Meditation. You’ve heard that it will help your anxiety or help you sleep better or just calm the heck down. While that’s all true, it can feel a little intimidating when you first start, especially if you’re not in the habit of turning your brain off for any length of time. So, how do you get started with meditation if you’ve never done it before?
First, a little backstory. Meditation was awkward for me when I first started, too. My brain was busy. All. The. Time. I worked crazy long hours at my corporate job, then would come home and collapse on the couch, exhausted, until it was time for bed, at which point, my brain would fire right up and replay every single conversation I had that day.
Should I have said that? Does she think I’m mad at her? What did he mean when he said that to me? I
Any downtime my brain had would be quickly filled by every conversation and situation from either the long ago past or some imagined future that wasn’t likely to actually happen. It was exhausting.
I can’t even remember now when I first heard about guided meditations or why exactly I wanted to try them out. It was definitely pre-iPhone because I remember I had to sit in my office at home and play it on my desktop computer (so basically ancient times….). But I was hooked after the first time. My body relaxed, my brain focused on something productive and I felt oddly energized afterwards.
Since then, I’ve experimented with all kinds of meditation: guided meditations, binaural beats, laying quietly, using mudras, chanting, you name it! But the practice of meditation is quite simple to begin and doesn’t need to feel intimidating at all.
First of all, what is meditation and why would you do it?
In short, meditation is a process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. Simple, right?? Well, it does take a little bit of effort, but mainly repetition. The key word being “training”. But the benefits are significant.
The main reason most people learn to meditate is for stress reduction. Just like I did a decade or so ago, everything in my life felt stressful and I needed a little time where I could just relax. Really relax. Because if you’re stressed out, it’s likely affecting other areas of your life like your quality of sleep, what you’re eating and even your physical health.
And less stress leads to less anxiety. Whether you’re dealing with an anxiety-related mental health issue or situational anxiety related to a specific stressor in your life, meditation can help relieve some of your symptoms.
Meditation can also help you sleep better and control pain, reduce your blood pressure, help fight addictions, lengthen your attention span and ultimately help you become more self-aware and even tap into spiritual guidance. It’s an incredibly powerful tool!
Okay, so you’re sold on this whole meditation thing. Now, how do you actually do it?
First, you’re going to want to find a quiet spot and get comfortable, whatever this means for you. Personally, I like to lie down or sit in a recliner. For me, this is much more comfortable than sitting cross-legged because after about five minutes, my legs start falling asleep or tingling and that’s distracting.
Worried that you might fall asleep? Yeah, it could happen. Typically, if you fall asleep during meditation, it means your body needed it. So go ahead, fall asleep and get a little rest. Even a 20-minute nap can have a big improvement on our mood and energy levels for the rest of the day. That being said, if you’re always falling asleep when you meditate then you might want to find another position that’s comfortable, but not quite so sleep-inducing.
Then, you’ll want to set a timer on your phone. 20 minutes is more than enough time for a good meditation, but start with what feels doable for you. Even five or ten minutes is a good place to start. You can increase your time as you get more comfortable.
If you’re completely new to meditation, start with a guided meditation. You can find plenty of them online or on iTunes or Spotify. Type in “Guided meditation for” whatever you’d like help with: sleep, anxiety, relaxation, etc. One of my favorites is actually a podcast called Meditation Station by Stin Hansen.
The nice thing about guided meditation is that you’re not completely alone with your thoughts. You have someone walking you through a relaxation and visualization practice. So just put your headphones on, close your eyes and listen to the soothing instructions.
When you feel ready to just sit quietly for meditation, you’ll likely need to practice a bit more focus, because this is when it’s easy for your brain to take over the show. I typically lie down, close my eyes and visualize myself kind of stepping through a curtain into another location (usually somewhere in nature). It’s a signal to my brain that I’m going to a different place now and don’t want to be disturbed.
Sometimes stories or visions will play out while I’m in that place (that’s cool, just let it happen), but often times I just observe myself sitting quietly in nature somewhere. Don’t be surprised if you see colors or shapes or images from seemingly out of nowhere. That’s your brain relaxing and tapping into another place you don’t normally let come through with all your brain chatter.
When the inevitable thoughts do pop up, I just catch myself and then say “Not now” while bringing myself back to the quiet place. Do this as many times as you need to until your alarm goes off. The more you practice, the easier it will be.
Another wonderful meditation practice is using affirmations. If you have something in your life you want to focus on, you can repeat them to yourself either out loud or in your head for a few minutes each day. I typically pair an essential oil with an affirmation as the scent helps to unlock my emotions and supercharge my intentions. Here are some ideas for affirmations you can use, courtesy of Louise Hay.
- I am an open channel for creative ideas.
- I forgive myself and set myself free.
- I am surrounded by love.
- Abundance flows freely through me.
- My body takes me everywhere, effortlessly and easily.
- Wellness is the natural state of my body.
The more you meditate, the easier it will be. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you or schedule time in your calendar for this practice each day and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your brain starts to shift. Within a few months of regular practice (3-4 times each week), I realized a lot of that internal obsessive chatter and negative self-talk had quieted down.
Try it for yourself and see how it can start changing your life.