“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
— Dalai Lama
Everyone is talking about meditation these days, and well... yay! That is simply ahh-mazing. But, really, what is meditation all about?
In very simple terms, meditation is about finding stillness of the mind. This can be done walking, it can be done sitting quietly, it can be done during a yoga practice, it can be done while making dinner. Meditation is, quite simply, finding presence and quiet.
When writing this post, I did a Google image search of ‘meditation’ for the fun of it. Predictably, beautiful pictures of people sitting in lotus pose on the beach with blissful smiles on their faces came up. While pretty, images like these could lead someone to believe lotus pose at the beach to be a requirement for meditation. In reality, meditation is for anyone, and can be done anywhere. There is no specific way to sit or practice meditation, and it does not, and will not, look the same for everybody, or even every time you do it.
So, why meditate? Believe me, I fought with this one for a while. “You want me to do what?” “For how long?” “Without moving?” Nothing about meditation is congruous with how my mind works. My brain is active; it wants to solve all of its problems instantly.
Point being? I needed to meditate that much more! Those of us with active minds crave the stillness of meditation, trust me. Meditation gives us a chance to pause and reflect… passively. When working through anything even slightly challenging in life we often times find ourselves in one of two camps: 1) Actively trying to get better quickly so that the “bad” feelings do not linger, or 2) Engaging in any sort of numbing behaviors so that the “bad” feelings do not linger.
This came to light for me a few years ago when I was going through a particularly difficult time. I remember everything was heightened and I felt every ounce of sadness, anxiety, and anger to the extreme. What I was feeling was the result of years of suppressed emotions that came boiling over when I got my heart broken, in the breakup of all breakups.
People around me kept suggesting mediation, and yet at the time, I felt that my emotion was too intense to “sit with it." I thought what I needed was distraction and avoidance. Finally, when I had reached my limit, I decided to try mediating. I began with short, guided meditations and eventually moved on to sitting quietly for a few minutes, a couple of times each day. What this stillness brought me was the awareness that the pain I was feeling was indeed not centered on the present, but instead, on years of sadness and emotions that had not been processed. Through meditation, I was able to become clearer on the source of my pain which lead me on my path to healing.
“The goal of meditation is not to get rid of thoughts or emotions. The goal is to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and learn how to move through them without getting stuck.”
— Dr. P. Goldin
Meditation allows all of our stuff that we are working on to settle and get sorted out. It helps us see a vivid picture by stepping back from the immediacy of the situation. If that isn’t enough, it also trains our minds to sit through the tough feelings and emotions that come up. Without question, something will “stir” when you meditate. Feelings including anxiety, fear, pensiveness, apprehension, irritability, and indecision will undoubtedly arise in some form, at one time or another. Staying with them, sitting with them, breathing with them, gives you immense power to then learn how to stay, sit, and breathe with situations and people that trigger those same emotions in your day to day life. Things start to get more manageable when you realize that you can breathe through anything. This is really subtle, but really deep work.
By now you’re hopefully beginning to realize the importance of having a meditation practice. Before you get started, I really only have one unwavering rule when it comes to embarking on your mediation journey- start slowly. If you’ve ever tried to sit down to mediate, you know the intense feelings, emotion, and physical pain that it can conjure up. If you start too big, for instance, half hour blocks- you may only do it one time and never have the desire to do it again. Starting small is a good way to ensure you stick with it. I recommend sitting for 1-3 minutes to start, and setting a timer so you know you have an end time. If you don’t feel like that is enough, increase your minutes slowly and/or sit for more times throughout the day.
Here are three simple options to get your meditation practice off (or on) the ground.
Try a guided meditation.
There are multitudes of meditations available out there; we’re talking apps and YouTube videos galore. Starting with a nice soothing guided meditation can prep you for longer, silent ones. They also give you really good clues as to “what to do” when meditating, such as focusing on the breath, relaxing through your body, or allowing your thoughts to pass by like clouds in the sky. Some of my favorites that I commonly recommend to patients are:
- “Before Sleep | Beginners Spoken Guided Meditation | Chakra Alignment” By Jason Stephenson
- “Loving Kindness Meditation” put out by UNH Health and Wellness
Apps that I have tried and love are: “Headspace” and “Stop, Breathe, and Think”, which allows you to input information as to how you are feeling that day and then it develops a specific mediation catered to your mood, emotion, and energy.
Try lying down.
If you’ve ever gone to a yoga class, you probably finished the session in a pose called “savasana,” which translates roughly to “dead body pose.” Savasana can range anywhere from 1- 5 minutes (typically). So, there--if you’ve been to a yoga class, you’ve meditated.
Lying down in a comfortable position tends to be easier for beginner meditators because some of the musculoskeletal pain that arises in a seated posture is held at bay. Try getting super duper cozy with comfy pillows and a blanket, then set your timer for 2 minutes to start (seriously- start with 2 minutes). If it’s easy, then begin to add a minute to it each day. If you don’t feel like it’s enough, start doing it a few times throughout the day. While lying down, allow each thought that comes into your mind to just gradually drift by you. It’s okay for thoughts to come up, just try not to attach any meaning to them. If your mind wanders and you have trouble keeping it still, focus on the exhale breath as it gently leaves your nose to help keep you present.
One of my favorite ways to meditate is to walk in the woods. I clear my mind focusing only on my inhales and exhales while taking in all the nature around me. I like to think of this as “silently observing.” You may see all the wildlife, and the trees, and the flowers, but don’t make a connection to what they are; just notice and let the thoughts go.
In closing, meditation does not have to be hard. It does not have to be done in a challenging pose. It can be simple and gradually deepen and progress as you gradually deepen and progress in your own life and spiritual practice. Take it slowly, but start today… you won’t regret it.
All the love,