I found meditation (or rather, meditation found me) when I needed it the most. I was in graduate school in New York City at that time and experiencing around-the-clock anxiety and panic. I had started yoga classes at a new studio and 1 day a week they had a donation-based meditation class following yoga. It took me a while before I worked up the courage to try the class, because the thought of having to sit still in a room with the door closed was frightening to me (that’s how bad my anxiety was at this time).
The meditation teacher for this class was an incredible man. He would start the class with some information on the brain, as he had studied the brain both from a Western and Eastern medical perspective, and then set us up for what would be a 20-minute meditation. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that the first 10 meditation sessions I attended I spent in almost-complete panic. I started off meditating by counting the length of my inhale and exhale, but every 2 or 3 rounds of breathing would be broken up by thoughts of needing to get out of there, wanting the meditation to end, concern over my deteriotating mental state, etc., but after a while things started to change. I noticed that I was able to go longer and longer without feeling the need to jump out of my seat. And, I started noticing differences in my day-to-day anxiety battles and that I was able to bring in some of my meditation techniques to calm me down.
Since those classes I have read a lot of books, attended classes, and exposed myself to various meditation techniques and I want to emphasize one thing: meditation is NOT a one-size-fits-all technique. If you have a visual image of meditation being someone seated on the floor, legs shaped like a pretzel, with their eyes closed— get that image out of your head :)! Meditation is a beautiful practice with no end goal other than to nourish yourself and with the many meditation techniques available today you can find the one that suits you the best in this moment.
The following are the 4 techniques I have spent the most amount of time exploring:
- guided meditation– you can find thousands of guided meditations online today and this technique takes some of the scariness out of the equation because you are 100% guided throughout your meditation practice. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy though! You still have to quiet your mind enough to give your full attention to the voice guiding you, but it is quite comforting to surrender and just be guided in your meditation. I also like guided meditations because you can seek out specific meditations on things you are working on in your own life- such as dealing with stress, insomnia, body healing, etc.
- counting– this is the meditation technique I first started with. The teacher called it 8-to-8 breathing, but it can easily be 4-to-4 or 6-to-6 depending on your lung capacity and comfort when breathing. It’s very simple: you inhale for a count of 8, hold for a count of 1 or 2 and exhale for a count of 8. You can set a timer on your phone for however long you want to try this for (even 5 minutes is a great place to start) and keep the counting going until the timer goes off. Focusing your mind on counting the length of the inhale and exhale quiets your other thoughts and trains the mind and nervous system to slow down.
- dance meditation– perhaps one of my favorite forms of meditation. There are many forms of dance meditation available, but they are all similar at the core: move your body and dance your heart out with all of your focus and energy, and that’s it! Techniques like dance meditation are why we need to get rid of the stereotypical image of meditation being someone seated on a cushion in a quiet room. The first dance meditation I ever attended was one of the most amazing experiences of my life- a room full of the most diverse people I could imagine all dancing their hearts out with no intention other than to love their bodies and minds. No one looks at you. No one judges you. You can fully surrender and know that you are safe. The class I first attended and still attend today is called 5rhythms and it is all over the world, but you can find some form of dance meditation I’m sure just by searching online for a location near you.
- mindfulness-based meditation– the practice of mindfulness-based meditation has had the most profound effect on me of all the practices that I have tried. I mostly follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s (a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has done wonders for this world) mindfulness practice. On his website (http://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/) he describes the practice, “Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower.” You don’t need to set aside time to meditate, you can bring meditation into your life simply by being mindful in your daily tasks. One of my favorite meditations of this kind is tea meditation. The idea is simple- sit with a cup of tea and do nothing but drink the tea- no TV, no phone, no mental to-do list, no thinking about what you want to make for dinner, just drink your tea and focus on its smell, taste, temperature, etc. Mindfulness based meditation is available to everyone at any time, just bring your mind back to the present moment and focus on what is in front of you and that is meditation.
With the many techniques now available in the meditation world, it’s not hard to find one (or two or more) technique that suits you, but it is hard to make it a regular practice. I don’t say this to discourage you, but just to make you aware that taking up a meditation practice is a form of inner-work, and working on your inner being is not always easy. I do promise you, though, that the benefits you can achieve make it well-worth it! You can enjoy better sleep, improved digestion, improved concentration, higher energy levels, stronger relationships with others, and so much more.