We’ve all been there. The kids are finally asleep, the dishes are in the machine, you finished the late-night email, and you have 15 minutes before you will be passed out cold. Time to meditate ! Except your thoughts won’t stop racing, your frustration grows by the minute, and in the end, you just want to sleep already. So you dedicate the following day to it. You’ll get up extra early and quickly meditate before the kids wake up and the day runs away with you. But when morning arrives, you are in high-level negotiations with your toddler about her choice of clothes while dealing with an ongoing meeting on your phone. In the end, you’re relieved you made it to the school bus halfway dressed and only 2 minutes late.
Yes, we’ve all been there. Meditation is a mythical creature. A unicorn that brings peace to the restless, settles racing thoughts, and revitalizes your energy. You are more in tune with your intuition, and sparks of creativity fly during these silent moments with yourself.
I started meditating 11 years ago and gave up on four separate occasions before I finally got the hang of it. It started making a real difference in my life two years ago when I settled into what meditation looked like for me and followed that rainbow to moments of peace. Since I’ve settled into a comfortable meditation routine, I have seen positive changes in my life. I am much less a slave to my Panic Disorder and the ensuing attacks. I can settle many of my episodes with meditation or meditative practices I have learned over the past 2 years. Sometimes the attacks are more intense, all bets are off, and meditation does not work.
Overall, however, I feel like I am in a much calmer space, able to recognize my body’s cues and the mental cues that often precede attacks. Through meditation, I’ve also learned to be more in the moment and mindful, to explore my purpose, understand and actively practice the concept of gratitude, and to celebrate small moments throughout the day.
These are the 3 unusual tricks that helped me.
1. Forget “the rules” – Do what works for you.
“It doesn’t matter how you meditate. The only thing that matters is the effect it has on you. Ask yourself: Why do you want to meditate?”
The main thing that held me back and caused me to give up on meditating was the idea I had in my mind of what meditation is. I had this vision of the perfectly zenned out yogi sitting in lotus pose, hands correctly placed, breathing even and slow, and images of enlightenment. This was the biggest mistake I made. Once I got over this hurdle, meditation became second nature to me.
It doesn’t matter how you meditate. The only thing that matters is the effect it has on you. Ask yourself: Why do you want to meditate? Do you just want a silent moment to be alone with your thoughts? Do you want to re-energize? Do you want to seek a spiritual connection, focus on stress release, or do you want to work on anxiety issues? Perhaps it’s just for overall wellness, whatever that may mean to you.
Not everyone enjoys a 10-minute meditation. Practicing meditation in a way that creates more anxiety for not getting it right or more frustration for not quieting your thoughts is counter-intuitive. Instead, focus on creating small moments during your day where you refocus, recalibrate and ground yourself. These small moments can be as little as 2 minutes taken away from your desk or before bed which, if added together, become various moments during the day when you check in with yourself.
Meditation can be anything that calms you and puts you in a space where you can truly and really be in the here and now, in this moment, in this space. It can also be anything that allows you to be alone with your thoughts, to ponder and relax. It is for precisely this reason that I meditate in different ways.
I am the type that really does like the silent zen moments of mindful meditation. I have grown to love this and feel off balance without it. I don’t do it every day because sometimes I don’t feel like it, I’m tired, or I try another meditation form. But I do try to do it at least 4 times a week. However, I am sometimes too jazzed, and my nerves too on edge or my mind too crazy to commit to the corpse pose, and I find relief in other ways. Here are some of the alternative methods I meditate:
- Alone on my swing with a cup of tea. There is something incredibly calming about a swing’s gentling forward and backward motion. Something meditative, really. When I am alone here, I take in nature, I breathe in and out three times to settle into a calmer state, and I just sit and stare. I stare at nothing, and I stare at everything. My thoughts race, then calm, I think of creative solutions to complex problems, or I just remember past times and dream of future goals. I love these moments, and I feel refreshed and clean afterward.
- A 2-minute practice anywhere I am. I do this when I am having a crazy, non-stop day at work or when I am overwhelmed by people and other stimuli (when you are traveling, for example). It’s a great release because it helps me use the noise and distraction to my benefit. Nothing is a hindrance; instead, I just notice everything through 5-4-3-2-1. With my feet planted on the ground, I take three clearing breaths to get into a calmer space. Then I name 5 things I can see, and I try to mentally describe these intricate details of the things I identify. I close my eyes and mentally list 4 things I can hear, 3 things I can feel or touch, 2 things I can smell, and one thing I can taste. That’s it. Just a quick calm down.
- Gardening. There is something magical about working with your hands in the earth and being connected to nature. One’s mind also calms more naturally when you are doing this kind of rewarding physical labor.
- Yoga. I do a particular yoga flow when I want it to have a meditative effect. I mainly do yoga as a form of exercise. Although yoga is calming, I need to set a clear meditative intention if this is what I want from my practice. I focus on the chakra I feel needs the most attention (if chakras are not your thing, just work on the places in your body where you think you are holding a lot of tension). I focus on my breathing and slow down the movements and the flow. I have done this practice many times when I feel emotionally distressed, and the release from it is fantastic.
- Painting, coloring, or journaling. These activities calm my mind and simultaneously allow me to be creative. It takes me out of my obsessive thoughts and helps me focus on something else. The fact that you can see the efforts of your labor is even better.
- Staring at the ocean or any other body of water. I love the flow of water, the crashing of waves, or even staring at a mirror-calm lake. Water is highly soothing, and being alone with this part of nature never disappoints me. I especially lean toward this meditative practice when experiencing deep heartache, sadness, or extreme worry that often turns into snowball thoughts. It helps me calm my mind and cleanse my soul to stare at the water, wonder at its magnificence, and remind myself how small I really am in the grand scheme of things.
- Listen to a podcast. I love soul podcasts presented in short 20-minute bursts. I especially love Oprah’s Super Soul podcast, filled with extraordinary inspiration from visionaries like Pema Chödrön and Eckhart Tolle.
2. Guided Meditation
When I started meditating, I thought I needed to do it alone. I needed to find a quiet space, quiet my thoughts and lead myself through practice. My frustration, which led to quitting, stemmed from this view. Having thoughts constantly come up is normal. Having racing thoughts when stressed or worked up is also expected, but it felt like I was just not getting it right. Moments of supposed peace ultimately turned into irritation and frustration, and relaxation was not what I felt after trying to meditate. Professionals, social media, and articles on the web kept telling me to keep going and keep trying. Eventually, I will get the hang of it. I didn’t, and I gave up many times.
So I discovered this wonderful little thing called guided meditation. Guided meditation is a great aid to stop the internal fight you have with yourself when you can’t get your racing thoughts to quiet or your body to stop fidgeting. As a beginner, it was daunting to guide myself through meditation because it felt like there was too much to remember: relax, sit still, quiet your thoughts, focus on your breathing, etc. I still struggle with this when my anxiety levels are too high, or I am too ‘jazzed” from the day’s events. There is peace in someone else guiding you through a journey of relaxation; all you have to do is follow the prompts and keep reminding yourself to just be in that moment. What I especially like about these guided meditations are the repetitive cues to be aware of my thoughts. Have they wondered? Gently bring them back to the breath.
Guided meditation really opened the door for me. It made sitting through an entire practice much more manageable, even if I did not do it 100% correctly. It took away the pressure and the judgment, allowing me to relax more. I could extend my meditation practices from 2 to 5 to 30 minutes with continued practice. I recommend starting with something like Mini Meds, which is led by a calming female voice and soothing meditative sounds. Their meditations are limited, but the messages are beautiful, and meditations only last 5 minutes. This was a significant beginner step for me, and I still use these on nights when I am super tired or my mind feels extra fried. It’s quick but effective.
Then try something like Great Meditation. Although there are many 5-minute meditations, their guided meditations increase to 20 minutes and mainly consist of 10-minute meditations. My favorite meditations are around the 10-minute mark. Again these are driven by a calm female voice with soothing meditative music. I also like this channel because it grants small pauses that allow you to stretch your meditation muscles a little on your own. This is also an excellent channel for seeking a deeper spiritual connection. The meditation content is open to anyone walking a spiritual path, no matter what that may look like.
When I need extra love for my anxiety disorder, am over-stimulated, or have travel anxiety, I prefer the Declutter the Mind Channel. These meditations focus on deep relaxation, panic talk-down, bringing your thoughts back to the moment, mindfulness, and focusing on the physical. What I also like is that this guided meditation channel has no music. Sometimes absolute quiet between the guidance is so welcoming and much more peace-inducing to me than music. It depends on my mind and where I am on that day. Give it a try, and tell me how it works for you.
3. Invest in noise canceling headphones.
“It helps me meditate in situations and places that I would never have typically thought conducive to meditating. Because it cancels all noise, you are entirely alone with your thoughts pretty much anywhere you are.”
Right from the start, I need to say that I am not talking about the tiny Bluetooth earbuds that fit snuggly and discreetly in your ear. I mean the full-out bear ears. The kind of headphones that cover your entire ear and fit over your head like a 90s fashion moment. I am not going to lie; these can be super expensive. I use the Sony Wireless Noise Canceling Earphones, which are at the 239€ mark. It cancels so much noise you would be surprised how quiet your inner space can be.
Full confession here: I sometimes wear them without listening to something. I just like the peace and quiet. It helps me to have a noise seal over my entire ear, so I feel like I am in the moment and only at that moment. It instantly puts me into a calmer space when I put on the earphones. It also helps me meditate in situations and places that I would never have typically thought conducive to meditating. Because it cancels all noise, you are entirely alone with your thoughts pretty much anywhere you are. This is perfect when I rush between business commitments with little time to spare in the car or office. It’s also amazing when the little one just won’t go to sleep or insists on “lying quietly next to you” while you meditate.
I also use them in the mornings. After I drink my bedside glass of water, I pop on the headset. I am instantly transported to a quiet mind space where I can close my eyes, set my intentions for the day, and then write in my gratitude journal. This entire process takes 5 minutes, literally. Again, the super quick transportation to a quiet mind space makes any kind of meditative experience much more effective. You also get into it much quicker.
I am susceptible to over-stimulation, so when I am in crowded spaces with a lot of noise, like airports, I wear them to keep a semblance of calm. They also work great on the plane when I get claustrophobic or anxious. I can select a panic talk-down from Declutter the Mind and be in a quiet space.
Meditation should be a sacred moment that brings you peace and relief. It should not be another thing on the to-do list you worry about. We do not always have to follow the rules to gain the most from our different life practices. We only need to do what works for us and what speaks to our souls.
As you can see, there are so many ways to meditate. Think about what brings you calm, what quiets your thoughts, and what leaves you feeling refreshed and cleansed after doing it. That is your meditation. Embrace it and enjoy the peace it brings.
I would love to know how you meditate or find calm. Share your views below.
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Love and light