Forget about “clearing your mind” and find what works for you
Everywhere you look, you see people touting the benefits of adding holistic and mindful practices into their daily lives, and the ever-popular phrase “Have you tried meditation?”.
If you’re like me, you scoff and think “Sure. Let me just clear my mind…” followed by cackling laughter that fades into something more like crying. A clear mind sounds completely fake. If my brain isn’t shooting thoughts out in every direction at light speed, I’m probably comatose (and even that isn’t a guarantee of calm).
Despite that, I’m here to tell you that you CAN meditate, it can help, and it’s not what you think it is.
For some people, it’s a daily practice, while for others it’s just for emergency situations – those moments where you feel like your life is spinning out of control.
First of all, let’s get into the subject of what meditation really is. Some people think you have to be a highly spiritual person, or an expert in meditation, or some sort of miracle person who can magically will your mind to be utterly blank.
This is not the case at all, and meditation is available for everyone.
Disclaimer: I am not advocating for “meditation will cure you and you won’t need your meds” – I myself use a healthy balance of traditional medicine and mindfulness to cope with my mental health issues.
What is Meditation?
The practice of meditation has been around for centuries. People have used it for both religious purposes and cultural reasons and there are as many forms of meditation as there are practices.
The art and practice of meditation basically has one goal in mind – to slow down the mind (NOT just empty/clear it). Especially today, we all have such busy lifestyles and even busier minds. Stress levels are up, blood pressure is up and relaxation is down. Add in struggles with mental health and oh boy. This is where meditation comes into play.
The practice of meditation is one where you allow yourself and, most importantly, your mind to relax, rest, and rejuvenate itself. You take time to practice the art of breathing, slowing down your mind, and checking in with yourself to just be in the present moment.
Instead of “clearing” the mind, it’s about focusing on one thing. Your breathing, the present moment, etc. A wandering mind will happen, and it’s not a failure. You accept the thought, you acknowledge it, and then see if you can come back to what you were originally focusing on.
What is the Power of Meditation?
While some people might view meditation as some sort of woo woo practice which doesn’t really work, or isn’t really possible, the truth of the matter is that there is power behind meditation. When a person meditates, your brain waves change, and meditation has the power to change your mindset.
Meditation affects the brain and its brain waves, and incoming information can be slowed down when meditating. Some of the benefits of mediation are:
- Sensory input slows down
- Over-thinking can calm down
- Information overload can slow down
- Anxiety can decrease
- Mild depression can decrease
- Focus can increase
- Memory can improve
- Creativity can unlock and increase
- Stress levels can reduce
- Brain function increases
- Motivation can increase
- Meditation can help you set and achieve goals
Do You Have 5 Minutes a Day?
With anything new you take on, there is always a learning curve. Meditation is something that requires practice and building until it becomes a new habit.
One reason people say they don’t take on the practice of meditation is because they don’t have enough time. I’m here to tell you I started by adding 5 minutes to my morning routine. That’s it. I set a timer for 5 minutes before I start my daily work or errands or anything beyond general waking up.
In fact, in this awesome beginner how-to checklist, the author suggests even setting aside TWO minutes. Everyone can find 2 minutes, right?
You don’t have to jump right in to an hour of meditation every day. I still rarely do more than 30 minutes at a time. You also don’t have to be deep in the woods or have a special meditation corner in your home. You don’t even HAVE to be sitting, if you’re somewhere you’re comfortable standing and closing your eyes.
Even without 5 full minutes at a time, you can use “meditation hacks” or little bursts of meditation-like behavior at various times during your day. Christa Holmans talks about “micro-meditations” that last as little as a few breaths or a few seconds.
Want something a little more visual? Check out this infographic from Dan Harris (also, his book 10% Happier is a great read!).
How to Get Started
Here are my suggestions for starting a meditation practice
- Sit somewhere comfortable where you won’t be interrupted by outside things (like your cat running across your lap or your dog licking your ear). This can be on the floor, in a supportive chair, even on your couch. Again, it’s what works for YOU.
- Set a timer. If you’re feeling daunted at the through of 5 minutes, do 2. But set a timer and stick to it.
- Close your eyes and just start to breathe. Take a few deep breaths and let your body settle and relax.
- Check in with yourself – How does your body feel? What’s the state of your mind right now? Are you tired or anxious? Just become aware of how you are actually doing in this moment.
- Start counting your breaths. Either continuous counting, or do a 4-count to breathe in, 4 counts breathing out.
- When your mind starts to wander or thoughts start flying in (because they WILL) just notice it, acknowledge it, and then return to your breath. Start your count again. You’ll do this a lot at first, and as you practice you may find it gets less. Don’t expect it to stop completely. Having thoughts is completely normal and human.
- If sitting still and quiet is especially hard for you, try guided meditation (there are so many available on YouTube – here’s one of my favorite channels). You may feel hokey the first few times you listen to them, but it gives your mind somewhere to focus rather than you entirely having to police yourself.
- Meditation is a PRACTICE. Keep going. However you’re doing it is right and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
The point is, let go of the preconceptions of meditation, and find small moments and small ways to begin to incorporate it. Build a habit in a way that works for you, and after a while, see what sort of results you notice to your mood, your anxiety, and more.