“Free your mind and the rest will follow.” This has become my new mantra in my quest to incorporate more meditation into my daily regime. Even though I am well aware of the benefits of meditation and how it reduces stress, boosts your immune system and builds new brain cells, I still seem to struggle to fully embrace a daily practice. I have the usual excuses…”I don’t have the time; I’m not doing it right; my legs fall asleep when I sit cross-legged.” All of these excuses are a result of my preconceived notion of what meditation should be. What I have come to realize is that there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Yes, there are some guidelines, but the key is to do what feels comfortable and let go of the judgments. So, if you are like me and have struggled with meditation, don’t despair. I am going to share some thoughts that will hopefully have you saying “om” before you know it!
First, let’s talk about mindfulness vs. meditation. Mindfulness occurs when you are consciously aware of what you are thinking and doing in the present moment. You can bring mindfulness to anything you are doing…brushing your teeth, washing the dishes or driving your car. It is simply bringing your attention to the task at hand. Mindfulness is a big part of meditation especially when you are just starting out. Your thoughts may focus on the sounds around you, sensations in your body, or the conversations running around in your head. (that is a big one for me!) The key to meditation is to acknowledge these thoughts and then let them float by. Easier said than done, right? My mind is constantly fluttering from one thing to the next. Definitely not what you want when you are trying to meditate! People with busy minds have the most difficulty with meditation, but we also have the most to gain when we are able to slow down our thoughts. If you surrender to the chatter, you might be surprised that your thoughts begin to slow down.
There are many tools to assist you on your meditation journey. You can listen to meditation music, you can try guided meditation, mantra meditation, visualization or simply using your breath as a guide. Over the years I have tried all of these and I have had the most success with mantras and using my breath. When I started using my breath to meditate, I would count the inhalations and exhalations. Usually, I would inhale to a count of 4, hold for 4 and exhale for 4. This seemed to work for a while, but then I started to focus more on the numbers than on my breath. I found I was restricting my breathing in order to stay with the count which was not relaxing at all. Now, I simply breathe in and breath out focusing on the expansion of my belly and my lungs. There is a certain calmness in that there is nothing really to think about. By the way, did you know that the slower and deeper your respiration, the longer your lifespan! A tortoise takes 3-4 breaths/minute and they live to be over 100. A mouse, on the other hand, takes 100-200 breaths/minute and they only live a few years. Isn’t that crazy? I am pretty sure I need to take more than 4 breaths per minute but my goal is to be a tortoise not a mouse 😉
Most meditation experts would agree that a seated position is ideal for meditation. I actually like to lay down when I meditate. My breath flows easier and my body feels more relaxed when I am in a prone position. I do have one meditation that I like to do seated. I will light a candle and gaze at the flickering flame. It is amazing how this simple act can quiet my mind. Oh, and there is one other position that I love called child’s pose. If you are unfamiliar with this term, child’s pose is a actually a yoga posture that calms and soothes the brain. http://yogabasics.com/asana/child. This is the one “meditation” practice that I do faithfully every morning before I get out of bed. I roll into the pose, allowing the weight of my head to rest on my pillow. Not only is this a great way to ease yourself into the day, you get an awesome back stretch as well!
As you can see, my meditation practice is somewhat unconventional, but I have found what works for me and I encourage you to do the same. I am trying to let go of the notion of what I “should” be doing and simply do what feels good. Trying to fit a square peg into a round hole can be stressful. If you are a square like me, embrace it and feel the stress melt away.
Finally, I want to share something I read not too long ago. “Imagine that your mind is a bowl. If you empty that bowl every morning before you start your day, then you are creating an open, peaceful space to begin your day.”
Several times a year, Oprah and Deepak Chopra hold an online 21 day meditation series. Each day you receive an email with an audio for a 20 minute meditation. The series is free and they are awesome! As soon as I hear about the next one, I will send you the link.