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Have you heard about the benefits of mindful meditation, wanted to try it, and maybe even sat down to do it, only to find it extremely hard?
Your mind is racing, you can’t sit still or calm your thoughts. You think it’s just not for you? Oh yeah, I’ve been there.
My husband and I attended a Chopra Center event in January. After three days and a lot of guest speakers, guess what our biggest takeaway was? Yep, you guessed it – meditate. Having a regular meditation practice is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being. You can start right now, right where you are.
I’m going to make this as simple and easy for you as possible so you can experience all those great benefits – without all the stress and frustration.
When I first started meditating, the soundtrack in my head sounded a little like this…
“Shoot, I forgot to send that email, should I do that first? Is 10 minutes too long, maybe I should just do 5 today? Who’s picking up the girls tonight? Am I doing this right? How long has it been? I have so much to do and I’m just sitting here doing nothing. I’m not sure I can do this. Am I done yet?”
I know I’m not the only one who’s felt like this when they first attempted to meditate. Upon asking a client yesterday if she meditated, she replied, “Oh yeah, my head won’t let me do stuff like that.”
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken with that say they just can’t do it or it’s not for them. Their mind races too much. They’re too impatient. It’s boring. There’s too much else to do. They can’t sit still.
But that’s exactly the point!!! Your mind is going to race. That’s what it does. In fact, most people have an average of 60-80,000 thoughts per day. That’s exactly why meditation is so helpful.
Saying, I can’t meditate because my mind races is a bit like saying, I can’t run because it’s hard to breathe and my legs hurt. Like with anything new, it’s not going to be easy when you first start. But the more you do it, the better you get. It’s a practice.
So if you’ve tried meditation and think it’s just not for you, or you’ve heard a lot about the benefits and just aren’t sure where to get started, you’re in the right place.
There are so many resources on meditation — how to, when to, why to, where to. So, what makes this article different?
Firstly, I’m not a meditation teacher. In fact, it took a very long time for me to drink the proverbial meditation Kool-Aid.
I’ve always prided myself of moving fast, being busy and getting stuff done. I grew up in a high achieving, fast-paced, entrepreneurial family who valued hard work, productivity and action. I would much rather go on a hike, go to work or do anything other than sit still.
In fact, for a very long time, I took pride in the fact that I couldn’t sit still long enough to meditate. It was a badge of honor. It made me feel productive, busy, important. Can you relate?
The same was true with my yoga practice. I’ve been practicing for almost 25 years and I’m completely embarrassed to admit it now, but I used to leave during savasana (you know, the part when you lie on your back at the end of class). I left when the ‘real’ work was done.
But what I didn’t realize was that the silence, the chance for integration, the space, the quiet IS the real work. And probably one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. The same is true with meditation. All the benefits they say are true.
In this article, I’ll share all about meditation, the benefits you’ll reap from practicing, the biggest mistake you’re making, a basic framework to get you started and a whole bunch of resources to keep you going – and calm that racing mind of yours.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
In short, mindfulness meditation is combining the practice of mindfulness and meditation.
The basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us…Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.
Mindfulness is essentially being aware of what is happening in the present moment:
It is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.
Meditation has been practiced since antiquity in numerous religious traditions and beliefs, often as part of the path towards enlightenment and self realization. Since the 19th century, it has spread from its origins to other cultures where it is commonly practiced in private and business life.
Meditation is essentially about finding quiet in your mind, being in the present moment, and entering a deep state of peace and relaxation. It’s not about clearing your mind from all thoughts and feelings. It’s about learning to observe those thoughts and feelings without attachment or judgement.
Deepak Chopra defines meditation as:
Mindfulness meditation is just one type. From active meditation to walking meditations, guided meditation to transcendental meditation, there are many types of practices (and even definitions). Many people feel prayer, contemplation, and mantras are forms of meditation.
Regardless of which form you choose, meditation has all sorts of benefits mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation allows you to calm your thoughts, achieve greater mental and emotional clarity and enables you to access your true self – the one free from the weights, stresses, fears and anxieties of the world we live in.
Studies have shown that meditation can transform your life and:
- Lower stress levels and blood pressure
- Help you sleep better
- Improve your overall health and relationships
- Increase productivity
- Create more joy and connection in your life
- Manifest your deepest desires
- Create an expanded sense of awareness and even..
- Increase world peace
Research has also shown significant proven benefits in the areas of depression, anxiety and chronic pain.
Meditation is quite literally the answer for all that ails you. It’s backed by science:
Common Mistake Made with Meditation Practice
Want to know the biggest mistake you’re making with your meditation practice? It’s how you’re thinking about it. It’s likely your beliefs around meditation that are getting in the way, not the practice itself.
You think you’re doing it wrong. You think you can’t do it.
You think it takes years of practice to receive any benefits from meditation, or on the flip side, you meditated once and are frustrated you don’t see the benefits already.
You think a successful meditation means you’re not having any thoughts.
You think it’s just for yogis, airy fairy folks and ancient philosophers.
You think you don’t have enough time.
Here’s what I want you to know:
First and foremost, you can’t do it wrong. And there’s really no one right way. In fact, as we mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of meditation practices and techniques. It’s about finding what works for you.
You don’t have to meditate every morning for 30 minutes. You can start with 5 minutes and work your way up to there. In fact, you could start with five, mindful breaths. There, you just practiced mindful mediation! See? You can do it.
You will most likely have a multitude of thoughts while you’re meditating, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.
You don’t have to dress up in flowy clothes, burn incense and chant ‘OM’ if you don’t want to. But feel free to if that’s what you connect with. You can mediate at your desk, in your car – not while driving please – or on your hike.
So stop being so hard on yourself. If you think you’re doing it wrong, your mind is going to want to throw in the towel and stop – or worse yet, not get started in the first place.
Repeat after me:
I cannot meditate wrong. There are many different ways to mediate and I just need to find what works for me.
No One-Size-Fits-All Approach
I’m a big fan of this premise in all of life. The thing about most advice (on any topic really) is not that it doesn’t work, it’s that it doesn’t work for everybody. Any habit you are trying to create needs to take into account your unique personality, lifestyle and challenges.
Have you ever set out with great intentions to do something – a new diet, exercise regimen or meditation practice, only to fall flat on your face a few days or weeks later? Then what? You beat yourself up that you didn’t do it ‘right’, that you failed.
However, you haven’t failed, you have just found something that doesn’t work for you. And now, it’s time to find something that does. What works for a friend, colleague or spouse will not necessarily work for you.
There is a perfect form of meditation that will work for YOU – you just have to find what that is.
For me, quiet, silent, breathing meditation was SO hard when I first started. I found it much easier to follow guided meditations as it kept my mind more engaged. So, I would scour YouTube and try out meditations on everything from anxiety to calmness, confidence to happiness.
I’m also an avid hiker, so I would look for walking and hiking meditations and eventually learn to do them myself.
Even now, after years of mediation, while I can mediate in silence, I prefer a guided or group mediation. It helps to calm my active mind.
So if you’ve tried meditation and it hasn’t worked for you. Try one of the suggestions below. Try until you find something that resonates with who you are.
A Basic Framework for Meditation
To get you started, I reached out to yoga, meditation and mindfulness teacher, Libby Carstensen, to give you a basic framework for mindfulness meditation.
Her first reminder?
Meditation isn’t about quieting the mind but about finding the quiet that is already there.
Here’s her advice.
I recommend my clients begin their daily practice by starting with a simple breathing technique to calm the mind and then begin their meditation practice.
Remember this teaching, the breath controls the mind. “Pranayama” is the yogic technology of breath control. When consciously breathing, or breathing on purpose, the breath will restore control over the mind and allow you to focus and direct your awareness.
As Yogi Bhajan, the great Kundalini Yoga master said,
“The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”
Start with the 4-7-8 Breath.
This technique, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than replaying your 60-80,000 thoughts.
The 4-7-8 count, also known as the relaxing breath technique, is one of the easiest to do and the benefits are immediate. Dr. Weil has even described it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
It’s perfect for anyone looking to calm their mind before meditation or whenever you’re feeling anxious.
The 4-7-8 Technique:
- Rest the tip of your tongue at the top back of your teeth
- Let out a deep exhale, along with a big sigh or whooshing sound
- Close your mouth and slowly inhale through your nose for a count of four
- Hold your breath for a count of seven
- Exhale deeply though your mouth and completely for a count of eight, being sure to let out a big sigh or whooshing sound
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation.
Now you’re ready for your meditation.
Here’s a simple framework for meditation:
1. Get clear and set your intention.
Why do you want to meditate? What matters to you?
I believe if your “why” is big enough then anything is possible. Is it health, peace of mind, inspiration, forgiveness, or connection?
2. Set yourself up for success.
Eliminate any distractions, close the door, use the bathroom, silence your phone, ask your family to leave you alone for the next 5 to 20 minutes.
3. Set your posture
Lying down is a signal to the body to go to sleep, so I don’t recommend lying down for meditation. You can sit in a chair or cross-legged in easy pose using a pillow or a bolster.
If you’re not comfortable, you won’t be able to relax. But don’t get too comfortable. The point is to focus your awareness, not to shut it down.
4. Keep a tall spine.
Inhale, roll the shoulders up to your ears. Exhale, roll them back and down. This stacks the head atop your neck while floating the shoulders over hips.
Consider this a neutral, tall spine. Every time you feel yourself hunching forward or slumping, reset your spine. Rest your hands comfortably on your knees or lap.
5. Close your eyes.
With your eyes closed, direct your attention towards the brow point or the third eye.
6. Focus your attention on your breath.
With your eyes closed, bring attention to your breath and notice how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Slowly inhale and exhale though the nose.
If your mind begins to wander to one of your thoughts, and it will, return your focus back to your breath.
7. Relax your body.
Begin with a body scan: start at the scalp and move your attention slowly downward, methodically relaxing and softening each part of the body.
Consciously relax your body and let go of any tension from your head, neck, or shoulders. Releasing body tension will help you open to whatever arises during your meditation.
8. Repeat the mantra So Hum.
Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, while thinking or silently repeating the word So. Then slowly exhale through your nose while silently repeating the word Hum. Continue to allow your breath to flow easily, silently repeating So . . . Hum . . . with each inflow and outflow of the breath.
Whenever your attention drifts to thoughts in your mind, sounds in your environment, or sensations in your body, gently return to your breath, silently repeating So . . . Hum.
9. Now you’re meditating.
Continue the practice for as long as it is comfortable. Start with 5 minutes a day working up to 20 minutes once or twice a day.
When your practice is complete, stop the repetition of the mantra and sit silently with your eyes closed, taking a moment to rest in the stillness and silence.
10. Never run to or from meditation.
Notice if you want to quickly move onto the next thing after your meditation practice. Take a few minutes to stretch and bring your awareness back into the present moment before you rush off on all the things you need to do.
If you’re looking for some additional ways to get going. Here are a few additional ways to start meditating:
Download an App
and Calm are both fantastic and popular apps that my clients and I have used. They contain guided meditations and breathwork on everything from stress, anxiety, self-esteem, concentration, walking, forgiveness, gratitude and sleep.
You can choose from shorter meditation to longer as you progress and get more comfortable. Both offer a free trial so you have nothing to lose.
Join a Group or Class
Feel like you just can’t do this on your own yet? There are plenty of group meditation practices and classes out there.
Search for ones that are close to you. These are often held at Yoga and movement studios. You can search online for local Meetup Groups, check out Meditation Finder or Google “local meditation groups” or “local meditation classes” to find something nearby.
Surf the Internet
There are some incredible meditation resources on the web, including:
- The Chopra Center
- Roger Gabriel, Chopra Cent er Educator
- Top 25 Best Meditation Resources: Guided Meditation, Meditation Music, and Meditation Apps
- YouTube. Just search for topics you’re interested in. Guided Meditation for Anxiety? Check. Guided walking meditation? Yep, there’s 200. Morning Meditation? Here’s one of my favorite 5-minute ones. Test a bunch and see what you like. At one point, I did a new one almost every day as I explored what worked and what didn’t work for me.
- Deepak and Oprah’s 21 Day Meditation Experiences. I love these as you feel like you’re part of something bigger. And they are amazing. A few minutes of Oprah’s words of wisdom, followed by Deepak Chopra and then the mediation.
It’s time to practice. It’s time to commit. It’s time to choose a method that resonates with you and try it. No more excuses.
Set a goal. Commit to a month. Too long? Commit to 10, 5 or even just 3 sessions. But start somewhere.
Studies show changes in the brain in as little as 8 weeks of meditation, but you’ll start to feel changes in your overall mental health and well-being long before then.
In fact, start practicing mindful meditation today and you’ll begin to feel the benefits in all areas of your life. You’ll be able to bring the calmness, awareness, and clarity into each day and your relationships, career, conversations and activities. The longer you stick with it, the easier it will become and the more benefits you’ll notice.
You can do this. Your mind will calm. Your thoughts will start to slow.
You’ve got this. The time is now. Let’s get started.
Featured photo credit: Mor Shani via unsplash.com
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