“I don’t know where to start…” I hear people say it all the time- fitness training, organizing the house, planting a garden, going to yoga, you name it. That first step to get you going can be the hardest one. It may be a lack of motivation, but sometimes it’s different than that. It’s feeling overwhelmed with options and not knowing which one is the best fit. We have grown accustomed to being told what to do by Siri, Alexa, Waze, or someone else, so when it’s back on us to make a decision, we freeze.
So what do we do? What’s the solution? We take a step in the direction we want to go. My sister always said putting your shoes on is the hardest part about going on a run and I agree. So put your shoes on and let’s do it. But in the case, it's about meditation.
Meditation has quickly become a part of my daily routine. Somedays I feel like my practice is rock solid, but sometimes it feels like that same rock is a huge obstacle keeping me from the practice that I know I need. I slip up and skip a day here and there, it happens, but I am committed to it. I see the benefits, I feel the benefits, and when it doesn’t happen, I miss it. So now I plan it like a meeting, put it on the calendar, and it happens. (That’s one of my favorite tips to tell clients, especially in the corporate world. Think of it as a calendar invite that for something you actually want to go to.)
Benefits of meditation are extensive, but here are a few that speak loud and clear to me:
Reduces stress by activating the parasympatheic nervous system
The parasympathetic nervous system is nicknamed the “rest and digest” system for a reason. In addition to just sounding nice, its signals your brain that things are in control. The alternative? The sympathetic nervous system- think “fight or flight.” Sustained periods of time in the fight or flight mode can cause even more stress, as well as chronic inflammation. (I am living with my lowest A1C since being diagnosed with diabetes almost 4 years ago. Coincidence? No.)
Taking time, as little as 3 minutes, or maybe even just 3 breaths (like just putting your shoes on, gotta get going!) allows you to zoom out of the moment, and see it from a clearer lens. And when you do this, you realize that things aren’t often as extreme as they may seem. From a scientific perspective, meditation increases the amount of gray matter in the brain. Gray matter lives in the parts of our brain that directly affect our mood. It allows us the time and space we need to reflect, which is often where the magic happens.
Different types of meditation speak to different goals, but all types of meditation can help you make positive changes in your life. As you gain a greater awareness of your thought habits by simply noticing them (more on this below) you steer them to a more constructive, compassionate, and less judgemental place. What we tell ourselves we believe to be true.
If you are hooked on the idea of your mind, body, and soul feeling better, read on.
There are countless options for how to start but I chose one to start with that puts the whole idea of meditation into perspective. It’s about being aware of your thoughts, connecting with your breath, and allowing yourself to have an experience.
3 minute meditation
There are three steps to the practice, so allow one minute for each “part.”
Sit comfortably, remove obvious distractions, and close your eyes. Let go of your expectations. Open up to the experience.
During the first minute, attend to what is going on in your mind. I like to think of it as letting the monkey mind run wild. You are noticing your thoughts come and go, not trying to push them away or act on them, simply being aware what’s coming up. “Am I doing this right?”, “my leg itches”, “what’s for dinner?” etc. All normal. Let them come and go, and sit in awareness with no judgement or no sense of need to change anything.
The next minute, focus on the breath. You are narrowing the field of attention to a single, pointed focus on the breath in the body. Focus on the inhalation and the exhalation. Breath in, breath out. Maybe this is enough. If it’s not, try breathing in and out in equal parts. Breath in for three, breath out for three. As you focus on breath (and counting) your thoughts start to slow. If they don’t yet, they will.
For the last minute, attend to the body. Notice any sensations you are feeling throughout your body. This widens your attention again to include the body as a whole and any sensations that are present. You are experiencing awareness.
Throughout the three minutes, you are shifting your attention from one thing to the next. Checking in, and moving on. In life, it works the same way. We may feel stuck, but the practice remind us what it doesn’t have to be this way. as we can move away from one thing and on to another.
There is no such thing as a bad meditation- if you are aware of your thoughts, whatever they may be and whatever it may look like, that's meditation. Give it a go and let me know how it is!
A few last things...
- The app insight timer is a great one to use- you can set the bell to ring in time increments.
- Some people love calm, headspace, and other apps to help get them started. I have never done much with those but do what you need to do!
- And if you are hungry for more than 3 minutes...go for it!