Building a Healthier You with MeditationPosted: January 10, 2017
Is one of your 2017 resolutions or intentions to be healthier? Are you looking to relax and be calmer in life; deal more effectively with the challenges and stressors you are facing; and/or increase your focus and happiness? Then you might want to try meditating. Perhaps your doctor or a friend suggested you give meditation a try, but you have reservations. You are not sure you can meditate. After all, your mind is so busy and active with all the multitasking you do, and clearing your mind of all thoughts is highly unlikely. Or you do not have enough time to invest in meditation because your schedule is too demanding. You might even resist because you do not know where to begin. Whatever your reservations are with meditation, there are things you can do to get started with a practice of your own, starting with addressing these concerns.
Addressing Concerns: The “Too Busy” Mind
Yes, we are a busy and productive society, being rewarded for “doing.” Moreover, we are encouraged to multitask—getting as much done as we can, in as little amount of time possible. This multitasking, which is a misnomer—it’s really switch tasking or stopping/starting the process between two or more tasks– has limitations itself. Studies show that switch tasking affects our attention span, reinforcing our inability to focus for longer periods. This inability to focus is a cycle that perpetuates itself. Switch tasking also negatively affects the quality of what we do, adds more time to get it done, and drains our energy over a period of time. What meditation does for busy minds like this is to help them focus longer on one task, with better quality outcomes. Meditation is mind training, and multitaskers are not exempt from benefiting from this training. In fact, it seems to help them in the end. During meditation, we notice the nature of the busy mind, and when our attention shifts from our focus, we kindly and without judgment, notice the shift and bring our attention back to our focus. This focusing can help us in daily life, recovering from interruptions, and getting things done more effectively and on time.
Addressing Concerns: Clearing Your Mind of Thoughts
What follows from above is that, with meditation, we are not sitting and trying to clear thoughts from our minds. We are simply observing the nature of the thinking mind, and when our focus wanders or shifts– which it inevitably does FOR ALL OF US– we kindly and intentionally bring it back. Mindfulness meditation is about working with our attention to focus on something in the present moment. Noticing the shift of attention is the actual practice of meditation. If our mind shifts or wanders 5 to 50 to 500 times, we simply notice, and choose to return our attention back to refocusing 5 to 50 to 500 times. By observing the nature of the mind this way, we are able to recognize that our minds process a multitude of thoughts throughout our day, and we don’t have to be hi-jacked by, or react to a specific thought at that moment. We have the ability to pause and choose how we proceed.
Addressing Concerns: Investing Hours to Meditate
It does not take hours to meditate. One can meditate for that duration, but for beginners, we suggest you start off small and then build on. You can even start with taking 3 deep breaths at random times throughout our day, perhaps when you go through a doorway or transition to another space and role. You can also start with focusing for five minutes each day and increase this time slowly in five minute increments per week. Just know that meditation is dose dependent; the more you do, the more likely you will experience benefits.
Addressing Concerns: Where to Begin
Start a meditation practice meeting yourself exactly where you are. Don’t wait for an empty schedule to get started. That time may never come. Instead, start by taking five minutes out of your day, like in the morning when you get up, or right before you go to bed. Invest this small amount of time to build the foundation of your practice, framing it as self-care. Consistently practice every week, at the same time if you can. Determine what schedule works best for you, and where you can fit it in. And then do it. Many beginners start with guided meditations to help stay on track, and be reminded of refocusing. These meditations will guide you gently, and without judgement. (Check out this 5-minute guided Mindful Transition Meditation by Merry). And that is how we suggest you treat yourself as you begin your own practice; kindly and without judgment. And then just do it…and notice what arises as a result.
Beginning a Meditation Practice
1. In a quiet environment, sit comfortably in a chair keeping your back straight, sitting in a dignified, yet relaxed and stable way (a pillow or towel behind the lower back can support you, as will sitting midway on the seat, with your feet on the floor). Set a timer for five minutes, or follow a guided meditation.
2. Allow your eyes to close if that feels comfortable, or just gaze downward at the floor, letting your arms rest gently in your lap.
3. Begin by taking three deeper than normal breaths; breathing in slowly through your nostrils, and out slowly through your mouth—extending the out-breath for a longer amount of time than the in. This begins to trigger the relaxation response in your body.
4. Now, return your breathing to a normal pattern—not controlling it, tuning into your breath wherever you sense it most strongly in your body. You may feel it at the tip of your nose, as the cool air comes in, or at the ribcage as your chest rises and falls with each breath cycle. You may feel it at your abdomen, contracting and expanding as well.
5. As you breathe in, focus on what it feels like to be breathing in. What sensations do you notice in your body? What qualities of the breath do you notice? Just observe your experience as you sense it.
6. When your mind starts thinking, or shifting to other things as minds naturally do, just notice this thinking activity, and choose to kindly and without judgment return your attention to your breath, and the movement of breathing in your body. Stay with it for a few minutes. No need to judge or be harsh with yourself as your mind thinks. Simply return the focus every time you notice the shift.
7. To help align your mind with the movement in your body, as you breathe in mentally whisper to yourself, “breathing in.” And as you breathe out, mentally whisper to yourself, “breathing out.” You can even shorten it—to “in” and “out” respectively. This can help keep your mind focused on the sensations of breathing in your body, uniting them together as you sit, alert.
8. End the meditation with the sound of the timer, letting your focus of attention go and congratulate yourself for taking time out of your busy schedule to invest in your well-being. Wiggle your fingers and toes, and bring your awareness to the room in which your body is sitting. Allow your eyes to open gently.
Meditation allows you to work out your mind, as you would your body. Studies show various benefits can be realized by meditating on a regular basis. Know that there are many different kinds and styles of meditation, and the one suggested here is based on mindfulness. Do what works for you, as this is your practice. You will get as much out of it as you put into it.
If you’d like to check out some guided meditations, go to my Resources page or listen to my guided 5-minute Mindful Transition Meditation . Also, a variety of meditation apps are available for smart phones or online. The next blog post will focus on a few of these, such as “Calm”, “Headspace”, “Chill” and “Insight Timer.” Check back soon for more information on these apps, and how they may help you in your practice.
Until then, be well, be merry, and just breathe!