There's lots of talk about the benefits of meditating or having a mindfulness practice. I've wanted to commit to having a practice for a while. I had two obstacles. I didn't know how to meditate or what style would suit me and I just wasn't comfortable sitting cross legged for any length of time. Two things happened: last year I took a class that gave me the tools to create my own practice. And my husband made me a meditation stool. I love it. It is so comfortable. Ideally you want to be sitting in a position that is effortless where your back is straight and your hips are higher than your knees. This stool does just that.
What is meditation:
Meditation is the process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. It’s a workout for your mind. It takes consistent work to be able to control and let go of your thoughts. With consistency, results will follow. There are many benefits. Some people use it to increase self-awareness, to live more in the moment, or use it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration.
-Reduce Stress: Meditation helps combat the effects of stress by taking your focus off the chatter or story that is running around in your head. It's this chatter that tends to amplify stress. By reducing stress there is a decreased level of the stress hormone, cortisol. This hormone is associated with inflammation, sleep disruption, promotion of depression and anxiety, and increased blood pressure.
- Controls Anxiety: A consistent meditation practice may help reduce anxiety and anxiety-related mental health issues (social anxiety, phobias and obsessive-compulsive behaviors).
- Emotional Health: Meditation may improve your self-image and help you create a more positive outlook on life.
- Self Awareness: Meditation may help develop a stronger understanding of yourself and help you grow into your best self. It helps you to slow down and be less reactionary so you can make thoughtful choices.
- Focus: Meditation can help build your ability to redirect and maintain attention and improve your clarity of thinking.
- Sleep: Meditation can help you relax and control the 'runaway' thoughts that can interfere with, and interrupt sleep. You may find you can fall asleep faster, sleep deeper and longer.
1. Find a place to sit where you will be comfortable for 10-15 minutes and won’t be interrupted (place your phone in airplane mode). Ideally your hips are higher than your knees (sorry no lying down). Relax your hands on your thighs with your palms facing upwards and softly close your eyes.
2. Set a timer for 3 minutes to start with. Slowly increase the time over the weeks.
3. Have an anchor to help keep you focused. There are many things you can focus on that will serve as anchors:
- Physical Sensation: Notice the air move into your body as you inhale and exhale (the rise and fall of the body with each breath). Notice what you hear around you. Notice what you physically feel (scan the body).
- Counting: Count your breaths. Inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3, etc. When you reach 10, start over again at 1.
- Breathing: there are many ways to use the breath as an anchor. My favorite is box breathing where you breathe in deeply to the count of 4, hold your breath for 4, and then slowly exhale to a count of 4, and finally hold again for 4.
- Mantras can provide anchors. These work by silently (mentally) saying something as you breathe in and then again as you breath out. (A couple of mantras I've used are Hong-Sau and Sat-Nam). As you breathe in silently say Hong, and as you breathe out silently say Sau.
There are many ways to meditate. Experiment until you find a style that suits you and your goals.
4. Thoughts will come and go. Let them. This is normal. The hard part is to not beat yourself up over it, but to bring your focus back to your breath or anchor point and let those thoughts slide away.
5. Tips to establishing a practice: Make it a habit: the same place and same time every day. Make a commitment to yourself: 'I will meditate for 5 minutes 3 days a week'. Use an app. I like Headspace. I've heard good things about Calm and Oak.