Sometimes when I tell people to try yoga or meditation as an effective way to deal with stress, I get the response, “Oh, I just don’t think I’m that type“. While yoga, a once esoteric thing to do, is now very mainstream, meditation still brings a level of skepticism with it.
I’m not quite sure if it’s that people think it is too New Age for them, for the lack of a better term, or if people fear that they won’t know what they are doing, or won’t be doing it right. Maybe it’s that we just can’t learn to sit still for 2 minutes.
Whatever the reason, meditation is a highly effective method for dealing with stress and anxiety. Most of our stress and anxiety is caused by allowing our thoughts to get carried away, thinking of all the “what-ifs” and treating them as if they are actually happening. Meditation helps us live in the present moment, and focus on what is real, not what we anticipate.
And contrary to what many believe, there really isn’t a *right* way to do it. Meditation, like all things, takes practice to eventually find your groove.
Meditation For Beginners
1. Find A Quiet Place To Sit, Where You Can Be Alone.
It is better to sit than lie down because mediation is actually an active process, not one of relaxing as many people think.
2. Choose Your Sound
While there is no need to have any music, some people enjoy it. If you choose to use music, choose music without singing, and something with very light sounds, with few instruments. Sample some meditation music, which you can find on Pandora, Spotify, or Last.fm.
Personally, I prefer to not have music when I meditate. It makes me focus on the music, rather than the present. Try both, see what works better for you.
3. Set A Timer
- Set a timer for the length of time you want. Start out with just a few minutes (maybe 3 to 5) and work your way up if you like. For the average person, I think 10-15 minutes is plenty. Some people prefer to go as long as 20, but I don’t think that’s realistic for most of us.
- Just make sure when the timer goes off, it isn’t alarming. Choose a very quiet, soothing sound.
4. Support Your Back
- You should find a place to sit where you can be in good posture (sit tall, shoulders down and back, chest up, neutral spine). Use back support if you need to. This could be sitting on a pillow, with legs crossed, or sitting against a wall (or both).
5. Relax Your Body
- Other than keeping good posture (which to many of us, doesn’t feel relaxing), begin to think about relaxing each part of your body, starting with your toes and moving up to your face.
- Close your eyes and mentally create the image of your toes relaxing, then your feet, then your lower legs, etc… Take a moment to think about each step. The visualization is important.
6. Focus On Breathing
- Start to focus on your breathing. Don’t change your breath, just notice it.
- Begin to notice how you breathe (are you breathing through your nose, mouth, both? Are you breathing shallow or deep? Rapid or slow?)
- Begin to take deep breaths in through the nose, out the mouth. Do this a few times, only. Then try to normalize your breathing, while still focusing on the rhythm.
6. Clear Your Mind
- The idea behind meditating is learning to focus on the present. Clear your mind of all the chatter. Using the breath as a focal point helps us do that. Try to just focus on your breath, breathing in and breathing out.
- As you do this, you will feel a calming effect come over you. Your mind is not used to being so quiet, and you will feel the refreshment of this stillness.
7. Catch Your Thoughts
- You will notice that for the 3, 5, or 10 minutes that you sit still and try to focus on your breathing, your mind will still be all over the place. It is very important that you not take this as a sign that you aren’t doing it correctly. This is normal! Place no judgement on yourself. Allow the thought to happen, notice it, then go back to your breath.
8. Complete and Energized!
- After you hear the timer, begin to bring yourself back to awareness around you. Do the reverse of what you did in step 5 (except still start with your feet). Starting with your toes, begin to wiggle them, then gently shake out your legs, move your hips and back, stretch your arms, wiggle your fingers, circle your neck, move your face, etc…
- Open your eyes, take a deep breath, and go about your day!
Note: While this may seem like a lot, it really is quite easy once you get the hang of it. You can do it anytime of day, whether you choose to do it when you get stressed, in the morning upon waking up, or in the evening before bed. Find what works for you, but I do recommend attempting to set aside just 5 minutes a day to this practice. You’ll feel much better!