Many people live busy lives that can become overwhelming and stressful. Balancing work, family, friends, and recreation can seem unmanageable.
All of this is only amplified by the fact that the world we live in now has been altered by the pandemic. Being distant from our loved ones, a lack of social interaction, and the stressors that come with either working from home or being an essential worker can cause an overwhelming amount of stress. It is important that we keep tools with us so that we can manage the levels of stress we experience on a daily basis. One tool that is excellent in helping to manage stress and calm the mind is meditation.
Meditation can seem like a daunting word and a difficult practice to incorporate into your daily life. This couldn’t be further from the truth- meditation can be short, quick, and effective. Slowly incorporating meditation into your daily ritual, whether it be first thing in the morning, right before bed, or even in the middle of a difficult workday, has many benefits. The benefits of meditation range from better concentration levels, reduced stress, and greater self-awareness, to physical benefits as well, such as an increased tolerance for pain.
Let’s discuss some tips to help you to incorporate meditation in your life.
- Do your research. Find a “guided meditation” online. YouTube has endless amounts of guided meditations to try. These can be as quick as two minutes and as long as an hour. Find one that works for you. If you choose to do a guided meditation, your job is pretty easy. Listen to what the video says and follow it to the best of your ability. Guided meditations may be a good way to start your practice before you begin to do so on your own, as they can serve to ease you into how exactly meditation works. If you do choose to do a guided meditation, you may still incorporate the tips below.
- Find the best spot to meditate. Find somewhere nice and quiet to begin your meditation (as much as is realistic). Allow yourself to take some time to focus on nothing but you. Distractions can really take away from the meditative experience, so minimizing them as much as possible is key. Put your phone on silent and tuck it away for a few moments. Turn off your television. Put your work on hold. Try to position yourself from all of these distractions so that you are not tempted to open your eyes and quickly check your phone or your laptop.
- Get comfortable. Make sure you feel comfortable. Do whatever feels right in your body. You may find you are most comfortable meditating lying down or sitting on the couch. You may want to fully embody the experience and meditate on a yoga or exercise mat on the floor. You may find it more relaxing to turn off the lights and close the blinds. It is important to not associate negative feelings with your meditation practice. So, if you find that your neck hurts or your back hurts while you are getting seated, change your position so that you feel comfortable. It does not matter how you look, but rather how you feel. Go where it feels best.
- Listen to your body. If you choose to meditate without a guided meditation video, begin with a quick body scan. Close your eyes and start at your toes and work your way up to your head. Notice what you feel in your body. You may feel tingling, buzzing, or areas that seem tense. Notice these sensations without changing or “fixing” anything. Begin to focus on your breath without changing it. Notice your inhales and exhales. Are they shallow? Are they deep? Again, don’t change or fix. Just breathe. At this point in time, you may begin to feel relaxed. Stay within the present moment by listening. Do you hear birds chirping outside your window? Or wind? Or rain? Can you smell something nice? Acknowledge what you hear or smell without getting up to change anything. Beginning to notice your surroundings without judgment will lead you to the following tip, “acknowledge your thoughts.”
- Acknowledge your thoughts. Allow your thoughts to come and go. Distractions will surely pop up- they will occur less frequently with practice. If you notice your thoughts are wandering from your conscious inhales and exhales to things like what you have to do today, acknowledge your thought, and let it drift away as if floating on a cloud. Return back to your breath after the distraction dissipates. As you breathe in, repeat in your mind “inhale”, and as you breathe out, repeat in your mind “exhale.” Repeating these two words to yourself may help you to stay focused on the meditation rather than other thoughts that pop into your mind. You may also find it helpful to count. As you breathe in, count “1, 2, 3, 4” and as you breathe out, count “1, 2, 3, 4”. Again, find what works best for you and stick with it for the duration of the meditation. A little tip: put one hand on your belly. Your belly should expand as you breathe in and deflate as you breathe out. Oftentimes we breathe into our chest, which is not what we want as we cannot get in a full, cleansing breath of air this way.
- Bring in positive affirmations. After some time, begin to elongate your inhales and exhales. Fill your belly with air. Bring in positive emotions through repeating positive affirmations. As you breathe in, repeat an affirmation that resonates with you. For example, you may say “I am strong and can get through my day today” every time you inhale. Affirmations are helpful to repeat during meditations, as they direct your thought process to positive aspects of yourself, and therefore help to overcome any negative thoughts you may have been thinking prior to your meditation. Some other examples of affirmations you may want to try repeating are “There is nothing I need to improve about myself, just more I need to learn to love about myself”, “I do not need to be perfect to be my amazing self”, “I possess the qualities needed to be happy and successful”, and “my ability to conquer challenges and difficulties is endless.” Alternatively, as you exhale, release any tension or negative emotions. You may want to say in your head the negative emotions you are releasing, such as “self-doubt” or “anxiety.” Repeat this a few times.
- Come back to body awareness. When you feel you have finished your meditation, begin to normalize your breath by bringing your breath back to your own, natural rhythm. You can begin to come back to body awareness by making small movements, like wiggling your fingers and toes. When you feel your body begin to wake up from the meditative state, you can begin to flutter your eyes open.
- Organize your thoughts. After you meditate, be sure to take some time to recognize how you feel. Do you feel different than you did before you meditated? Do you feel calmer? Do you feel lighter? It may be a good idea to keep a journal with you throughout this practice. Before you meditate you may want to write down how you are feeling. After you meditate, you can compare how you feel with how you felt earlier. Noticing how meditation makes you feel, and actually writing it down, may encourage you to continue this calming and grounding practice in the future.
- Honor your practice. Remember- it is your practice. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to meditate. Do what feels right in your body and honor yourself for taking some time for yourself. Express gratitude to yourself for accomplishing something new. If you feel your meditation practice was not perfect, it is okay. It won’t be perfect on the first few tries, and it may never be what you consider to be “perfect”. You are still benefiting by taking time for yourself, breathing, and staying in the present moment.
- Repeat. Repeat this meditation practice whenever you feel that it would be helpful. You may feel drawn to do this first thing in the morning, to begin your day in a calm and relaxed state. You may find it helpful to do this practice after work, to relieve the stress you felt during the day and let it all go. You may want to try meditating before bed, to see if this practice can help you to have a more restful sleep. As you begin meditations, you may want to try to incorporate it into your life once a week, and slowly incorporate it more and more. Slowly but surely, meditation may become one of your favorite stress-relieving tools.
Meditating is just one tool we can use to calm our minds and reduce our daily levels of stress. Since the practice of meditation is all about listening to your own body and doing what feels right to you, it can be a practice for virtually everyone.
Suggestions for further reading:
Riopel, L. (2020, July 28). 30 Meditation Exercises and Activities to Practice Today. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/meditation-exercises-activities/
Shapiro, S. L., Jazaieri, H., & Sousa, S. D. (2016). Meditation and Positive Psychology. The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, 3rd Edition.
How to Meditate- A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness (2020) – Will Fischer https://www.insider.com/how-to-meditate