Two summers ago, I had my first of two (unexpected) orthopedic surgeries. When I learned that it would be a nine month recovery process, and I wouldn’t even begin to do any meaningful exercise for the first six months, I was devastated. My panicked inner mind screamed out: Yoga is the only thing that relaxes me! Running is my best stress reliever! What am I going to do?! And then my more thoughtful inner mind said: It could be so much worse. You are lucky you can be healed. You will find another way.
So, I did. I was unexpectedly pushed into meditation, and I can honestly say, it has been one of the best additions to my life since. For me, the biggest benefits have been: decreased stress, a sense of stillness, better concentration, and a majorly increased ability to be in the present moment. Here are three steps to take as you consider starting or deepening your meditation practice (all from my personal experience–I am not trained or certified, just have a deep love and appreciation).
- Know What It Is–And Isn’t. I used to think that meditation was all about sitting quietly with your legs crossed and clearing your mind. While that notion is *close* it doesn’t quite capture what meditation is about. Meditation comes down to two things: focusing on the breath and noticing your thoughts. There are many techniques for meditation, but they all come back to these two things. The ultimate goal is to focus on the breath. Just one mindful breath during a session can make all the difference. Thoughts will inevitably cross your mind. The key to meditation is to notice the thoughts as an observer, and send them on their way, coming back to the breath each and every time.
- Get Started. I started using the free version of the Calm app early on in my meditation journey, and after a month, upgraded to the full version (about $60 for a year), and I have and will continue to re-up my membership. They have a meditation for every mood, from ‘deep focus’ to ‘loving-kindness’ to one of my favorites, ‘forgiveness of self’. There are oh so many, including timed and open meditations, daily topics, and sleep stories. There are countless other apps out there, and I strongly recommend using one as you’re getting started. I sometimes meditate without the app, but for me, the structure and background sounds are incredibly helpful as I narrow my focus to the breath. Or of course, you can start without an app – set a timer, and on each breath in say “In” and on each breath out say “Out” – or whatever word or affirmation you like (try love, give, or here/now).
- Remember this. Most importantly, know this: there should not be any pressure to become “good” at meditating. You will inevitably have days where you are totally in it and able to focus on the breath, and days where you can’t sit still, you can’t passively notice your thoughts, and you cannot wait to be done. I have had both incredibly profound sessions, and incredibly frustrating sessions. There is no failure in meditation, there is no right or wrong, but there is a practice. You’ll likely find, as I did, that the more you do it, the more you get better at simply noticing your thoughts but continuously coming back to the breath. Don’t worry about whether you are good or not – it’s really about showing up, day after day.
If you are on a meditation journey, or are planning on starting one–I would love to hear. What are your favorite techniques, apps, or methods?
I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes on meditation, from Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.”