I’m trying to get back into the habit of meditating regularly and found this article I wrote in 2016. It was a good reminder of my practice, and maybe will be helpful to you! Its lightly edited to make it more current.
As someone with anxiety, I’ve always worried that meditating would make it worse – sitting, alone with my thoughts? Ugh. So, I avoided meditating when I felt most anxious, which meant it never became a regular habit.
Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong! There is a ton of scientific research showing that meditation helps reduce anxiety and stress, increase focus and creativity, and more.
So, I’ve really started to push myself to just keep with it, no matter how I was feeling – and it has helped my anxiety so much. Meditating has given me the time to slow down and just feel whatever it is I am feeling. Its my ten or fifteen minutes each day to just be – no hustle, no to do lists, no fixing things. Giving myself the time to experience and process my emotions has kept me from my usual M.O.: bottling things up until I explode. (Not healthy, I know. Working on it.)
“This is why we practice, for times like these, when compassion is so necessary.” -Dalai Lama
What IS meditation, anyway?
Since I’ve started meditating more often, I’ve had a lot of great conversations about what meditation is (and isn’t), how to get started, and what tools you need to be successful.
And, I’m here to tell you: you can mediate anywhere, without any special tools. Just get started! In the past, I’ve meditated sitting on a pillow folded in half, sitting in a chair, even while walking. Now I own a zafu, or a meditation cushion, but you don’t need one. You don’t need incense, candles, statues, or any other tools either (but you can use them if you’d like to!). The beauty of meditation is that it is a practice that is available to everyone, anywhere.
In my experience, mediation isn’t about having an empty mind or sitting perfectly still for hours at a time. I was scared off from practicing for a long time when I read about some Zen meditation traditions where you get tapped with a stick if you shift position or don’t sit perfectly still! I thought I wasn’t doing meditation “right” if I couldn’t sit still and stop thinking.
How I Meditate
As you practice more, you’ll start learn what works best for you through trial and error. What my practice looks like won’t necessarily be what works best or feels right for you. I don’t really like guided meditation, for example, but others love it! When you’re starting, try meditating at different times of the day, for different lengths of time, in different spaces, and see which feels the best to you. Just because one method doesn’t work best doesn’t mean you should stop meditating!
This is what my practice looks like:
- Signal the start of my session. I light a small piece of low-smoke incense to signal to myself that the meditation time is starting.
- Set a timer. I set my meditation timer for how long I am able to sit – if I have time, I try for 15 or more minutes. If not, my minimum is 10 minutes – it usually takes me at least 5 minutes to settle in, so anything less doesn’t work for me. Also, I prefer to sit in the morning or early afternoon – meditating at night doesn’t work well for me.
- Sit. I sit on my zafu, which is placed on a rug, for at least 10 minutes. Sometimes I sit on the zafu cross-legged. Other times, I kneel with the zafu between my legs, with my weight resting on my tailbone. Whichever way you sit, make sure your hips are rolled back so that you are resting your weight on your “sit bones” and back is relatively straight. I usually just rest my hands on my knees, but sometimes I will have my mala or crystal in one hand. Finding a comfortable spot can be one of the hardest parts of meditating – getting formal instruction on the best way to sit was extremely helpful for me!
- Look ahead. Sometimes I keep my eyes open, and sometimes I close them (as long as I am not falling asleep!). If my eyes are open, I gently look at whatever is in front of me.
- Count my breaths. I count my breaths from 1 to 10, then start back at one again. One complete breath is one inhale and one exhale.
- This helps me keep my attention on breathing.
- If I find myself at 16 or 18 or 23 or whatever number, that is okay! I just start back at one again.
- I breathe normally, just paying attention to how it feels. Things like:
- Which parts of my body are moving with my breath?
- Does my breath feel hot or cold as it comes out of my mouth or nose?
- Does my breath seem particularly fast or slow?
That’s it! Well, maybe not quite it…
What Should I Do While Meditating?
People also have asked me what to think about while you’re sitting, so I want to address that too. You don’t have to think of anything in particular, really – and you don’t have to try not to think, either! You can just be while you’re meditating, without struggling to be a certain way. (What a relief, right?)
Here is what I try to focus on when I am sitting:
- Am I caught up in a thought pattern? I try to acknowledge it, then go back to counting my breath. If I lost count, no big deal. I just start back at one again.
- What I am thinking about myself and others? I try just observing, rather than participating in, the thought pattern. Am I feeling upset or mad at myself, at people I care about, at others? I try to acknowledge this and think kindness towards them (or myself).
- Is there an idea trying to be heard? I have had some of my biggest, best, truest ideas while sitting.
- How does my body feel? Do I have tight joints or sore muscles? Am I cold or warm? Do my muscles feel tense?
- How do I feel, right now? As a Midwesterner/INTJ/introvert/generally reserved person, I don’t usually express my emotions very well, so I try to take the time to check in and let myself just feel whatever I am feeling (even if it is totally shitty). I don’t have to figure out why I am feeling that way – just notice that it is happening and let it happen. The act of just accepting and allowing my emotions to be has been transformational.
Small Practice, Big Changes
For me – someone who is just a teeny, tiny bit Type A, has a lot of projects going on, and tends towards anxiety – just sitting still for 10-15 minutes each day is groundbreaking. It has quickly become my favorite part of the day!
Since I have started meditating every day, committing to the practice, letting those know in my life that I will be doing it each day, and actually following through, the effects have rippled out into my life.
- I feel calmer on a daily basis. I know I have work to do, and I know how to get it done. Also, when there have been many BIG life changes happening to me and around me, I can breathe my way through them.
- I have started to integrate more and more self-care practices into my daily life. Somehow, giving myself permission to do one thing each day has led me to two things, and maybe one day will lead me to three things 😉
- I am more accepting of myself. This is hard to explain and I almost didn’t notice, but I have started to be kinder towards myself. I am less critical of my appearance, my habits, and my Self. I have also started to feel more comfortable in my body.
- I have less anxiety. My anxiety often comes from bottling up and not dealing with feelings, and mediating allows me to just feel whatever I am feeling. Its like a release valve for all the anxiety pressure that builds up!
That’s it! You can add more to your practice – candles, statues, even create a personal shrine – but the most important part is to practice. Day in, day out, good days and bad, meditation is a practice.
Share in the comments!
Do you meditate? What do you love about it? If not, what keeps you from starting?