Editor’s note: For some, the idea may seem New Age-y, but the practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years. We are following along with Fifi as she shares her introduction to meditation and subsequent experiences.
I was first introduced to meditation in college. A friend who was pursuing certification as a yoga instructor asked me to attend a class with her. I was somewhat familiar with the concept of yoga but had never practiced, and I was a little bit nervous about participating.
The class was warm – literally, it was hot yoga – and inviting, as I found each student was able to adapt and move at an individually comfortable pace. At the end, we had about five minutes of guided meditation, an exercise where we visualized complete serenity. We stayed still while the sound of the instructor’s voice guided us across a white sandy beach, imagining the sounds of the ocean and the smell of the salty air.
The purpose was to find calmness and focus by directing our thoughts away from daily troubles and onto the task at hand. When it was time to open our eyes in the dimly lit room, it was a shock to rediscover that we were lying flat on mats on a studio floor.
Meditation can take on many forms, but its roots remain in mindfulness. In my own words, mindfulness is an awareness of and connectedness with the present. It is a constant act of redirecting harmful or unimportant thoughts away and ushering in a focus on “the now.”
The objective is to position oneself in a watchful place – closing out distraction, having patience with one’s self and circumstances, and turning inward for a time of reflection and stillness. Ideally, mindfulness would be practiced both in and outside meditation time.
What is meditation?
Meditation involves the deep focus of the mind for a period of time, for the purpose of relaxation. If you do not have firsthand experience with meditation, you might envision an elderly person doing tai chi in a park, or a devout monk sitting cross-legged for hours.
While these are indeed forms of meditation, it’s good to note that you can start out with just a few moments to begin developing a healthy coping mechanism. The more often you meditate, the more likely you are to experience the outcomes and benefits, which can include:
- Proactive stress management
- Increased productivity and self-awareness
- Better clarity and focus – being more present, less distracted
While in college, I was diagnosed with ADHD, which contributed greatly to my levels of stress and anxiety. The option of medication was offered, but I wanted to explore alternatives to prescriptions. I learned that meditation is recommended for those dealing with ADHD and anxiety disorders. Through the practice, I was better able to focus when studying and retaining new material, and I experienced less anxiety over exams.
How I meditate
I learned to practice first with guided meditation CDs and also through the help of professional therapy. I found it to be an viable alternative to medication to manage my ADHD. My favorite guided-group meditation experiences took place at a small yoga studio in San Diego. I loved the soothing setting – perfect room temperature, dim lighting, easy music and a welcoming vibe.
We worked through a nice vinyasa flow, then returned to seated positions on the mats to slow down our pace a bit and turn inward. Whether you’re in a group setting such as this, or in a quiet part of your home, a few moments of meditation each day can improve the quality of your life. These are the steps I follow:
- I begin by reading and studying to focus on a specific word or concept – for instance, “gratitude” or “trust.”
- I set a timer on my phone with an app (more on this below) or the basic timer feature.
- I sit in a way that reminds me I am grounded – firmly against the floor or a chair, aware of the pressure of my body being supported.
- I close my eyes and shut out distractions.
- I am cognizant of my breathing. I breathe deeply, letting my belly intentionally rise and fall. I train my thoughts on my chosen topic. I ponder it. I take it in, I visualize what it would look like to embody the word or concept successfully throughout my day.
- If my mind drifts, I guide myself back to focus, after telling myself I can entertain the thought later if it is important.
- When my timer goes off, I gently rejoin the world. I open my eyes and resume normal breathing. I acknowledge any before-and-after differences in how I feel, and I shift my thoughts to the next tasks at hand.
My continuing journey
In my case, I have found two big obstacles – one, being distracted when I meditate, and two, struggling to meditate consistently. With the first obstacle, it is important for me to practice self-compassion. If a noise distracts me or if I drift away to a different thought, I am gentle with myself and work to steer my mind back.
I am still learning to handle the obstacle of consistency. I love the Calm app and many of its functions, such as ambient sound and timed meditation (which provides sound pulses to guide breathing). The app also has “sleep stories” to help you get more rest at night. You can set a reminder for the app to notify you each day to meditate. I also like the Tide app, which serves up productivity features as well as a meditation assistant.
If you’d like to give meditation a try but you’re not big on apps, simply set a timer. Many people find their ability to focus increases over time. Remember, meditation is a practice. No one arrives at a place of perfection where they meditate distraction-free, without a single wandering thought. It is about stillness, but you don’t have to meditate for hours to feel the benefits.
Even five minutes can be helpful in achieving peace and focus. Find a Zen backdrop and learn what setting works best. You may choose to meditate at the beach, in the shower, in your car or in nature – there is no wrong location, but be aware that varying levels of noise and light may affect your focus.
In a way, meditation is a lot like worrying – mulling an idea over and over with a singular focus. Except that the goal is to reduce anxiety and soothe fears, not build up or exacerbate them. If you are worried about taking on a new activity that doesn’t align with your beliefs, remember that you are in control. If you meditate alone, you can guide yourself and choose your focus.
Here are three affirmations I have learned to focus on when starting meditation:
- Abundance: I am enough. I have enough. There will be enough.
- No anxiety: I have complete peace. I will live in this present moment.
- Productivity: I am able to do and create great things