Meditation is a hot topic in the mental health field right now. I'm hearing about more and more clinicians that are suggesting meditation to their patients as a compliment to their treatment. If any of you have a steady meditation practice, you can understand my passion for this topic, right? My meditation practice is one of the things I value most in my recovery. I started meditating back in 2010 when I was struggling with agoraphobia and hadn't left my apartment in a year. I hadn't started treatment...so my mind was basically an on-going stampede of intrusive and obsessive thoughts.
Let me start off by saying that meditation was EXTREMELY difficult for me. At this point in my life, I was (severely) impacted by every thought and emotion I experienced. I would get into these awful spirals over and over again throughout the day. I literally never felt relief because the only time I'd stop obsessing about one thing is when I'd start obsessing about another thing. I'd sit in my room chewing the inside of my lip (nervous habit) and I'd analyze all my thoughts relentlessly. I'd sit and do compulsion after compulsion after compulsion in an effort to find relief, but we all know that is NOT how the cycle works. At first, I found meditation really annoying because I felt like I couldn't do it "the right way." I was housebound so, I spent a lot of time researching about different practices. I felt resentful of people in the videos because they all looked so peaceful and made it seem like meditation came easy to them. Meanwhile, I was over here like "What do I do with my hands? Do I just clear my mind and try to think of nothing? That's impossible for me. What if I'm never able to meditate? What will happen if I do finally slow my mind down? Will I lose control? They keep saying to surrender, but I cant. How can I sit still and breathe when I'm about to have my 7th panic attack in the last in the last couple of days? How long do I need to sit here before I feel better? Ugh, I shouldn't be thinking. Stop thinking, Anna! Just focus on your breath. What if...no. Stop. Just. Stop. Thinking. Ugh, I'm hungry." Then I'd usually just burst into tears or get so frustrated that I'd walk away. Of course, this was before I knew about the different ways to practice meditation... and before I learned that meditation was not based on clearing your mind of everything. The practice is about learning how to intentionally focus on something, an inner focal point called a "drishti." The way I've incorporated this into my personal practice is by choosing a word or a mantra to meditate on. For example, this could look like INTENTIONALLY thinking of words like "peace" as you inhale and "love" as you exhale. This helps to keep your mind focused which is the point of meditation and is a great practice for beginners. You can choose other words if these don't resonate with you. You can also choose affirmations such as " I am peaceful" or "I am full of love." You can say word or affirmations quietly to yourself, or you can say them out loud. Another thing that helps me tremendously is listening to music or guided meditations and I use my headphones quite often to drown out background noise. Mindfulness is a great tool to have in your back pocket when it comes to recovery because it is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and learning to accept it without judgment or resistance. Think about it. How much BETTER could we all feel if we learned how to make the decision to sit still and focus on something despite all the other thoughts or emotions flowing through our bodies? A lot better, right?!
So, what are some of the known benefits of a meditation practice?
- Reduces stress
- Improves concentration
- Increases self-awareness
- Increases positive emotions
- Decreases the need to stay in fight-or-flight mode
- Lowers blood pressure and heart-rate
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Promotes mindfulness
One thing that you'll hear often in yoga/meditation classes is this idea of practicing wholeheartedly and consistently. For me, the consistency part wasn't difficult, but the idea of practicing wholeheartedly was. I was really baffled about how people did anything wholeheartedly because I had spent the last couple of years struggling to find a solid reason to keep moving forward. I was resentful of everything that I felt life had robbed me of. I wasn't even doing things halfheartedly, but I was intrigued by the idea. My best friend recommended a book called "How Yoga Works", by C. S. McNally and Michael Roach that planted a pretty powerful seed in my mind. It was this idea of dedicating my practice to someone so that I felt passion and inspiration for my daily practice. THIS. CHANGED. EVERYTHING. To be honest, I wasn't going to show up for myself but when it meant showing up for someone else, I was in! I actually started dedicating my practice to my younger brother who was greatly impacted by years of struggle and has fought his own battles with mental illness as well. To this day, he's still the person I dedicate my practice to most of the time. This specific way of practicing really promotes a sense of selflessness. Plus, what you gain from your practice can send a ripple through your life. When we are balanced and in alignment with who we are or who we want to be, the people around us can really benefit from that.
A few of my tips for meditation:
- Try setting an alarm for 3-5 minutes at first then gradually practice longer. Most people can't meditate successfully for 30 minutes straight. Stop judging yourself!
- It's called a PRACTICE and not a perfect for a reason.
- If you find yourself struggling with silent practices, try guided meditations or listening to music. If you choose music, pick something calming with no lyrics and focus on the rhythm.
- Journal about your experience after each session.
- It is OK to not have great meditation sessions. Notice what is coming up for you and allow it to teach you something.
- Don't allow a few difficult or frustrating sessions discourage you from showing up again the next day.
- Find what makes you feel the most connected. Is it using aromatherapy (read previous blog post)? Is it listening to music or complete silence? Is it sitting or laying down? Is it wearing socks and being bundled up? Do you want candles to be lit around you? Outside or inside? Is it saying your words or mantras out loud or to yourself? Is it focusing just focusing on your breath?
- SHOW UP EVERYDAY. Even if it's for a few minutes. Sometimes the short ones are the best!
- If you need recommendations for guided meditation apps, check out Headspace and Calm. You can download these on your phones and listen to them anytime!
Okay ya'll, I've given you a bunch of information and hopefully this helps you start a meditation practice (if you don't already have one) or adds a little somethin' extra to your existing practice!
I'd love to hear about your practices. Just leave a comment below!