My Meditation Guide
I am a HUGE fan of meditation. Its effects in my life have been big. I won’t get into all my life details here (my story coming SOON!), but since I started a meditation practice I have noticed a decrease in my anxiety and an increase in my ability to calmly approach each day. It has created more awareness and has stimulated my creative process. I have seen a subtle shift from negative to positive in my natural thought process and have built more self confidence. This is not a small list!
Meditation has been scientifically proven, with a regular practice, to physically change your brain. We are not aware of it reshaping itself, but it does! This affects our emotional and self control, boosts happiness, and helps decrease anxiety and stress. There is a growing interest in mental health and how this can affect the health of our bodies. It has been proven to decrease pain and inflammation and increase immune function. Isn’t this fascinating!
Everyone can benefit from a meditative practice, but it can seem really scary and intimidating to start. Our first attempt at meditation can leave us wishing for a quick “off” button for our thoughts. That would be much easier, right? But meditation is not about turning off thoughts completely or not thinking. It’s about developing mindfulness, awareness and control. Here is my guide to help you start a practice that can change your life.
The Where and The How
1. Create a Space
Some people like to designate a special place for meditation. A area with good natural light, pillows and blankets you can sit on, maybe some plants and candles can set the mood for a peaceful meditation practice. If you have the space and the desire, creating a place like this can help you stay motivated. But if you don’t have a spot like this, it’s no biggie. I want to clearly state that you DON’T need a perfect spot in your home to meditate. Just find a spot that makes you feel some measure of calm and comfort, outdoors in Mother Nature or maybe your bedroom, and that is enough.
2. Get Comfortable: How to sit for meditation.
There is not a right or wrong position for meditation. The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to ease your mind and thoughts. My go to posture for meditation is Easy Pose(link here). A more advanced posture would be Lotus Pose(link here). Or sitting in a chair is a great option if it’s inconvenient to plop down on the floor and be obvious about it or if you physically cannot sit with your legs folded up like that. You can even meditate lying down (Savasana, link). While the position you choose is optional, there are a few alignment issues you want to be aware of. It’s important to elongate the spine. This allows for the most expansive airflow in your lungs and throughout the body. Relax your shoulders and draw your chin slightly down. This facilitates Ujjayi breath and opens the back of the throat. Rest your hands on your knees, relax your jaw and face and close your eyes. Bingo, you are ready!
Ok, I Am Comfortable. Now What?
1. Focus on Your Breath
Directing your focus to your breath allows your mind to quiet all its other thoughts and reach stillness. You can count your inhalations and exhalations. I would start out counting to four on your inhale and four on your exhale and then gradually increase the length. You can visualize your breath entering your body through the base of your spine as you inhale, travelling up and out through your nose and limbs as you exhale. Feel how your body expands and lengthens as you inhale and how you feel grounded and connected on the exhale. Learning breath control can come in handy during a stressful situation, anxiousness, and panic attacks.
This is a great way to meditate because it allows our minds to form a picture of what we need instead of just words. You can use visualization in conjunction with any of these meditation techniques. Visualize yourself in a place that makes you feel happy and at peace. If you need to let go of stress or things out of your control, visualize yourself physically letting go of what is negative and not needed. Visualize your breath movement or your muscles loosening. Use your imagination to picture what you need and your body will respond. All my sisters with an overactive imagination, unite!!
I love mantras. Simply put, they are positive affirmations that you repeat over and over, out loud or in your mind, during your meditation. Just finish the sentence “I am _________” with whatever you need that day and you have your mantra. Two of my go to’s are “I am enough” and “I am not in control and I am okay with that.” Take a wild guess what I struggle with…! Chanting your mantra out loud has the added benefit of sound vibrations that can balance our bodies’ own vibrations and energies. If you are interested, there are mantras in sanskrit (link here), the ancient language of India, that you can memorize and chant. These are often used in yoga classes.
4. Body Scan
This is simply focusing on your body, scanning to see where there is tension, and sending your breath there to ease that tension. This is great for after a yoga session, to allow your breath and body to relax and then absorb your practice.
Find an influential quote you love or, if religious, a scripture that speaks to you and then ponder it while lengthening the breath. Simple, right? As simple as it sounds, you will now have that message tucked away for when you need a little pick me up or when life gets tough. And it will, am I right?
And last, but not least, the beauty of guided meditation. This is great because someone with a lovely, soothing voice is guiding your thoughts and breath. I would advise anyone just starting a meditation practice and that feel lost and confused to give guided meditation a go. You can find guided meditations on youtube and there are many apps out there as well. Headspace, Buddhify, Gaiam, and many more. This is a convenient, less intimidating way to start!
The beauty of this list is that you can just focus on one, or incorporate a couple into your meditation practice. Mix it up and you will discover what works best for you and your needs. And smile! Just that action alone can make changes in your heart and mind.
Oh Crap, I Got Lost In My Thoughts!
1. Self Awareness
Meditation is not about having no thoughts, as I mentioned earlier. It’s about developing the self awareness to recognize when you are letting the thoughts take control, then letting them go and refocusing. But we have to do that without judgment. Don’t beat yourself up and start think you are not good at it or it’s not for you. It’s not true! Instead, do it with a pat on the back that you were practicing self awareness. You are good at it and it will get easier the more you practice. And if you think meditation is not for you, that’s a good sign you need it. Recognize. Let Go. Refocus. That’s all it takes. Look, Mom, I’m meditating!
2. Ways to Help Keep Focus
There are some ways that you can make staying focused a little easier. One is mudras. Mudras are the hands expression and are said to shift energies and keep prana, the breath, flowing and connected. They also help with staying focused, because it takes some awareness to keep your hands molded into different shapes. My three favorites are Anjali mudra (link), gesture of peace, gratitude and the Divine, Anahata mudra (link), gesture for the heart, love and healing, and Buddha mudra, gesture to quiet the mind, relax, and reflect. There are many others with different meanings, so you’ll easily find one to suit your needs.
The other is Mala Beads. They are used with mantras and chants. Traditionally, each time you repeat your mantra, you move your thumb and index finger along each of the 108 beads. This invites deeper focus as you concentrate on holding the mala in your hands. There is significantly deeper meaning to using mala beads as well, but that is for another post. While malas are beautiful and exquisite, they are also expensive, so keep that in mind.
I hope you feel inspired to give meditation a try. A real try! Start small, say two to three times a week for five minutes, for one month, and then work your way up. You will see changes in the way your mind works. And that’s a beautiful thing.