According to mindworks.org, approximately anywhere between 200 and 500 million people meditate regularly, and for good reason. Meditation is said to reduce stress, improve concentration, benefit our cardiovascular and immune health, and better your mood, among a litany of other positive effects. It is especially helpful for individuals with anxiety, depression, and other chronic illnesses like myself, as well as individuals who are under a lot of daily stress from work, family life, or any other external stressors.
While I have incorporated meditation into my life almost daily, it wasn't always a pleasant or relaxing experience. After posting a meme on Instagram highlighting how meditation actually creates more space for anxiety-ridden thoughts to arise for some, I realized I wasn't alone in initially feeling this way. As a result, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a blog post on how I overcame the barriers to making my meditation practice a regular, enjoyable, and beneficial part of my life, so here goes!
External Help: Therapy, Self-Help Books, Mindfulness Class
For those of you whose minds are like mine at times (read: a pinball game of anxious thoughts, paranoia, self-deprecating thoughts, etc.), it can be scary to dedicate time to taming your mind. If you've never meditated before and never worked on getting to the root of the way your mind works, my first suggestion would be working with a therapist. I see my therapist about every other week, but when I started out I went weekly. As I got older, I focused more on where my thoughts were coming from, somewhat like an outsider observer.
For me, knowing what triggered my anxiety and negative thoughts helped me feel less like a stranger in my own head, even though those thoughts still regularly surface. Once I felt more comfortable up in my head through therapy sessions, I was able to start reading self-help books about anxiety, depression, mood imbalances, and so forth. I fully understand that not everyone has access to therapy, so self-help books can be found at the library, and many have workbooks built into them to practice everything from labeling emotions to writing out your fears and deciphering if they're based in fact or fiction.
Another option is practicing mindfulness, whether it's in a class format, a podcast, or YouTube video. Doing so will help you be more in sync with your thoughts and emotions instead of reacting to them after it's too late. I used to pop off thanks to my lovely Sicilian temper, and then I'd look back at the destruction I left behind not knowing what caused my outburst. While I still get angry and experience all the emotions of the rainbow, I now know what causes them and when I need space to ground myself.
Journaling is a great way to process your emotions and thoughts as a precursor to meditation. Many of us had diaries as kids, so look at this as a way to talk to yourself and connect with your thoughts in written form instead of sitting down and meditating in the traditional sense.
As you become more familiar with what sets you off or worries you, consider trying the following activities: writing a letter to your anxiety/depression/temper/etc., write your biggest fears down and work through logical solutions to decrease or remove this fear, write down your fears about meditating or why you think you're struggling with it.
Ultimately, the goals here are to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, to use writing to become more familiar with your inner voice, and to address your fears about meditating.
One of my biggest roadblocks was not knowing how to meditate on my own and finding that there are hundreds of resources to turn to from guided meditations on YouTube, to books, to apps. Currently, I use Headspace and it truly is a godsend. The free version provides you with three levels of 10 educational sessions, so 30 in all, to get you jump started with your practice.
Andy, the creator and voice guiding your meditations, is very helpful, compassionate, and understanding in his voice overs. Plus, you won't be met with complete silence as you're meditating, unless if you prefer to meditate without any guidance - the app has that option as well. Even better, the app is easy to use, has really eye catching graphics and educational videos, and tracks your progress and success. It's like a motivational buddy and teacher all at once. I highly recommend!
Build Up to Longer Sessions
When I first opened myself up to meditating I was intimated by people who said they mediated 30 minutes to an hour. First, I felt like who the hell has the time for that amidst our busy, modern schedules. Second, I was truly scared to give my mind that much time to go haywire. So, let me present an analogy to you to better explain the point I'm trying to make.
If you had never lifted weights before, you wouldn't go into the gym and try to do 30 reps of squats with an astronomical weight on the bar, right? Or if you did try to do that, you'd realize you need to build up your strength first, whether through less reps and less weight, less reps, or less weight.
That being said, try meditating for 3-5 minutes every few days when you're starting out. Or maybe you do ten minutes once a week - it's whatever works best for *you*. In my mind, it's totally up to you to determine your meditation practice, and don't worry about other people and how many days/minutes they're logging. If you're taking the time to sit down and meditate, you're all good in my book :)
Explore Different Types of Meditation
I'm going to assume that when most people hear the word "meditation" an image of someone sitting with their eyes closed and taking deep breaths comes to mind. This is a very popular way to meditate, but there are other ways to reap the benefits of meditation that involve movement and other actions. Here are some that I've tried before:
Yoga is a great way to live in the moment and connect with your mind, body, and soul. I personally just pull up YouTube videos and do them in my room, but you can always attend a restorative yoga class at a studio or local gym. Yoga, in and of itself, gently forces you to focus on each move, your breath, and how you feel as you hold poses - these are all elements that better help you be present, which is also one of the goals of meditation. Plus, a lot of yoga classes/videos have a built-in meditation session at the very end when your mind may be calmer and more open to traditional meditation.
Dancing is one of my favorite things to do. I love music because it gives me a way to express myself, connect to something I deem to be a higher power, and live in the moment. If you don't like to dance, completely ignore this suggestion, but if you enjoy dancing, consider throwing on some tunes and really observing your body move and the words, melodies, and emotions that the song evokes. An added benefit is that you're getting some quality exercise and practicing your sweet moves ;)
Whether it's shoving food down our throats as we rush from one thing to the next or mindlessly snacking late at night while we watch TV, our relationship with food in the modern world is an unhealthy one, unfortunately. But practicing mindful eating can benefit us in so many ways, and again, help us focus on the here and now.
Here are some tips for incorporating this practice:
Well, there ya have it: Yoolie's crash course to making your current or future meditation practice less daunting and anxiety-ridden. What are your thoughts? Did you find this helpful? Do you have any added suggestions or tips? Let me know in the comments!