Mental Health October: Meditation

image from unsplash.com

I can’t remember when I was first introduced to meditation, but I do remember initially thinking that it wasn’t for me. What could I gain from sitting with my thoughts? What’s the point?

Now, however, meditation has become an important part of my self-care routine. I use it to disconnect from work or anything else that might be stressing me out. I also use it as a way to mentally reset and relax, especially when it gives me an excuse to sit outside and soak up the sun on a nice day. Above all else, however, it’s forced me to honestly sit with and reflect on all of my thoughts, which has been more helpful than I could’ve ever imagined.

Read more about my journey with meditation below!

My Meditation Journey

I started meditating using a medium that was already very familiar to me: podcasts!

Live look at me in bed after a night of tossing and turning (image from unsplash.com)

I actually started using meditation as a tool to deal with my insomnia. Instead of downloading an entirely new app, I simply looked for a meditation podcast that had episodes related to dealing with trouble falling asleep.

For a long time, my preferred meditation style was guided meditations. On nights when I couldn’t sleep, I relied heavily on body scan meditations. While I knew that meditation is really all in my head, it felt more tangible to “direct” my energy and thoughts to different parts of my body.

No, not this kind of body scan! (image from reddit.com)

As time went on, I started to gravitate toward more general guided meditations. Some required visualization, some were more centered around general mindfulness, some were about breathwork, while finally, some focused on reflecting on past events. I spent lunch breaks at work sitting at a nearby park, earbuds in and eyes shut, focusing on my guided meditation.

I can’t really pick out whether any specific type of guided meditation worked better or worse at a given time, because there were so many and they all served their own purposes at a given time. I was still using my podcast app at this point, so I tended to choose a given meditation based on my mood. For example, I remember doing solstice meditations around that time of the year, which focused a lot around change and preparing for the new season. I also tended to do stress relief or loving kindness-type meditations if I was in a crabbier mood and needed a pick-me-up.

Now, however, I have started doing more unguided meditations. At one point, I mentioned to my therapist that I had not been meditating as much as before, and she recommended trying Insight Timer. At its core, the app is a timer that plays relaxing music (or silence!) for a given period of time, and chimes when the session is over. Again, when I was going into the office, I spent many breaks at lunch sprawled out on a couch with my earbuds in, with the sound of ocean waves crashing, trying to relax my mind after tackling a big project.

image from popsugar.com

Though the app includes guided meditations as well, I’ve been using the timer feature much more often, and have only searched for guided meditations when I have a specific type in mind or, less frequently, if my brain doesn’t feel up to an unguided session.

Making It a Habit

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I imagine that a big reason that meditation has worked well for me is that I started off with guided meditations, where I could feel the effects of meditation on both my body and my mind, before moving on to unguided meditations. If I had started by going all-in, sitting in silence for long periods of time with no sense of what I was supposed to do, I can’t imagine that I would’ve continued, let alone seen the results that I have.

I definitely know that the thought of sitting with your thoughts for any amount of time can be daunting for someone who has never tried meditation before! Because of this, I recommend either starting with guided meditations (which are usually around 10-30 minutes), as I did, or doing very small chunks of unguided meditation (less than 10 minutes). I now usually meditate in 20-30 minute blocks, though the longest I’ve ever done was a full hour.

image from unsplash.com

Now that I’ve gotten more used to unguided meditations, I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life. This has come up in the cheesiest ways, like paying full attention to my coffee making process in the morning (ie, watching the water boil, smelling the beans, etc). In general, this means not having my phone in my hand all the time or not always having something on in the background. I am the type of person who loves having white noise whenever I’m doing anything, so any kind of silence is a big shift and a signal for me to “turn on” my mindfulness mindset.

image from unsplash.com

Another unexpected source of meditation for me is yin yoga. I grew to love this slow style of yoga during marathon training, when I needed a good stretch but also didn’t have the patience for a standard vinyasa flow. In this style of yoga, you hold poses for minutes at a time, which doesn’t sound that long at first, but feels like forever when you’re actually in the pose – but in a good way! I’ve learned to use this time not only as exercise for my body, but also for my mind, and have found mindful breathing to be particularly cleansing during this practice. (I know that last phrase is gibberish if you don’t practice yin yoga! I don’t know how else to explain it! Just try it!)

image from unsplash.com

Finally, it has been important for me to make meditation an ongoing habit, to indulge in during both good and bad times. In my mind, I don’t want to associate meditation with only times of mental anguish, so it’s been important for me to practice it when things are “easier” mentally so that I don’t flounder with it in times of crisis.

I also don’t stress too much about fitting it into my schedule. The last thing I want is for meditation to feel like a chore, or a thing on my checklist to finish. Instead, in the spirit of mindfulness, I just see how I feel every day – have I meditated in a while? do I have time today? does my mind need it today? – and act accordingly. (Check-in with yourselves, always!)

2 thoughts on “Mental Health October: Meditation

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