You may have already read a few posts from aSweatLife about meditation, and if you have, you might already know some of meditation’s benefits. Kelly started to break down the barriers around meditation earlier this year and Kelsey told it like it is when it comes to the difference between what one imagines meditation to be like, and how hard it can actually be.
The truth is, it’s both easy and very hard. If you approach it within the context that there’s no wrong way to go about doing it, and that five minutes a day (or whenever you need it) is just as beneficial as having a rigorous 60-minute daily meditation practice, then yes, it is quite simple. But if you think of it as a daunting task or a potential waste of time, or a task with an end goal of enlightenment, then it will be very, very hard.
There are times when I think that meditation will be a great idea to solve all my problems, and then when all the thoughts that stress me out are just swimming around in my head and I’ve lost 15 minutes out of my day, then yes, of course I think it’s a waste of time. But if I can pinpoint one specific thing I’d like to get more clarity on, become a little calmer about, or feel less negative emotion towards, I can usually turn my time in meditation into something more productive. And it helps to know that there are different kinds of meditations that might work better in different scenarios, or depending on your mind and body’s particular needs that day.
So if you’re on the go and don’t have a lot of time to figure it out, here are a few different meditations you can select from that might offer you a little more success, whether you’re facing pressure to make a decision (mindfulness), feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list (breath), having trouble focusing (mantra), or maybe getting swept up by a particularly nagging emotion (loving kindness). This is by no means an exhaustive list of the kinds of meditation out there, and I would encourage you to read up on what else is out there to see what jives with you best!
Rather than aiming to flush your mind of all thoughts, you simply practice observing those thoughts and aim to detach judgment and excess emotion from them. Try starting out counting slowly from one to five a few times, starting back over at one once your reach five until your breath has begun to slow down and even out.
You then move away from counting but continue your evenly patterned breath, noticing each inhale and exhale, the way your body feels in that particular moment, the sounds around you, and any thoughts that flow into your head. When a thought pops in, notice it, acknowledge it, and envision it passing through your head as your exhale. For me, if I can unwrap myself from within the thought or sensation I’m struggling with, if I can just become aware of its presence, I often can make a bit more level-headed decision about it.
Pranayama (breath-focused) meditation
This meditation is one of my favorite ways to destress because it actually requires so much more physical work that it gives my mind something to focus on instead of running wild. There are so many different kinds of breathing exercises, but in a meditational sense I like to stay focused on counting, matching the length of inhales to certain count to the length of exhales. I’ll start inhaling for a count of three, pause at the top of the inhale, then exhale for a count of three and pause at the bottom of the exhale. After three rounds, I’ll increase the count to four, and so on. After I work up to the highest count my lung capacity will sustain, I decrease it in the same pyramid structure. This can be done sitting up or lying down. I like lying on my back with my feet together, knees apart, one hand on my stomach and one of my heart with my eyes closed.
A mantra is a phrase you repeat throughout your meditation practice, using that as the focal point and what keeps your mind in the present moment. There are countless mantras to draw on, from sanskrit texts to modern-day motivational phrases. The type of phrase you might select to meditate on may draw from whatever brought you to meditate.
If you’re having a writer’s block for a presentation you’re working on at work, you might think about a phrase “I am capable, this is doable” or if you’re struggling with an internal insecurity, think “I am enough” or “I am gentle with myself.” Your thought here can be incredibly powerful in turning something you say into something you believe.
Sometimes yoga instructors will introduce a mantra to focus on at the beginning of class; if you happen to have heard a few of those in your yoga practices and one particularly resonates with you, you can use that as your guiding force through a meditation practice.
Loving kindness meditation
You can do a loving kindness meditation to help bring some positivity back into your thoughts and actions if you’re feeling jaded, low or particularly negative for any reason. It’s typically a three-part meditation. You begin by focusing on sending love to yourself. Cultivate gratitude for yourself; acknowledge what negative thoughts come up and turn them into something more positive; create energetic feelings of warmth and love for everything you have to offer.
You then transition into focusing on someone for whom you have deep gratitude and love. Notice the thoughts that arise when you think of this person, and what feelings of positivity come up. Then think of a person who is neutral to you (someone who you have had direct interaction with, but you don’t necessarily know or have feelings one way or the other about, like your waiter at a restaurant from that day). Start to send those same feelings of positivity and energetic love and warmth to that neutral person. Finally, think of the person with whom you have a conflict or negative feelings toward, and send those feelings of neutrality, respect, and self-love to that person. This kind of meditation diffuses the sources of conflict from within you and aims to balance your internal state of emotion from both ends of the spectrum.
Full body scan/visualization
Finally, one of my favorite ways to calm my brain is to do a full body scan and incorporate some kind of visualization. Again, it gives my mind something to focus on in the present. I start at the crown of my head and envision a white line being traced around my entire body, like someone tracing me in chalk on the sidewalk. I try to slow down as much as possible, focusing on every outline of my body. This is just one example of type of visualization you can try. You can select a “happy place” in your mind and when you close your eyes, focus on every detail that exists in that happy place you’ve created, or that already physically exists somewhere. Get creative!
With these and all the other meditations you may encounter, give them a shot without judgment or expectation and take note of what seems to be working best for you.