So, let’s face it, most people cringe when they hear the word meditation and they immediately think of a new-age, hippie fest where everyone talks about color auras and crystal healings. And hey, I’m personally all about those healing modalities, but I’m also in tune enough to know that they don’t resonate with a lot of people - and that’s just fine. However, I do truly believe that it would be a shame to miss out on all the amazing benefits and life-changing lessons that mediation has to offer just because we’re a little unsure of it’s tangible-ness. Yes, I make up words from time to time.
Meditation is a practice that dates back thousands of years which obviously gives it a significant place in history. Even more interesting is that there are multiple types of meditation, each bringing a unique experience to the meditator. In our discussion today, we’ll be covering one of my favorite practices called Mindfulness Meditation, or formally MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) which calls the practitioner to a state of present awareness.
One of the main concerns people have when beginning a practice is that they can’t shut off their brains or sit still without wanting to move. They assume that because they have these feelings they aren’t a “good” meditator. What I want to bust through today is the idea that there are good and bad meditators. Meditation is not, in fact, about turning off your thoughts but rather about coming face to face with them and sitting with them – in some ways, nailing ourselves to the present moment so that we are forced to stop running and just BE with whatever is present for us in that moment. It is from this platform, based in reality, that we actually gain the power to shift and change our circumstances.
In our society, we are afraid of stillness. We work like madmen, we run the kids around to a million different activities, we do chores and schoolwork late into the night, we exercise like we hate ourselves, we grab a diet coke and chocolate to get us through the afternoon and we text, call and scroll all day long. Then, as nightfall drifts in, when we’re physically and mentally exhausted, we turn on the TV or Netflix to drown out the last bits of piercing, uncomfortable silence we’ve been running from all day before we fall into a restless, unsatisfying sleep. If we sit in stillness, it’s as if all of a sudden we can’t stop the influx of thoughts. It’s as if meditation actually makes us think MORE, so we decide that all these crazy yoga people must not have stressful lives because how else could they possible turn off the relentless jibberish going on in the mind? Sound famililar?
Here’s the thing. Meditation and stillness do not actually bring up more thoughts. They simply allow space for what is already there to make itself known. If you’re mind and thoughts feel jumbled, hectic and chaotic when you sit down and notice them, I assure you they are that way all throughout your day. You’ve just gotten very adept and skilled at pushing them out of the way in favor of staying busy. And by busy, I don’t just mean that you are an a-type, go-getter who burns the midnight oil. I’m also talking about that nagging feeling to pull out your phone as your wait for a friend at a restaurant or while you’re in line to get a coffee. I’m talking about the need to fill the silence of an uncomfortable conversation with more talking. I’m referring to our inability to sit in pain and instead escaping our reality through a drink, drugs, sex, work, social media or any other mind-numbing activity. I’m talking about the habits we all fall into so easily that we don’t even consider them problematic.
So, you might be wondering what’s so wrong with this picture? Well, as you’ve heard me talk about hundreds of times, stress is harmful to the body. And the stress of unresolved, unnoticed or undealt with emotions can congest the body in physical ways. When we spend all our time running from our emotions and uncomfortable feelings, we never get to process them and let them go. They stay congested and buried deep in our souls just waiting to come out – and come out they will. The mind-body connection is a powerful tool for healing, but it is also a powerful promoter of imbalance and dis-ease if not tended to. We talk a lot about the healing power of food and all the tangible ways to attend to our health, like sleep and exercise. Less talked about, however, are the metaphysical, emotional and energetic modalities which I have found play an equal, if not more important, role in health and wellness. We spend so much time trying to think ourselves happy, calm and relaxed, but what if, instead, we just eased into the knowing space of meditation and let the rising and falling tides of our emotions do just that – rise and fall. Can you imagine the freedom that comes when you just let go? Your body certainly can as studies have shown that mindfulness meditation actually shrinks the part of the brain associated with fear, anxiety and stress by switching the nervous system over to a parasympathetic state – the state of Rest and Digest.
Anxiety, stress and worry are future based. Without thoughts of the future, these feelings don’t exist. What mindfulness mediation does is brings us into the present moment, effectively extinguishing these emotions. As we become better and better at bringing ourselves present in our meditations, new pathways in our brain bring this awareness into other areas of our life as well. We find ourselves slowing down, processing deeper, thinking clearer, speaking kinder. The tonic to busyness is not relaxation. The tonic to busyness is stillness. It is the yin to our modern day yang.
So, how does it work? Mindfulness meditation asks the practitioner to sit in awareness by focusing the mind on a ‘home base’ of sorts, which is usually the breath. See, and here you were worried about turning off your brain! No, actually, we are giving your brain something to focus on, something to hold on to as you watch all the thoughts pass by rooting you in what is happening here and now. When you first begin a meditation practice, it can feel pointless and chaotic. Know this is normal and fine. Stick with it and get past the first few clumsy attempts -This is when the real magic begins. Below I’ve outlined the steps to begin a mindfulness practice. However, I highly suggest working with a coach of some type who can walk you through all the potential questions or roadblocks you might come up on. There are also wonderful apps you can use that offer guided meditations. I personally love and use Headspace, but I’ve heard great things about Calm as well. If you’re more interested in going it alone, I also use an app called Insight Timer which simply times my meditation with the starting and finishing gong chimes.
1. Begin by sitting either cross-legged on a pillow or mat or sitting in a chair with both feet on the ground. If either of these are too uncomfortable for your posture, you may lie down.
2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breathes. Notice how your body feels sitting on the floor or in the chair. Listen to the sounds around you.
3. Begin to check in with your breath by noticing the breaths in, the pauses between and the breaths out. You don’t need to change your breathing, simply notice it’s normal pattern and the way it feels going in and out of your body.
4. As you sit noticing your breath, thoughts will pop up and you may even get carried away by them. If you catch yourself being carried off by thinking, simply notice it, say the word “thinking” and gently come back to noticing your breath. Let the thought pass on by without giving it any more attention.
5. Do this for 5-10 minutes a day to start with and be kind with yourself as you learn this new skill.
Remember, there are no good or bad meditations, only distracted and undistracted. The more time you spend in meditation, the more periods of un-distraction you will experience.
As always, I’d love to hear about your personal experiences with meditation and mindfulness. Comment below or find me over on social media and let’s chat!