In an ongoing effort to stay relevant to hashtag trends, I'm using #wellnesswednesday today to share my thoughts and experiences with meditation.
Until this year, the closest thing I had to a regular meditation practice was the savasana at the end of my somewhat regular yoga taking. Savasana is different than meditation -- it comes from a different intention and serves a different purpose. And in the classes I teach, it's often an excuse for me to drop some amazing knowledge bombs via appropriate song lyrics that I hope at least one person recognizes. (See the playlist at the end of this post for some of my favorites.)
But as part of the 40-day (Are you tired of hearing about this yet? SORRY NOT SORRY!) we were asked to cultivate a meditation practice. I didn't expect to like this part, but damn -- I ate it up. I found myself really looking forward to the 5, 10, 15 minutes I set aside each morning to clear some space, connect to my breath, quiet my non-stop brain, and set a focus for the day.
I do a mix of guided meditations and using a timer with some soothing background beach-y noises (forever longing for the ocean). Some mornings I just know that I need someone else to help ease me away from my thoughts, and that's when I turn to the guided practices. They're a way to get me out of my own head quickly, give my brain something else to do, and really calm me down. But I like a lot of space, even with a guide, to settle into silence. Just letting the sounds of the waves roll by transports me to my happiest soul place and allows me to truly tune out to everything and get present to what's coming up in my head.
I never understood that question -- what comes up when you meditate? -- until it started happening. A few weeks ago, I found myself just saying a certain phrase over and over again, like I couldn't let it go. Not a mantra, really, but just something stuck in a loop in my head that gave me some insight into what's been plaguing my anxieties lately. Meditation can help clear out some space so we can see what's below the surface.
It doesn't always happen. Maybe half the time, I find myself in a constant state of pulling myself away from the tangents and back to my breath. It's a non-stop practice of staying present and being mindful of my wandering thoughts. There are a lot of mornings when it's very hard not to run through my to-do list or ruminate on something that bugged me from the day before. But there are also real moments of quiet clarity that feel like such a gift, when I lost the immediate connection to my body and become just a bit more open and spacious. I can physically feel myself expanding and losing my borders. (Yeah, it's weird.) It's a feeling I do chase with savasana, and finding it sitting on a cushion in my bed feels like magic.
On that note, you don't need anything special to meditate. I usually wake up, make sure I didn't forget about any urgent appointments, brush my teeth, open the blinds to coax in the weak winter sunlight, and then climb back into my bed to meditate. I sit up against the wall or sometimes bring my yoga bolster into the bed to sit on, but I like the covers over my lap because my room is cold and I'm not ready to give up my sleep coziness. Sometimes I sit on the floor, but it always feels a little strange to be up close and personal with my dresser or book case.
If you're just getting started or want an easy way to get into guided meditation, I can't recommend the Insight Timer app enough. It is free to use and doesn't have ads, and it has a giant library of guided meditations on all types of subjects from hundreds of teachers. It also, as the name implies, can serve just as a timer -- you can set background noise, a starting and ending sound, and a time limit. I use both of these. The library can be very overwhelming at first, and I've tried and stopped many guided sessions that didn't vibe with my style. It's okay to end something and start over.
Here are some of my favorite guided sessions and teachers on the app:
- Magical Morning Meditation (20 minutes)
- Shift Meditation (15 minutes)
-Anapana Breath (10 minutes -- this is a great starter one!)
- Morning Ritual (10 minutes)
- Morning Energy Meditation (17 minute)
The app also tracks your sessions, and you can add offline sessions to your log. As a person who gets very excited by data, seeing how many minutes I've meditated this month and how many days I can carry my streak keeps me motivated. (And unlike how I sometimes stay laying down on the couch but just wave my arm in the air to get more "standing hour" credits on my Apple Watch, I don't cheat on Insight Timer.) You can connect with friends and say "thanks for meditating with me" to anyone on the app -- I get a few of these messages every day, and it always makes me smile.
The benefits of meditation of widely publicized: less stress, better sleep, clarity, focus, calmness, etc. We can literally alter our body chemistry and lower our cortisol levels through meditation -- it's astounding.
Give it a try. Set a goal of 5 minutes a day, and see where that takes you. Maybe, like me, you'll get hooked and work your way up to 20 or 30 minutes. And as the saying goes, "If you don't have time to meditate for 10 minutes, sit and meditate for 20."
(As promised, a quick rundown of my Savasana faves. Don't be surprised to hear one of these on Friday.