Have you been meaning to meditate, but can’t quite get past the sitting still part? Or maybe you’ve already tried and can’t seem to get your mind to shut off.
My patients have recently shown more interest in learning to meditate as more studies come out demonstrating its many benefits. But they often sheepishly admit to feeling intimidated by the concept of sitting alone, staying still, and especially having to quiet the mind. It might be a relief to know that meditation isn’t about being perfectly Zen and having no thoughts. We need meditation precisely because we have so many ideas, emotions, and to-do lists running through our minds at any given moment. Meditation is a conscious choice to take a mini-break from the burdens of having so much on our minds, even if only for a moment, and allow in a little more clarity. Over time, this leads to a more fulfilling, productive, and mindful way of living.
There are many ways to meditate, and you probably do some of them already without even realizing it. Whenever you simply close your eyes and sit still, believe it or not, you are starting a meditation. You might do it when you are zoned out on the bus or train, or while waiting in lines. While preparing for an important meeting or presentation, maybe you find yourself taking a moment to focus. During an acupuncture session, you rest in a meditative state. And that thing you do in savasana… you guessed it! You are meditating. At first, it may only be for five minutes, but over time, you may find yourself sitting for longer periods (20 minutes is about average).
The simplest form of meditation is to sit quietly and observe the breath. Sounds easy, right? This is actually what many people find very frustrating. It can be a challenge to sit quietly, so I find that using some of the following visualizations can really help:
- Visualize any burdens you have in your life or thoughts you have on your mind being wrapped in bubbles and drifting away. Then bring your awareness back to your breathing. If those thoughts enter your mind again (they likely will), just repeat the visualization.
- As thoughts enter your mind or you find yourself on a mental rant, visualize exhaling that thought as a cloud of smoke; then bring your awareness back to your breathing. Repeat as necessary.
- Visualize your thoughts as clouds passing before you. You can see and acknowledge them, but then let them drift along peacefully.
- Visualize your lungs expanding as you inhale and shrinking as you exhale.
When you engage visualizations like these, you are reminding yourself that you are not your thoughts. You are the thinker, the observer, and you can be more in control of what happens in your mind. This becomes a very different experience of your “self” as you shift from being a victim of your thoughts to being able to control and influence them. And that is when the real Zen stuff starts to happen.