Week 5 of “shelter in place”… Covid19 continues to take its toll. Unrelenting, the daily news is equal parts inspiration, heartache & the anxiety inducing speculation. For most of us, our daily lives have come to a grinding halt. Depending on where you call home, cities across the country should come back online in the coming weeks. While there’s a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel, the “new normal” remains to be seen. Tips on how to Meditate? Now might be the perfect time to give it a try…
Also, meditation requires precious little training, time or money to get started!
Tips on How to Meditate
Why is Meditation good for you?
I’ve been meditating for about 25 years and have experimented with many different styles. A sense of calm and being more “present” after meditation is what appeals to me. Sometimes, it’s difficult to simply stay in the moment. My brain tends to either ruminate on things I should’ve done or look ahead to things I’ll need to do. That doesn’t mean reflecting on past decisions or planning ahead isn’t important. Maybe it just shouldn’t compete with the present moment as much.
Fun 2-3 minute experiment: When you’re brushing your teeth, see if you can place your full attention on brushing, without jumping from thought to thought.
Moving on. There are also numerous, well documented meditation benefits, including:
- Stress & Anxiety Reduction
- Reduction in Blood pressure & Inflammation
- Improved Focus & Memory
- Better Sleep
- Pain Management
- Combating Fatigue
- Generating kindness (seriously, 20+ studies on this topic!)
Remember, meditation isn’t a substitute for exercise, eating well & a good night’s sleep. However, it could complement efforts to take care of yourself; especially in the uniquely stressful times we find ourselves.
How Long Should I Meditate?
There’s a famous Zen saying: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
There isn’t a scientifically proven time for how long you should meditate. Some people meditate for 10 minutes and others for an hour. Personally, I average about 15-20 minutes, about 4 times a week.
When I’m feeling pressed for time, I’ll sit down for ten minutes. It’s hard to look myself in the mirror and say “Boy, I just can’t seem to find 10 minutes in 24 hours!”
If you don’t feel you have 10 minutes a day to meditate…you should probably be meditating 🙂
When and Where Should I Meditate?
When? Once again, lots of flexibility. Many meditation practices recommend the morning, to start your day. But this is more of a guideline than a rule. I find the afternoon works for me, as a way to refresh my brain and bring focus back.
Where? Almost anywhere. Generally, a quiet location (or ear buds to create quiet) and a comfortable, but active position work well. If you lay down in a dark room, there’s a chance you’ll simply doze off. Not a bad thing, if your body needs a cat nap!
However, sitting upright in a chair, hands on knees, hands comfortably folded in your lap or the more traditional legs crossed, back straight are more “active positions.” If you’re uncomfortable when meditating, that’s most likely where your focus will go. So be comfortable! There are even walking meditations. Choose what works best for you.
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Different Types of Meditation
There are dozens of styles of meditation to choose from. No one style is best and it really comes down to personal preference. Meditations range from very simple practices, like breath awareness to very complex styles, like Transcendental Meditation. It might make sense to start with a simpler version.
Let’s look at 4 popular types of Meditation that you can jump into, without too much effort!
I’ve included sample guided meditation videos of each style. Remember that many of the benefits of meditation discussed earlier are found in all forms of meditation. Experiment with a few to find the one that works best for you!
As you may have guessed, Breath Awareness focuses your attention on breathing. Focused attention on in & out breaths or counting the breath simple yet highly effective. This simple exercise helps reduce anxiety, improves concentration and helps take the edge off emotional highs & lows
One of my favorite 10 minute Breath Awareness meditations:
- Find a comfortable seat in a quiet location
- Focus your eyes lightly, on whatever’s in front of you
- Take a deep breath, hold it for 3-5 seconds, release slowly
- Take another deep breath, hold 3-5 seconds, release slowly
- Close your eyes
- Now, with your eyes closed, breathe normally
- At the end of each outbreath count “1” in your mind
- Take another breath in, then out, count “2”, in your mind
- Continue counting each out breath
- When random thought pop into your mind, don’t worry
- Simply label it as “a thought” and then let it drift away.
- Remember, you’ve earned 10 minutes of not thinking!
- When you reach 15 breaths, wiggle your hands and toes
- Slowly open your eyes
Loving Kindness is also referred to as Metta meditation. This meditation involves mental affirmations of love and well wishes. First, to those we care for then to those we are less fond of.
The goal of loving kindness is to address resentment, frustration, resentment & real/imagined conflict with others. Loving Kindness brings joy by reminding us of just how many people we care about & dismissing our frustrations regarding those we conflict with.
Sometimes emotional & physical stress go hand in hand. As we become stressed, muscles tense up, headaches and other forms of physical discomfort appear.
Body Scan meditation is a way great to release tension. Through sequentially taking a mental inventory of your body (working from head to toe) you observe your physical state. Noting any general discomfort you may be experiencing, you work to relax and “breath” into the area. While you won’t be able to relieve the discomfort completely, it should promote less tense muscles, less stress and give you more insight into where the discomfort is centered.
Body Scanning is also a great meditation when trying to go to sleep!
Mindfulness meditation involves moment by moment awareness of how you’re feeling, without any judgement. Mindfulness might place attention on breath, a mantra, noticing body sensations, your 5 senses or the rise of emotions… curious but accepting of how we feel in that a moment.
Mindfulness acknowledges your current state of mind for what it is. The ability to recognize and observe that emotional states, pain and cravings come and go benefits our well being.
Mindfulness helps reduce fixations of negative emotions, improve focus, manage chronic stress and level emotional reactions.
Guided meditation is a very popular way to practice. Typically, a calming voice provides instruction and guides you through the session. Guided meditation apps, podcasts and devices are widely available.
Guided meditations & Apps can be found on streaming music services like Itunes & Spotify, Apps from Apple and Google, And many more.
I’m currently using the Calm app. Calm features hundreds of meditations categorized by topics like Stress, Sleep, personal growth etc…. Calm charges an annual fee, but you can also find hundreds of free meditation apps.
Finally, anyone who meditates will attest to the challenging nature of getting a “quiet mind.” If you’re new to meditation approach it with patience. It’s you versus brain! If your brain gets its way, it’ll gladly run 24 hours a day, jumping from thought to thought!
Consequently, for many first time meditators, sitting quietly can be very unsettling as your mind works hard to fill the void. When thoughts creep in, gently steer yourself back. After 25 years of meditation, my mind still wanders off.
This is why meditation is a practice… it takes time to gradually settle in. But the benefits of health and wellbeing are worth the journey!
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