I love talking to people about meditation because they usually fall into one of two camps. Either they hate meditating or they love the idea of meditating, but think they’re terrible at it.
In both cases, I always tell people, “But that’s okay!”
It often leads to a little bit of confusion, like the time I told someone it was “good” that they fell asleep while meditating often. “Really?” Well, yes and no. Yes if falling asleep means your meditation time turned into listening to what your body needed – and something that would be, ultimately, more relaxing for you. No if you really wanted to focus on your meditation skills.
One size doesn’t fit all
I’m a firm believer that finding what works for you – in meditation, exercise, diet, and so on – is better than not doing anything at all.
At its core, meditation is the practice of suspending thought. For those who practice, there are brief moments where you think of nothing and float on the rhythm of your inhale and exhale.
For some people, they may stop thinking when painting, or running, or knitting. Of course, you stop “thinking” in this activities within reason: the painter may need to search for a specific color, the runner may be observing the trail, and the knitter may have lost count of his or her stitches.
Nevertheless, we all benefit from stepping outside of the treadmill of our minds, even if for a moment.
Finding your jam
Personally, I really like any meditation where I can focus on long inhales and exhales, since I find it relaxing and it gives me a specific task that allows me to “zone out.”
Friends of mine prefer meditation classes or apps that provide more of a guided meditation experience. My mother, on the other hand, has attended quite a few sound meditations, which have sparked a variety of reactions for her. And my partner, who hates any meditation that requires him to sit with his eyes closed, finds solace in movement.
If you’re interested in meditating, but haven’t found an option that works well for you, here are a few of my favorite variations. (As a note, some of these would be classified more as breath work. I’ll note them as such! Either way, I believe there are so many benefits to tuning into your breath and silencing the mind, whichever way you choose.)
Apa japa is a breathing practice to get better in touch with, well, your breath. Sitting in a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus on your breath. The goal of this practice is not to change anything. Instead, the goal is to become mindfully aware of your breath in this particular moment.
The So Hum meditation uses a mantra to help maintain your focus during the meditation. A mantra is a word or a phrase that’s repeated during a meditation or practice. It may have a specific meaning (like So Hum, which means “I am that”) or it may be something specific to you, such as an instruction (“inhale, exhale”) or another word or phrase.
I’d recommend using a guided meditation for the So Hum meditation specifically (like the video above) to start to develop your own personal practice with this mantra specifically.
Singing Bowl Meditation
Similar to using a mantra, another form of meditation incorporates specific sounds. In this case, a Tibetan singing bowl. Each singing bowl corresponds to a different chakra (energy center).
For people who are uncomfortable with silence when meditating, this option can be helpful. Likewise, if you prefer an in-person guided meditation, going to a singing bowl workshop can be a really cool experience. Hearing and feeling the vibration of the bowls as you meditate is such a different sensation.
For people who prefer to pair their meditation or breath work to movement, walking meditations are a great option. If we approach meditation as a practice of mindfulness, i.e. not thinking means actively being present in this moment, walking meditations make a lot of sense. Even though you are getting sensory input from the outside world, so to speak, the practice is the act of keeping your mind in the present – focusing on sights, sounds, and sensations.
mindful has a handy walking meditation audio file that you can follow.
For many people the freeform nature of meditation can feel like too much. How can I know how to stop thinking if I don’t know what to think about? In those cases, I think apps, like Headspace and Calm, that incorporate guided meditation can be really helpful. They’re a useful tool – introductory or otherwise – that can both help build a practice, but also build your own confidence and relationship with your practice.
Above all, your practice is your own. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, except not doing it at all. Everyone can benefit from meditation, but everyone will have different reactions and responses to different types of meditations.
In any event, you’re in control of your experience. If you don’t like one type of practice, try another. Whether that’s going to a meditation class at a local studio for the community aspect or tuning into your breath during your rowing practice, it all comes down to what works best for you.