Gateway Region YMCA
Originally published in the August 2019 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
So many of us feel stressed, fatigued, rushed and short on quality time. There are consequences for living in an overstimulated society. Sensory overload can negatively affect our physical and mental well-being. It is vital to practice methods to reduce overstimulation when possible. Meditation can help your brain get away from the habit of excessive multi-tasking.
First, it is important to understand what meditation is. You will find many definitions but they all have a common theme; meditation is what you do with full awareness. You do not have to be seated a certain way in silence to be meditating. You might be walking or engaged in a task or hobby. You do not need to involve a whole new set of skills, do something that is familiar to you that requires your full attention.
Meditation is not about stopping all thoughts or creating a "blank mind." Thoughts will arise and the key is to allow them to come and go without judging or clinging to them. You are actually observing the activity of your mind. You will not ignore feelings that arise during meditation, you acknowledge them and let them go. The most common phrase I hear when discussing meditation with a beginner is, "I don't think I'm doing it right." The good news is, there is no right way or wrong way to meditate.
There are numerous benefits of meditation, including increased happiness, better health (physical and mental), improved relationships, increased performance in work/school, improvement in sports/fitness and enlightenment. Research has shown that meditation changes the chemistry of the brain. Some people require scientific evidence on this topic so take 3 minutes to watch, "The Scientific Power of Meditation," by ASAP Science.
How do you go about starting a meditation practice? For beginners, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. There are various options, no extreme or strict rules. It is not always easy or peaceful. You might want to start by creating a safe, comfortable space surrounded by your favorite things (candles, photos, flowers, pillows). You can also do things that are calming to you, like petting your dog, woodwork, coloring, sewing, yoga, gardening. Allow your thoughts to come and go as you do these calming activities. You might like to be in a peaceful outdoor space. A great way to start is to practice what is referred to as mindful breathing. In mindful breathing, you learn to focus on your own breath.
Some mindful breathing techniques cue you to breathe a certain way but you are encouraged to breathe normally and not alter your breathing in any way. Notice the endless cycle of breath and how your belly rises and falls. You can count your cycles of breath up to 10 and when you reach 10, start over with counting. It often is helpful for beginners to count breath to help facilitate mindfulness.
Practice meditation first thing in the morning before the day gets away. Try to link it in with your daily routine, something that is automatic like brushing your teeth (wake up, brush teeth, meditate). Start with 2-3 minutes and gradually build up the time (or not). It is actually more beneficial to meditate for a short amount of time every day as opposed to an extended period of time once a week. It is beneficial to schedule your meditation, make a meditation date with yourself. Put it in your calendar. Sometimes just seeing the word "meditation" can be an incentive. Ideally, you will eventually be able to take this practice out into the world where the environment is less controlled and you have more distractions. You can absolutely practice meditation in public, likely where we need it the most. You might like to try a guided meditation to start. In a guided meditation, you listen to someone who leads you through the meditation. You will receive the benefits of meditation whether you are listening to someone guide you or not.
1. Ideally, first thing in the morning (you will receive benefits any time of the day)
2. Schedule it, put it in your calendar
3. Link it to a habit in your daily routine
4. Create a calming space or do a calming activity
5. Start with 2-3 minutes and gradually increase (or not)
6. Practice mindful breathing (try counting cycles of breath up to 10)
7. Try a guided meditation
Try not to be so hard on yourself when starting a meditation practice. Take the pressure off and allow your practice to unfold. Do not get discouraged, the benefits will come. Each time you practice, congratulate yourself on taking the time to improve your overall well-being. Enjoy learning more about yourself and the activity of your mind.