We all recognize some of the healthy things we should be doing, but something I see people frequently leave out is meditation. I think we sometimes associate this relaxation practice with something exotic, spiritual, or that it can only be done hours at a time in a far away mountain temple. I would propose that meditation should be accessible and an integral part of our daily lives. Did you ever daydream when you were a child, staring out the window while sitting in a classroom? Sit on a beach watching the waves crash upon the sand? “Zone out” with your favorite song while on an airplane? All of these are variations of meditation! It is no surprise that children will daydream without any formal teaching. Meditation is our mind’s way of “clearing out the clutter” of thoughts in our minds.
As with anything, it takes practice and commitment to change. Here are ways that you can incorporate meditation into your life:
- Dedicate time (5 minutes is a good start) to meditate. I like meditating to separate the different phases of my day. For example, you could meditate for 5 minutes after arriving at work in the morning, and meditate for 5 minutes before heading home at the end of your workday. In this way, you can leave behind “home” issues before you start working, and work issues at work so you don’t “bring them home”. Ever have a tough day at work, then find yourself annoyed at everyone at home? Meditation can help you so that you won’t bring the stress home. This may sound a little obsessive-compulsive, but I find that setting a Microsoft Outlook reminder or physically setting an alarm on your phone for a certain time each day, helps me to be disciplined.
- There’s an APP for that! Headspace is an app that you can download which you can listen to while commuting. It generally guides you through breathing meditation and they have different lengths of time to fit into your schedule. They offer a free trial which is great to see if it is right for you.
- Put a picture on your desk of your last vacation where you felt pure joy. We all have tons of pictures from vacations, sunrises, sunsets, beautiful flowers, etc. I recommend selecting a photo without any people or words. Now when you feel stressed, imagine yourself in that place and immerse yourself with all the senses and focus on the details. For example, I imagine myself on a beach in Cape Cod. The temperature is 80 degrees, I can feel the sun on my face, shoulders, I can feel the warm moist sand between my toes, I can hear the waves crashing on the shore, I can hear the birds in the distance, I smell the salt in the air with a light breeze. I don’t have a care in the world… In 5-10 minutes, you’ve mentally left where you are and gone on a mini-trip to your “happy vacation place”.
- If you subscribe to a religion, reciting prayers can be meditative. Poetry can also be soothing. While I am not Christian, I like reciting what is commonly known as the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” I feel the words are very meaningful.
- Dedicate a space in your home for meditation. Set up a comfortable chair in an area with a pretty view, or in front of a painting or picture that you enjoy.
- It is not surprising that most religions have a “mantra”, which is series of repeated words or phrases. In Catholic tradition, it is the rosary. In Hinduism, it’s “Om Shanti” and in Tibetan Buddhism, it’s “Om Mani Padme Hum”. By reciting a set phrase over and over, sometimes hundreds of times, your mind is able to break free of distressing thoughts. I call it the “Etch a Sketch” effect, referencing that famous magnetic childhood toy that would erase any designs if you shook it rapidly for a few seconds.. By focusing on something else intensely, like pronouncing syllables, you “erase” other thoughts that were present before.
- Try, try, again! Don’t lose heart if you can’t get the hang of meditation. No one gets it right the first time!