Meditation can be a refuge, but it is not a practice in which real life is ever excluded. The strength of mindfulness is that it enables us to hold difficult thoughts and feelings in a different way—with awareness, balance, and love.
The first time I meditated, I was in my friend’s living room in high school. His mom was teaching us yoga in their living room filled with windows and trees and a bright blue carpet. Laying down, she guided us to focus on our breath, catching the rise and fall of our bellies’ inhales and exhales.
Afterwards, as soon as I could get my hands on a notebook, I jotted down a bunch of ideas. As a teenager with a relatively clear head, I often got ideas for writing or artwork while meditating. (Even today, if I’m able to go “deep” enough in meditation, I often see different colors or images – something that I thought was weird at first, but which I’ve come to appreciate.) It was from that point on that I created a deep, paired relationship with my creative outlets and meditation. To me, the two belonged together.
As I got older – and had less time for writing and artwork, more time for the constant pull of daily life – I lost my meditation practice. From time to time, I would plant myself on the floor, spine tall, and focus on my breathing for a few minutes. Then, I’d pull out a pen and paper to write: either about my practice, or something else completely.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started meditating daily. I assume it was somewhere around the time I finished my yoga teacher training – or, at least, the seed was planted then. Nevertheless, at some point, I decided it was important for me to incorporate meditation into my daily routine and, over the past two years, have built this habit into my life.
There are a ton of articles about the health benefits of meditation. It reduces stress and anxiety. It increases self-awareness and compassion. It helps with sleep and healing. It even increases gray matter in the brain.
For me, here’s what I’ve found: when I meditate, I’m better able to focus throughout the day. I get more work done in less time with fewer distractions. At the same time, it also helps me to feel more emotionally balanced. That’s not to safe I don’t have my ups and downs, but I find that I’m better able to weather the general frustrations of life when I’ve meditated.
While meditating for an hour is an amazing practice that certainly has its own host of benefits, it’s not for everyone. And certainly not for everyone on a daily basis. For me, what works is meditating for about five minutes per day, typically in the morning. It’s a short enough period of time that I can fit it into my schedule pretty much every day. It’s long enough that I’m able to feel the benefits. (Though I maintain that one minute is better than none.)
It’s also a way of prioritizing myself. Meditating is something that I know makes me feel better. Even on the busiest of days, taking five minutes for myself is a way of saying, “Hey, I know I need to do X, Y, and Z right now. But I need these five minutes for myself.” Even just for a few moments, I reclaim my time.
How I meditate
There are many, many types of meditations out there. Guided meditations. Walking meditations. Sound meditation. Meditations where you play with the length and depth of your breath. Meditations where you just observe your breath.
It all depends on your preference.
In December, I took a two-day meditation course with April Puciata at Tula Yoga. Having never taken a meditation course before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the end, I found it extremely enlightening and left feeling excited about my meditation practice.
In our course, we tried at least six meditations and breath practices, ranging from a meditation where the focus was to simply focus on your breath (Apa Japa) to a guided meditation that included visualizations and a manta (So Hum). After each meditation, April asked us, “What did you think?”
We each had the space to explore what we liked and didn’t like. Some meditations felt too intense. Others, not intense enough. Sometimes a meditation brought up intense emotions, so some of us opted to stop. Other meditations brought up positive feelings and, I’m sure, many of us have incorporated those meditations into our practice.
In the process of practicing meditation – because it is a practice – we were working on our ability to observe our thoughts without attachment. As such, we were able to try, evaluate, and share our feelings on different meditations without attachment, too.
Ultimately, it’s about trying and seeing what works for you.
Personally, I like five minutes of breath awareness in the morning. It’s enough for me to feel centered. Anything longer and I start to feel spaced out during the day. For others, five minutes may not be enough. Or meditating in the morning may be a recipe for oversleeping your alarm and showing up late to work.
It’s all about testing
Figuring out what works for you. Giving yourself time and space to practice, without worrying about knowing how or being good at meditating. (FYI: everyone’s mind wanders when meditating.) If sitting still or focusing on only your breath isn’t your thing, try different ways of tapping into mindfulness. It will have different benefits and different effects for everyone. But we can all benefit from a little more slowness and a little more presence.