Growing up, I had heard meditation discussed as some sort of new age nonsense. Subsequently, I had never given much thought to meditation or its possible benefits until my junior year of high school when I had the opportunity to listen to a talk given by a group of Tibetan monks. Seeing the monks in their traditional, orange robes felt decidedly less than new age, and I was drawn to their humility, their down-to-earth demeanor, and their gentleness of spirit.
They spoke of the art of becoming acquainted with yourself and gentle with yourself. They spoke of being comfortable in your mind and body. They approached meditation as a way to understand your emotions and accept them without judgement, which they believe leads to a greater calmness of mind. The phrase that most stood out the most to me was, “Hold the anger like a baby.” Treating your emotions, even a ‘negative’ emotion like anger, with the same gentleness you would treat a baby allows you to understand your emotions and what they are communicating, rather than judging and dismissing them from the start and feeling down on yourself.
Although I did not incorporate meditation into my daily life right away, the monks’ words stayed with me. I was now receptive to the idea of meditation as a gateway to greater emotional freedom and well-being, so a few years later when my therapist recommended the use of a guided meditation app to help me with my anxiety, I readily agreed to try it and downloaded the app later that day. For me, meditation has been very useful in coping with my anxiety as well as some of my depression and trauma-related symptoms. I am still in the process of training my mind, but already regular meditation has been helping me focus and relax.
Here are two different meditation techniques that have helped me so far:
Focusing and being present
Between depression making it difficult for me to get out of bed and anxiety causing me to stress about literally everything, mornings are not the easiest time of day for me. In an effort to make mornings a bit smoother for myself and not leave the house so anxious, I tried to start following a simple morning routine that included 10 minutes of meditation using the “focus pack” on my app. I started this morning meditation because it seemed like a good thing to try and it was in line with the therapy and advice I had received. But after about three days, I noticed that these mini meditation sessions were truly helping settle my mind. I was noticeably less anxious and better able to focus on the tasks at hand without stressing about the billion other details that usually occupied my mind while getting ready for my day. In addition to creating a more pleasant start to the day, these same focus techniques, such as visualizing a light moving up through your body and focusing the breath on each region the light comes to rest on, better enabled me to be present throughout my day whether I was sitting in a boring class, studying, or doing chores.
Relaxation and sleep
Turning off my mind to relax and go to sleep can be challenging. Sometimes journaling right before bed helps empty and relax my mind, but for me it hasn’t been a perfect system. At the beginning of the year, I started a sleep meditation suite and it has worked wonders. This particular meditation starts off with a breathing or other relaxation technique that prepares the body for sleep. Then, it walks you through a scenario such as a stroll through a village, a museum tour, or a float down a river, which helps the mind wind down and gradually fall asleep. Nine times out of ten I will be asleep before the meditation has even ended. For me, this combination of relaxing the body and then the mind has been very effective.
Meditation helps unite the mind and body by allowing you to understand your thoughts, emotions, and the physical reactions they produce. In doing so, it brings a greater calmness of mind and body enabling you to be more fully present. If you would like to get started with meditation but are unsure how, there are a lot of free guided meditation apps as well as other online resources. Don’t worry about doing it the “right” way. Meditation is about being at ease in your own mind. It is a personalized process. Meditate wherever and however best suits you. Make it a regular part of your life and hopefully it will help you find a little margin in your life just as it is helping me.