That was my question when I started.
I thought that if I wasn’t reaching Nirvana after 30 minutes of absolute stillness, I must be doing something wrong. Not knowing what to do made it hard to get consistent with it.
But then I really leaned in…
and realized that meditation is as chill as you’d hope it would be.
There are no expectations or wrong or right ways to do meditation.
During a meditation class I took at a Buddhist temple, I learned that there are multiple methods of meditation and the practice itself is meant to be a journey.
So don’t beat yourself up if sitting in lotus for 25 minutes isn’t your thing. You can still benefit greatly from meditation, you just have to find YOUR way.
Types of traditional meditation:
In chanting, you repeat a sound multiple times.
Think of the “OM” that we sometimes say at the beginning of yoga. The chanting occupies your mind on something simple so that the rest of the thoughts can settle and become more clear.
Moving mediation is similar to chanting in that it employs a repetitive activity to settle our mind, but we move our body instead of our vocal cords and mouths.
Walking is the most common way to do this, but there are lots of methods.
If you get runner’s high that clears your mind, you’re basically meditating already. Love to zone out while crocheting? Congrats! You’re meditating.
Movement meditation helps us calm our mind by focusing part of it on the action of a repetitive movement so the rest can become more focused.
This is the crème de la crème. It involves separating yourself from your thoughts in a still position.
It’s harder than the other two options because your mind doesn’t have a distraction like chanting or knitting to keep it occupied. But it can be more rewarding because it really allows your body to sit and separate the self from thoughts.
Most meditation apps focus on sitting meditation. There are multiple approaches to sitting meditation and you can do it almost anywhere, including lying down.
What does meditation actually feel like in our heads?
Meditation is about being aware of your thoughts. It is creating a separation from yourself and your thoughts.
Meditation is not about being completely silent with no thoughts. Instead, it is detaching from thoughts and knowing how to spend less time dwelling on them.
Imagine your brain like an empty room with large cavernous ceilings with you standing in the center. A scattered brain might have intrusive thoughts that whirl around in circles, swooshing past you at 60 miles per hour. In that environment you have little time to react and can only focus on the swishing, swirling thoughts going round and round. In a more calm brain, the air is still in that room. You are still at the center but you can see thoughts float up and down and back out of the room. You are calm and have time to see each one separately.
Some methods to separate yourself from your thoughts and quiet your mind.
- Imagine a dark theater and red curtains on either side of your mind’s eye (with your eyes closed). Then watching the thoughts bounce across the stage. You recognize the thoughts, but you also recognize the thoughts are not you.
- Acknowledge and quickly label thoughts. Think to yourself: “is this judgment, feeling, or thought?” Don’t judge yourself for what you are thinking, just recognize and pay attention to what your mind is doing. As soon as you label the thought, let it go
The whole goal of mediation:
The goal isn’t silence or lack of thought. Instead, it is the separation of self and thought.
Meditation is important for us because it stabilizes the central nervous system. It allows us to be less reactive and more thoughtful in stressful times.
Meditation practice has been associated with higher emotional intelligence and less perceived stress. Mindfulness meditation can also improve cognitive inhibition, basically controlling our emotional responses, and the ability to shift focus to the present moment.
It can even help with GI issues!
How to get started with meditation?
Pick the option that seems most appealing to you! Then do it regularly. Start with a couple of minutes and work your way up.
Maybe start with movement or chanting and then eventually build in some sitting meditation.
What you really want to build is a muscle that you can reference when you are in times of stress… like the holidays or work deadlines.
My favorite meditation practice for the moment
Right now I LOVE meditation in bed, first thing in the morning. Starting my day by setting intentions and quieting my head has led to more calm and peaceful days that are more enjoyable for me!
I lay for 5-15 minutes depending on my schedule and sleepiness. I let thoughts pass by and try to slow them. It helps me stay calm for the rest of the day.
I also employ this in times of stress… when something really gets under my skin or I feel overwhelmed. Stopping and taking 5 deep breaths, I ask myself if my thoughts are real. If this situation can be experienced differently or if I can change the trajectory. That usually helps me calm down and remember my agency in the situation.
I can’t wait to hear how you bring meditation into your regular practice!