Why I meditate
For the past week, I’ve been unsettled. My skin is breaking out, I’m not sleeping well, I’m struggling to focus at work, my allergies have kicked up, and balance is eluding me both in my workouts and at home. Thankfully, I attended a yoga class last night and the teacher reminded us that yoga (which means, literally, to yolk the body and the mind) is made up of practices like movement and breathe and mantra that give us the space and time we need to redirect what could be a crap day or an unsettled week. Yoga can quiet the spinning rollercoaster of our minds.
Inspired by her reminder, I spent 20 minutes today meditating, breathing, and trying to figure out the why behind my unsettled feelings. True to form, this meditation changed everything about my week. I got clear on what I need to do to feel better. I realized I’d been holding tension in certain areas of the body. I left my at home meditation session feeling much, much better.
How to meditate at home
First, turn on some chill music (I love the “Yoga & Meditation” playlist on Spotify). If you have candles in the room, light them. An essential oil diffuser can also be a nice added touch. Remove distractions (I love my pup, but I usually put him in the other room). Maybe dim the lights. Find a pillow or blanket to sit on, with your legs criss cross applesauce in front of you (you can also sit on your shins, if that’s more comfortable). If sitting for a while hurts your back, set yourself up so your back is against the wall. (Ideally you shouldn’t be resting all your weight on the wall, you should just be supported by the wall). Then close your eyes softly and start to focus on your breathing. Lengthen out your inhales and exhales. Sometimes, when I can’t focus at the outset, I count the length of my inhales and exhales (inhale for a count of 3…2…1… exhale for 3…2…1; inhale for a count of 4…3…2…1… exhale for 4…3…2…1).
Next, I’d recommend choosing one of these 5 types of meditation. Some people can just sit quietly for 10 minutes, but I can’t– my brain is busy! I actually thought I straight up couldn’t meditate before learning these tools, but now I meditate at home all the time to check in with myself, create space between life’s stimuli (things that happen to me) and my responses, and slow down.
1. Counting Meditation
Count your breathes. Inhale, Exhale, 1. Inhale, Exhale, 2. When you feel your brain moving off track– thinking about dinner, or something you forgot to do at work– start at 1 again. For me, this mostly involves going “1… 2…. 1… 1… 2… 1”. Quieting my mind is hard work but it’s the effort to quiet things that makes all the difference. You don’t have to be a perfect meditator!
2. The Mindful Body Scan
This is one of my favorite meditations because it takes about 10 minutes total and gives me a lot of insight into how I’m really doing. Starting with your toes, slowly inhale and exhale, focusing on each part of your body one at a time. Toes, ankles, calves, knees, quads, gluts, hips… you get the picture. As you scan your body, simply notice how you feel. Are your hips tight? Does your stomach hurt? Is your brow furrowed? Inhale and notice what’s going on. Exhale and release tension.
Once you’ve scanned your physical body, take a pass through your mind. What are you feeling? Can you label those feelings? Do any of those feelings connect with the things you noticed in your body? (For example, when I’m anxious, my stomach always cramps up).
Then take a step even further away: What is the quality of your thoughts? Hectic? Smooth? Calm? Anxious? Again, all you’re doing is noticing these things without trying to change them.
3. Sound Bouncing
This is a good one for those of us who live in busy cities. Close your eyes and begin to slow your inhales and exhales. Then listen for a specific noise outside your window. Once you’ve found it, label it, then move on. For example: Listen… “That’s a car motor.” Listen… “That’s a barking dog.” This type of meditation allows you to observe without becoming attached to any one sound or sensation.
4. Mantra Meditation
Before you begin, pick a word or idea that resonates with you. I often choose something like “I am breathing in calm, I am breathing out anxiety.” Before difficult conversations, I use “I am showing up, I am listening.” Some people like to use “sat nam” which means “I am that who I wish to be,” or “Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha” which translates to “may all obstacles be removed from my path.”
Repeat your mantra over and over, with your inhales and exhales. Sometimes it can take a few minutes to find something that feels authentic to you, which is just fine. Sometimes I say the words out loud, too, which feels extra powerful.
As you repeat your mantra, you’ll notice that the emotions behind the words might change. Even if I wasn’t calm at the outset of my meditation, repeating “I am calm” for 5 minutes actually makes me feel calmer! Today, “I am stuck” felt apt, so I repeated it over and over again until it felt false to me. Either way, I walk away feeling better.
5. Guided meditation
If none of these meditation tools appeal to you, try meditating via an app like Headspace or Calm. Both are very highly reviewed and offer free trials for newbies and advanced meditators alike. You can choose the length and type of meditation you prefer, and someone usually guides you through the 8-10 minute session.
How long should I meditate for?
For however long you want! When I started meditating, I could only sit for about 5 minutes. Now I can sit for 10, sometimes 15 minutes. The length of the meditation doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re trying to create space for quiet, though.
During my 200 hour yoga teacher training program, we spent a week meditating and writing about our experiences. Each day, we tried a different style and increased the meditation length by 1 minute. By the end of the week, I was sitting for 17 minutes. If you’re looking to expand your meditation practice, this is could be a useful tool for you.
Do you have a favorite meditation style? Let me know in the comments!