What is meditation?
Meditation is a practice that settles the mind and body. Meditation is the practice of becoming aware of having a thought, and then gently and without judgment, coming back to a point of focus (breath, body awareness, mantra, etc.), repeatedly, and without judgment. Jon Kabat-Zinn uses the metaphor of the surface of the ocean as a way of understanding meditation. “On the ocean, the waves never stop. Meditation practice is not intended to stop the waves so that the water becomes peaceful or tranquil. Meditation practice will help you “keep your balance” as you ride the waves.”
Isn’t meditation about unplugging from technology?
Technology isn’t bad in and of itself. With clear intention and purpose, technology can be helpful. But yes, our goal is to be ultimately able to meditate technology-free. But apps and guided meditations are a great way to get started. (Check out my full meditation resource guide here.
There are so many meditation challenges/apps/books/programs out there, how do I choose?
A big hurdle for many people looking to create a meditation practice is finding the time or the physical space in which to meditate. Quite often we assume that morning is the only time, which simply isn’t a reality for everyone. There is no such thing as one size fits all. Attending classes and guided programs are designed to give you a foundation regarding your time and space, so you set yourself up for future meditation success.
What if I REALLY don’t have time?
When people think of meditation, they envision big chunks of time of sitting and doing nothing and then imagine all the things they could get done instead. But the truth is, you can start with just 5 minutes. The daily discipline is more important than the duration when we first start meditating. If you are nervous about finding 5 minutes, find something you do every day, and tack it on to that (i.e., brushing your teeth, taking a shower, making coffee, checking social media, commuting to work).
What if I have too many thoughts to meditate?
It’s the nature of the brain to have thoughts just as it’s the nature of the eyes to see. Meditation is not the practice of having NO thoughts. Meditation is the practice of having a thought and coming back to a point of focus (breath, body, mantra, etc.), gently, repeatedly, and without judgment. While it seems counter-intuitive, having lots of thoughts in meditation can be a sign of the body releasing stress. Our goal is to be aware of our thoughts and come back to the point of focus.
Where should I meditate?
In general, you will want to find a quite place where you will be undisturbed and can sit in an upright position with your back supported. Some possible locations include:
- Bedroom (prop yourself up in bed, against a wall, or sit on a pillow or cushion in your closet)
- Bathroom (sit in your (empty!) bathtub, or on the toilet with the lid closed)
- Office (sit in your desk chair or on a cushion on the floor with your back against a wall)
- Car (before you leave or once you arrive at your destination)
I don’t feel any different, how do I know if I’m doing it correctly?
It’s more likely others will know the difference in you before you do. Are you feeling a little bit calmer, less reactive, less likely to fly off the handle? Stick with it and you will ultimately become more aware of the shifts that are happening.
In addition to thoughts, what are some things I might experience during meditation?
- Temperature fluctuations and body itches or twitches are a sign of stress releasing from your body.
- Many people experience various colors, and this can be an indication that you are more visually-oriented. For you, visualizations are a good technique to explore. It can also be a sign of the mind and body releasing stress.
- Falling asleep. (See below)
What if I feel like I fall asleep?
This is a common experience. Most likely you are experiencing transcendence – that gap between our thoughts and a state of restful awareness. This is when we access deeper states of relaxation and consciousness. The transcendent state of awareness in meditation is a natural experience and can sometimes feel like you fell asleep. If you do actually fall asleep, it simply means you need that sleep.
Why do you recommend these times of day?
Really anytime you can is great. But here are some recommendations:
- First thing in morning upon waking
- Midday before lunch
- Happy hour between 4-6pm
According to one of my favorite teachers, Sally Kempton, “each period of the day has its own particular energy, which affects your own energy field. Traditionally, the powerful times of day for meditation are the sandhyas or junction points. The sandhya is a period in the day when there is a shift in the atmospheric energy. You may naturally notice a tendency to get sleepy during these times.” On a personal note, I like the morning because it kicks off my day with grounding and clarity (and it’s done!).
What is the science supporting the benefits of meditation?
Meditation is known to alter the landscape of the brain – called neuroplasticity. According to a Harvard Study, an 8-week mindfulness meditation program creates measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. The study proved some specific benefits to include:
- Increase focus, learning, and memory
- Become more emotionally fluent and emotionally aware
- Decrease stress hormones, in particular, the ones responsible for fight or flight
Additional benefits of meditation include:
- Feeling more responsive and less reactive
- Sleeping better
- Feeling more connected to yourself and those around you
- Improved focus and discernment when navigating stressful situations
What if I’m too stressed to meditate?
We all know that stress is not great for us, yet many of us wear it like a badge of honor where we feel more important, valuable and useful. Stress activates our fight or flight hormones, whereas meditation soothes our nervous system. With meditation, our bodies shift into a state of restful awareness (or, rest and digest). Meditation can help to increase the flow of energy in our bodies, which contributes to improving our healing and optimal health. With meditation, we won’t become lazy or too relaxed, but we’ll be clearer, more creative, and better able to respond to situations with more focus and effectiveness.
What does a typical meditation look/feel like?
I wish I could tell you that every meditation I have is about that zen moment of being completely calm and serene. The truth is, it’s about the practice of training my attention when I have thought and coming back to a point of focus. For example:
I start with breath awareness, then the dog starts barking, I notice the dog barking and return to the breath. I have a few moments of just focusing on the breath; then I think about an email I need to send. I catch myself having the thought and come back to the breath. I focus on the breath, then think about what I’m going to have for breakfast. I catch myself and come back to the breath.
You get the idea. Meditation is just daily exercise for the brain, whereby the space between the thought and point of focus widens. I know that by exercising my brain everyday through meditation, the practice shows up for me throughout my day. With meditation, I am less reactive, calmer, and more connected to myself and others.