Meditation is a practice that can help you feel calmer and more grounded. There are many ways to meditate. Some people focus on their breath; others repeat a saying or mantra; and others simply spend time in quiet contemplation or prayer.
Given how busy and goal-oriented we tend to be, it is easy to wonder if meditation is a waste of time or simply a luxury. However, even just a few minutes a day can help.
Tips for Meditating
The main guideline is that you cannot do it wrong. Many people think that to meditate properly or to get benefits, you must quiet your mind completely. However, in reality, thoughts will naturally come up during meditation. The goal of meditation is to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. Some people use the term 'sitting' rather than 'meditating'. People have fewer preconceptions about the term 'sitting'. Most people do not think that they sit wrong, so it might be helpful to think of it as sitting quietly rather than meditating.
Plan to sit for a short time in the beginning. Even just 5 minutes will make a difference. Set a timer so that you do not have to keep checking the clock. If 5 minutes is too long, plan to sit for just a few minutes.
Your eyes can be open or shut. Do what feels right to you.
Sit comfortably. If it is helpful, imagine points in your lower abdomen, heart, and head. Allow those three points to align vertically which will help to straighten your posture naturally. You want your posture to be reasonably erect, but do not get too focused on posture or sit in a way that is uncomfortable.
As you sit, focus on your breath as it goes in and out. As you breathe in, allow your lower abdomen to expand. As you exhale, your lower abdomen contracts. Notice how your body feels as you breathe. Occasionally, return to the sensation in your lower abdomen (an inch or two below your belly button). Your mind will most likely drift to other sensations, feelings, or thoughts, which is completely normal. When you notice that you are thinking about something else, simply return your focus to your breath and lower abdomen. (Note: This type of breathing is called abdominal breathing or deep breathing. It can be very useful in calming anxiety, even without meditating.)
When your timer sounds, take a moment to slowly come back to your normal routine.
Practice, Practice, Practice...
Like most other things, it takes practice and time to feel comfortable with meditation. As you meditate more, your ability to focus will increase. Think of it as a skill that you are building. Over time, you might want to increase the time or sit twice a day.
Remember that you will get distracted while you meditate. Most people are surprised at how difficult it is to stay focused on their breath. When you notice that your mind is wandering, smile about it and go back to noticing your breath or whatever you are focusing on during the meditation. Remember that stray thoughts are part of meditating. The goal is not to sit with a perfectly quiet mind but to become more mindful and aware of the present moment.
Other Ways to Meditate
If focusing on your breath does not work well for you, you might want to try silently saying 'in' as you breathe in and 'out' as you breathe out (or 'breathing in' and 'breathing out'). Counting breaths can also help. You could count breaths to four and then start counting over. Or you can count to four and then count backwards.
Sometimes, focusing on the breath distracts people or causes people to drift too much or lose focus. If this happens, sometimes focusing on physical sensations helps. You can focus on the physical sensations in your hands or another part of your body. One option is to put your hands together in a comfortable way and focus on the physical sensation of your hands touching. You can also focus on any other part of your body (feet touching the floor, legs, torso, back, arms, face).
Alternatively, instead of focusing on breath or physical sensations, some people focus on a saying, silently repeating the saying many times throughout the meditation. For example, you can silently say 'peaceful' every time you breathe in and say 'calming' as you breathe out. Or 'anger', 'stress', or 'overwhelm' as you breathe in and 'releasing' as you breathe out. You can also choose a favorite saying and repeat it silently.
If you prefer a meditation that is more mentally active, you might enjoy the loving kindness meditation approach. It uses several blessings that are repeated silently to various people. The main goal is to increase love and compassion.
If meditating makes you feel more distressed, please find someone who can help or try something else.
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