouth, about 3-5 times. This helps wind the body down for sleep.
Believe it or not, when we are able to focus our attention on doing just one thing, that can be a form of meditation! Is there a hobby that you enjoy? How about taking a painting class or learning how to ballroom dance? Maybe go fishing or start gardening? Whatever it is, how can you do it more often? Whenever engaged in this hobby, notice how focused you are in the moment. We live in a busy culture that admires multitaskers, but making time to just do one thing is actually beneficial to our minds and our meditation practice.
Plenty of guided meditations are online for free (check out a few of mine) or for purchase, and local yoga studios or meditation groups offer monthly/weekly classes. Great apps can also easily be downloaded right onto your smartphone.
Headspace: Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace, provides the basics of meditation throughout this user-friendly app. Each guided meditation is simple, informative and relaxing leaving you with something simple to think about or practice after each session. Headspace rewards you the more you meditate. For example, if you complete the first ten sessions in ten days, a Headspace app is donated to someone who can’t afford it. Andy encourages you to keep your meditation practice simple, non-judgmental and attainable.
Stop, Breathe & Think: This adorable app goes over the basics of meditation and is loaded with activities which are different-themed, guided meditations where you can actually choose the length. Some are as short as 4-5 minutes when you’re tight on time but need something to mellow you out. There are other meditations for purchase, and Stop, Breathe & Think shares 10% of their net revenue with Tools for Peace, a non-profit dedicated to helping at risk youth experience the health benefits of health and meditation.
Insight Timer: This social media meditation app allows you to create a profile, find groups that resonate with you, pick out an endless array of guided meditations or even just set a meditation timer to meditate in silence. It’s fun to see others’ activity on Insight Timer and it might inspire you to keep up with your practice, as it does for me.