Guest post written by Alli Owen – read her blog here – listen to her podcast episode here
Meditation was weird to me for a long time. I tried to close my eyes and be still but I just felt so fake and wasn’t sure what was happening, I couldn’t “quiet my thoughts” as my mind raced about what still needed to get done. I read all about the benefits of meditation but honestly thought my life was pretty good without it. It wasn’t until I started having panic attacks that I looked into adding a consistent practice to my life. Since adding the practice into my life, I now can’t imagine life without it. I’ve been meditating consistently for about a year and a half now and not only have I seen reduction in anxiety, I’ve noticed greater self-awareness and confidence. I now quickly notice my negative self-talk and don’t beat myself up over it, but just allow it to pass. I give myself space to truly feel pain and sit with it, along the way learning what the pain was there to teach me. I don’t claim to have all the answers for your life, but I do believe you have all the answers for your own life within yourself. It just takes time to get quiet and listen to that voice inside of you, give yourself space to quiet the noise and tune in to yourself.
It all Adds up
While meditating once can help in the moment, a consistent meditation practice is really where I started to see benefits. When I began meditating, I didn’t know what to think about. I knew it wasn’t really like praying, but I had no idea how to “quiet my mind” as many said to do. Quiet my mind? That seemed impossible to this professional worrywart. But with practice, I’ve been able to do just that. Here are my top three tips to cultivate a regular meditation practice:
1.) Start small
Don’t try to meditate for 45 minutes your first time. I recommend starting with a 9 minute meditation, which I’ll explain in detail below. Guided meditations are a great addition to a regular meditation practice, but I don’t recommend consistently using guided ones. In my experience, it’s hard to tune into my own voice when I’m listening to someone else’s.
2.) Schedule it in
Meditation won’t happen unless you develop a routine around it. I meditate about 15 minutes after I wake up. This allows me plenty of time to wake myself up and move around a bit before sitting still. I also always get out of bed…I’ve tried convincing myself to meditate in bed, but that always ends up with me just falling back asleep.
3.) Be patient with your progress
It may feel like nothing is happening. It may feel like you don’t see a difference in your anxiety, awareness, or joy. Give it time. It is meant to be a practice and not a one time fix solution. In the beginning, it will be easy to be distracted and think about other things while meditating. Just be gentle with yourself and as you notice your distractions, bring your awareness back to the practice.
Tools for Meditation
My favorite structure of meditation is my 9 minute miracle meditation. I chose 9 minutes because 10 is not divisible by 3, and I like structuring the meditation into 3 different parts: breath, gratitude, and vision for the day. I use insight timer, a free meditation app, for 9 minutes and add 2 interval bells (one at 3 minutes and one at 6 minutes).
For the first 3 minutes, I only focus on breathing. I breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, breathe out for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds. I just count the seconds and focus on the breath and the counting. For the second 3 minutes, I focus on gratitude. I get really specific with what I’m thankful for. I don’t just list what I am thankful for, I actually try to elicit the feelings of gratitude. For instance, instead of just saying I am thankful for my dog, I may say I am thankful for the way my dog greets me when I come home from a long day at work. No matter what mood I’m in, she’s always so excited and happy to see me. For the last 3 minutes, I focus on my goals and vision for the day. I try to think of 2-3 things max that are important and would really feel like a personal accomplishment. I really try to focus on the feeling I want to cultivate that day while doing those things. Do I want to be energized, passionate, and focused? Do I want to be creative and joyful? I try to envision myself feeling these feelings throughout the day. This meditation structure is intended to set me up for a joyful, purpose-filled, and productive day.
Start with Movement Meditation
If sitting still for 9 minutes seems like a chore or impossible to you, try walking around the neighborhood while practicing. If I’m feeling restless or extra sleepy, I like to meditate and walk. Its an easy way to get moving while still getting your meditation practice in. The most important thing is that you do what works for you- whatever makes your meditation practice consistent is the best way to meditate for you! Meditation is meant to enhance your life, never take away from it.
With a regular meditation practice, I hope you are able to experience the same benefits I have seen in my own life and others lives as well. Your ability to focus for extended periods of time will improve. You will be able listen to others with greater awareness and get more done in a day. Your anxious thoughts and negative self talk will quiet down. You will tune into the greatest source of wisdom you have available to you– yourself.