The psychological and physiological benefits of meditation keep mounting up. Studies have shown an increase in brain matter, an increase in mood-boosting hormones and even anti-aging benefits to the practice. Plus meditation can be a great way to soothe your mind, increase concentration and relax you when you’re stressed. But being alone with just your breath can be pretty daunted, even downright scary! Your mind keeps thinking, your thoughts keep racing and if you’re like me, you get fidgety.
I fail, I fail A LOT. I’ll sit down on my bedroom floor and put on some calming music and before you know it somehow the phone that was in the other room has magically teleported to my hands and I am gearing up a response to some snarky comment on Facebook, feeling my blood pressure rising. OBVIOUS FAIL.
But that’s part of the point of meditation, well not to make us feel like a failure, but to allow us, however distracted we’ve gotten in the moment, to come back to our breath, to come back to the moment, to come back to the gratitude of the NOW, with no repercussions or points lost.
I’m competitive by nature and even find my mind in yoga classes (back when such things in public still existed!) thinking to myself “I’m gonna go harder on this meditation than the chick next to me, I’ll out meditate her butt.” If I’m being honest, yes my brain goes there. Meditation knows this about us though. You can’t shock meditation.
If you’re uncertain about how to begin your meditation journey, but are feeling like you need some grounding right now, here are a few strategies I’ve used to help it be less intimidating and more user-friendly.
Start With Short Sessions
Don’t try to sit and meditate for an hour on your first try. I like to set the bar lower than I think I’m capable, this way I’ll usually always give myself a win. Start with five minutes. If you want to go longer in future sessions you can, but start out small. Consistency is more important than duration. If you could set aside five minutes every other day, you’d probably be well ahead of the majority of folks who aim high at first and then abandon their aspirations.
Guided Meditation Is A Great Place to Start
Admittedly, I’ve been doing meditation consistently for a year now, and I still need a little help. Sometimes I can get by in a quiet room with just my breath as a guide, but more often than not, I need a little help to focus my energy. I rely a lot on YouTube guided meditation videos. They’re free, you can find them in most any time interval you need, with some as short as five minutes and others as long as hours (for those out there that make it to hours, with an “s”, you have my humble respect and admiration). There’s even some designed specifically for the time of day, your mood or what you’re struggling with, which I find particularly helpful when I’m feeling stressed or anxious. As you can tell, I’m in love with these videos. They’re like my meditation training wheels and someday I hope to progress to not needing them as much, but I think they’ll always have a place in my meditative journey.
Do What Works for You
Initially I tried to always sit in the Lotus position when I would meditate. It’s supposed to be one of the most conducive poses to meditate in. But, I have an old ankle sprain that always gets me away from thinking about my breath to focusing on my aching foot. I gave up on the pose, realizing that I needed to do what was comfortable for me, the pose that gave me the best chance to fully be present in the moment. So try out some poses, try out some spaces and don’t be afraid to change it up if it’s not working for you.
Meditation isn’t Rumination
I had a friend tell me they tried meditating a few weeks back. They were really excited they’d gotten through like 40 minutes of quietly sitting alone. They went on to tell me that they covered thinking about their kids’ issues, their ex and how to get along better, their relationship, their career and on and on. Phew that must’ve been an exhausting 40 minutes! Self-reflection and giving our brains some space to think out creative solutions to problems is fantastic…but it’s not the point of meditation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not the judge of what is and what isn’t meditation, but the idea is to move away from the stresses of the day, to fill your head with emptiness instead of overload it with thoughts. That said, of course our brains are going to keep wandering. They are hard wired to seek out the problem spots, so be forgiving when your mind starts stressing and calmly pull it back into focusing on the present moment.
Meditation Can Happen Anywhere
I have to credit a lady who befriended me on a trip abroad for this tip. She mentioned that she meditated quite often and I’ll always remember these powerful words, “You don’t need to have a special place and time to meditate, you don’t even need to be alone. Your breath is always with you and you can always experience the gratitude of feeling it,” and with that she took a long, satisfying breath and closed her eyes as we shared a plate of pasta together in a little Italian bistro. What an empowering message that is for me, and I hope it is for others too. Meditation is not delicate or fussy, it doesn’t require you to have a quiet house or stylish yoga pants. It’s with you whenever you want or need it.