I was recently hanging out with some friends when the topic of conversation turned to meditation. I shared that I generally try to meditate for a few minutes on a daily basis to ease my anxiety and chill me out. It’s a major part of my self-care routine.
They looked at me with bewilderment. They had experienced various struggles with their attempts at meditation and thought that it simply wasn’t for them. They found it difficult to quiet their thoughts, to be still, to think of absolutely nothing.
I promptly informed them that meditation doesn’t work that way for everyone. It’s a highly individual practice. Maybe some people can just say, “alright, brain, time to shut up,” and proceed to sit with crossed legs in complete silence, but I doubt that the majority of people living in our high-stress society can shut down that easily, myself included.
I started meditating around 2015 at the suggestion of my therapist. It was a major struggle at first. My anxiety was at its peak and racing thoughts were a regular symptom that made the thought of quieting my mind a real challenge. Feeling like I was unable to meditate just made me more anxious.
My therapist suggested a few modifications and I also did my own online research for tricks to help me succeed. After making a some adjustments as to how I was meditating, I slowly got better and better at it. Now meditating (my own version of it, at least) comes naturally to me. I can meditate in my apartment or public spaces for up to an hour. I use it to start my morning in a peaceful way, unwind at the end of a long day, and stop anxiety attacks in their tracks.
Have you struggled to meditate? Here are some tips to try out that could help you ease into it and calm your mind:
- Try grounding your body. Sometimes it takes observing your surroundings to bring on that sense of calm. Grounding is all about taking stock of everything you can physically feel. Close your eyes and start at your feet. Feel the texture of the ground underneath your feet if you’re sitting in a chair. Then take stock of you legs, starting from the bottom and moving up. Are they touching the chair? What does the chair feel like against the back of your legs. Keep moving up through your body and observe every physical sensation as you take deep breaths. Are you touching something soft? Are you feeling something that’s warm or cold? These gentle observations using your sense of touch will help bring you into a more relaxed state.
- Start small. I think a big misconception about meditation is that you have to do it for a long period of time for it to work. I don’t find that to be true. Even just one minute of meditation can help me calm down. Start with a short duration of sitting and breathing and slowly build up your time. One minute, one minute and a half, two minutes, five minutes… Any amount of time can help bring peace to your day.
- Observe your thoughts and let them float away. The Headspace app taught me this one and I’ve found it to be very helpful. Sit and close your eyes and start taking deep breaths. Instead of trying to not think at all, simply observe your thoughts as they come and go while you breath. Let them pass like driving cars or falling leaves. Don’t latch onto any one of them or let one take too much attention. Simply letting thoughts come and go can be very relaxing.
- Hold something. I often like to focus my energy on something outside of myself, especially when my mind is busier than I’d like it to be. I’ll hold my rose quartz palm stone in my hand and run my fingers all over it. I take note of the temperature, the smoothness, and few cracks on the surface. Palm stones are excellent for meditation, but other objects can work as well. Even petting your dog or cat could help you clear your mind. My buddhist college professor had us do this exercise with a blueberry once, so anything is fair game!
- Get rid of distractions. Meditating in the same room as your cell phone is setting yourself up for failure. You may think you have the willpower to not check it, but every little buzz, alert, and light will pull your attention and distract you. Turn off your phone and all other electronics, take off your fitbit, and separate yourself from anything that beeps, ticks, or lights up. Have your meditation space be as distraction-free as possible!
- Write down your thoughts. Sometimes it’s better to give your thoughts time to be expressed instead of trying to hush them. Begin your meditation by hand-writing down whatever is on your mind, from little tasks to deeper thoughts. Declutter your headspace. Let your thoughts flow onto the page and keep writing until you feel you’ve got it all out. Once you feel satisfied, step away from the paper, close your eyes, and take deep breaths. You can revisit what your wrote down after you meditate.
- Walk. Not all meditation has to be about sitting on a pillow. Walking meditation can be a great way to relax if you find it difficult to sit still. Take a walk in a park or natural spot and focus on the action of walking. Somewhere with a lot of cars or noise isn’t ideal for this, so try to find a less busy walking spot. Feel your feet touching down and lifting off of the ground and your arms swinging at your side. Focus on your breath as you walk. Let the action take over your body and your mind.
The bottom line is that there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Take time to experiment and find what works for you. Once you discover what helps you unwind, make it a habit and stick with it. Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you for giving yourself peace.
Did any of these meditation tips help you? Let us know in the comments and share your own hacks there too!