But it wasn’t always this way. For the past several years, I made a New Year’s Goal of meditating for 20 minutes once a day. This year, for the first time, I actually realized my goal and consistently maintain it. I meditate first thing every morning for 10-20 minutes and again at night for 20 minutes.
What does it do for me? In a nutshell, it calms me down. Having suffered from anxiety most of my life, I am constantly looking for ways to reduce anxiety that don’t involve popping a pill. Suffering from anxiety is kind of like being a hamster on one of those little spinning wheels. Your brain never seems to slow down. As a result, your body never slows down either – it’s constantly in fight-or-flight mode. While that might actually be helpful in a life-or-death kind of situation, few of us actually find ourselves in one of those these days. Instead, our minds and bodies are constantly gearing up for the “big threat” that never actually comes. Not too good for the body. Or the mind. Meditation can stop anxiety in its tracks by stopping the fight-or-flight response . A big plus for an anxiety sufferer like me.
So how do you start? There are a variety of ways you can meditate. Some work better for me than others.
- Meditating on the breath – This is the most basic type of meditation and one that is easy to learn. It’s as simple as breathing, literally. Begin by focusing on the breath. Where do you feel it in the body? The chest? The belly? If it helps, you can count your inhalations and exhalations. See if you can make it all the way to 10 before your mind wanders off.
- Mindfulness meditation – If your meditation practice feels like an exercise in torture, mindfulness meditation might be a good option for you. Mindfulness meditation is a simple observation – of your breath, your thoughts, the way your body hurts when you sit on your meditation cushion. There’s no judgment here. It’s more of a, “Huh. Would you look at that? There I go thinking about the fight I had with my ex again. Isn’t that interesting?” I like this form of meditation because it allows you to detach from the emotions behind what you’re feeling. You’re a third party to your life for just a little while. Pretty cool, huh?
- Guided visualization – There are a variety of guided visualizations out there. These are another great option if you’re trying to quiet your monkey mind. Basically, the visualization leads you through a journey, giving you something to focus on besides your unruly thoughts.
- Heartbeat meditation – This one is similar to focusing on the breath, except instead of focusing on your breathing, you focus on the sound or feeling of your heart beating.
- Candle meditation – If you are a visual person, having an object to focus on can help you calm down and redirect your attention. Simply light a candle (or any object that would hold your interest for a few minutes), sit about a foot away, and keep your eyes and mind on the candle flame. Watch it dance and play. Now switch your attention to the floor or wall behind the candle. Can you see the reflection/shadow of the candle flame? How is it similar or different from the actual flame?
Meditating, like anything else, takes practice. I still have days where my mind refuses to settle down, and that’s okay. The point is to show up and keep trying.
If you’re saying to yourself, “But I don’t have time to meditate,” think again. Start small – we’re talking 5 minutes. Who doesn’t have 5 minutes? And if you’re thinking about saying, “I don’t,” then find 5 minutes of another activity you can give up. Checking email? Getting on Facebook? Watching TV? I promise your 5 minutes will be much better invested in meditating than in any of those other activities.
I noticed the effects immediately upon starting meditation. Within 2 months, I was able to half the dosage of my anxiety meds. Within 6 months, I halved the dose again. I hope to be off of them altogether by the end of the year. I think I can spare 5 minutes for that.