How to Start Meditating When it Feels Strange | Isinmi Candle Co.
I'll be honest: whenever someone suggested that I consider meditating, my reaction was something along the lines of, "I'm good. Stress is just a part of life."
My first real exposure to meditation came during my second year of law school when a professor asked the entire class to meditate before each session began. To be honest, it felt odd to sit in a classroom with dozens of people with my eyes closed and in complete silence while some sounds of water played in the background. What was I supposed to think about? What was I supposed to do? I didn’t take this suggestion to meditate seriously and, instead, used the time to scroll on social media and plan what I wanted for dinner that night.
Fast forward to my first few of years practicing law. Like many, I was drowning in stress and anxiety. My mind never seemed to rest and I was constantly thinking of my never ending to-do list. As I began venting to friends, many told me about the benefits of meditation and how it helped reduce their stress and anxiety. Hearing this, I decided to give it a try. I mean, what did I have to lose?
I was so distracted the first few times I tried to meditate. My mind wondered so much and I felt no relief from all the stress that I quickly gave up the practice. While I understood the benefits of meditation in theory, I just didn't think mediation would work for me. That is, until the pandemic forced us all to slow down in some ways and confront the anxiety and stress many of us carried as badges of honor.
As I scrolled through social media during my breaks to try and distract myself from the news, I was bombarded with advertisements for phone applications such as Calm and Headspace that boasted about the benefits of meditation. Nearly five months into the pandemic, I was desperate for some type of peace and relief and figured out I could try out the applications and just see if they helped. Again, what did I have to lose? This time, however, I wanted to commit to this practice, even when it felt awkward and even when I didn’t think I had five minutes to spare. I had to step back and actually consider what meditation was and what I wanted to achieve out of it. Was I looking for the mental health equivalent of a “get rich quick” scheme or was I willing to actually do the work and…well…be mindful? I choose the latter.
What is meditation?
There are so many different types of meditation, including concentration meditation and mindfulness meditation, At its core, meditation is about training your mind in awareness and obtaining a health perspective. It’s about learning to observe yourself and others without judgment and, potentially, getting a better understanding of those things.
Over the past year, I have focused on mindfulness meditation, which gives space to focus on the present moment with openness and without judgment and to be fully engaged in whatever you may be doing in a given moment. As I mentioned, I constantly found myself unable to focus on the present moment and, instead, was consumed with past decisions or potential future problems. I was consumed in a never ending cycle of planning, obsessing, and worrying. Mindfulness meditation seeks to interrupt this pattern and focus on our minds on the present moment. Now, this doesn’t mean that I didn’t think about the future or otherwise make plans, but it did mean that I was engaged in now allowing myself to be consumed by doing so.
What are some benefits of meditation?
Meditation isn’t an immediate or complete remedy to easing the stressors of life. However, it can provide needed space during your day to calm your mind and check in with yourself. Studies have shown it can provide may benefits such as improved blood circulation, lower heart rate, less anxiety and stress, deeper relaxation, and more feelings of well-being.
For me, choosing to meditate was as simple as me no longer wanting to feel like I was on autopilot when it came to living my life. I wanted to actually experience joy each day or, at the very least, appreciate each moment instead of worrying so deeply about the past or future.
What does meditation look like?
The best advice I got when it came to start meditating is to keep it simple.
From the outside looking in, meditation can look rather passive. You’re sitting eerily still and silent with your eyes closed and while taking multiple deep breaths. What I quickly learned when I began meditating was just how active and intentional it was. Even so, there are no hard and fast rules to meditation. You don’t have to sit a certain way or be in a certain type of room. You don’t have to do it at only certain times of the day and you certainly don’t have to it for hours and hours.
There is no right way to meditate, but there are five tips to help you be successful:
- Keep your expectations realistic.
When I first started, I thought meditation would be a quick way to ease my stress and anxiety. I thought I would do it a few times and be good to go. I was wrong. Meditation is a worthwhile practice and has many benefits for both the mind and body, but those benefits take time and consistency to be realized. It is critical to set realistic expectations when you begin your journey. Let go of what you think you should experience or how quickly you should feel less stress, and simply enjoy exploring the moment.
- Find a quiet and comfortable place.
You’ll find me meditating in one or two places: either sitting in my office chair with the door closed or laying on my bedroom floor with the windows open.
No matter where you decide to meditate, it’s helpful to find a place where you can be calm and away from distractions for a few minutes. It’s equally helpful to find a position that works for you. You don’t need to spend hours sitting on a pillow with your legs crossed if that is comfortable for you. Find a position that you can sustain for a few minutes or however long you want to meditate. Relax your shoulders, release any tension you may be carrying in your body, like your jaw, and keep your back straight.
- Close your eyes and remember your breath.
Once you’ve found a comfortable position, the next step is to close your eyes and focus on your breath. There is no need to breath a certain way; just breath naturally. Focus your attention on your breath and how your body moves with each inhale and exhale and notice how your body moves with each breath. Do your shoulders move up with each breath? Does your stomach expand? Focus on your breath without judgment and without trying to control its pace. And when your mind inevitably wanders to think about something else, simply return your focus back to your breathe.
- Start slow.
When I first started, I struggled with the concept of being completely still for any prolonged period of time. In fact, I thought I had to meditate for least 30 minutes from the beginning to get any benefits I wanted and when I was unable to commit to that length of time, I gave up. But even the most seasoned meditators will tell you to being with short sessions to start.
Think of meditating like getting ready for a marathon. You wouldn’t wake up one day after never running and run 26.2 miles straight. You would likely start small: 15 minute walks a few times a week that would eventually become running several miles a day. Meditating is so similar. Try meditating for two or three minutes when you first start and, as it feels right to you, you can increase the amount of time you spend. I personally enjoy short, ten minute sessions.
- There is no shame in using guided meditation.
Using applications such as Calm or Headspace take the guesswork and much of the stress out of meditation. Not only can you set the amount of time you want to spend meditating, but these apps will also remind you of your breath and releasing any tension you may be holding. I still use these apps when I find myself in a meditation rut.
I’m so excited for you to start your journey of meditation!