3 Reasons You Haven’t Tried Meditation (& Why You Should)
Welcome to 50! Children leaving home, unexpected unemployment, a new beginning, and the loss of a parent. Mindfulness and meditation helped me manage the stress of so much transition. It has now become a helpful part of my life, and my coaching practice. So why not give it a chance yourself?!
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Within a year of turning 50, I became an empty nester, started menopause, got laid off for the first time in my life, remarried after a decade of single parenting, and lost my dad—a perfect storm.
I also discovered mindfulness meditation in my search for a way to manage the stress of so much simultaneous change and loss without turning to medication. Meditation has been an ongoing part of my life ever since, and a staple in my coaching and therapy toolkit.
Whether you’re at midlife, entering young adulthood, or in your golden years, mindfulness meditation can benefit you—if only you’d give it a chance.
Sometimes, the greatest challenge with meditation is simply opening your mind to it in the first place.
Many people think they know what meditation is but have never really tried it.
Reasons Why Not
As a therapist, the reasons I most often hear are, “I don’t have time,” “I don’t know how,” and, “I tried it once and it didn’t work for me.”
These reasons are often the same ones for why people don’t exercise, eat better, work on their relationships, and pretty much everything else we know we “should” do to improve our lives. It’s human nature.
Often, though, with just a little encouragement and guidance, the people I see in my therapy practice will give meditation a try, only to end up loving the practice and making it a regular part of their daily routines.
What It's Not
Mindfulness meditation has gained popularity in the Western world in recent years, although its roots are ancient and Eastern.
Contrary to what many think, it does not require you to sit in an uncomfortable, cross-legged position on a special pillow on the floor and “clear your mind.” In fact, many people who meditate regularly do so on a chair or even on their bed.
As for making your mind “go blank”? It’s not even possible.
You can meditate in the morning, afternoon, or evening, for as little as 5 minutes or as long as you like. It helps to have a consistent start time so you remember to do it, just like any habit you are trying to form. It also helps to do it daily, but we are not talking about rigid rules here. We’ve got enough going on already, right?
I find it is best to learn how to meditate when you are not already in an acute state of stress—not because it won’t be helpful then, but because the brain is not in an optimal state for learning when it is really stressed out.
How to Mindfully Meditate
If you want to try mindfulness meditation, and I hope you do, start by taking a few deep breaths and notice that you are feeling supported by the bed, chair, or floor that is holding you. Many of us don’t even know what deep breathing feels like. It can actually cause a moment of anxiety because it feels so unfamiliar.
Stick with it, even if it feels a bit unnatural and forced in the beginning. There is nothing wrong; it’s just how the mind and brain react when something is new.
Allow your muscles to release and the tension in your arms, legs, back, shoulders, neck, and face to go slack, one muscle group at a time. Gently close your eyes or lower your gaze with your eyes half open. Your mind may seem to be very busy, or even “racing.” This is normal. Don’t judge, just notice. The mind is doing what the mind does: thinking.
You don’t have to worry about the thoughts—how many there are or what kind you are thinking. It is not important.
Thoughts will come and go. Some may feel urgent and important, others odd or even uncomfortable. None of this matters. The idea is to gradually train yourself to notice your thoughts with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and nonjudgment.
All thoughts are just passing clouds in an otherwise clear, blue sky, one of the metaphors I use to introduce meditation practice to people in therapy.
Continue to breathe deeply and feel your mind and body begin to unwind. There is no wrong way to meditate, so you don’t need to concern yourself with doing it “right.” That is judgment. All meditation practice is beneficial because we are becoming aware of how the mind works and how our thoughts trigger emotion and behavior.
This awareness allows us to see the power of our thoughts, and we begin to understand how they affect us.
There is great power in this awareness and great relief, too—relief from stress, from anger, from sadness, from physical and emotional pain, and more. These and other issues can arise at any time, so why not learn this valuable skill, practice it, and have it at the ready? Perhaps it can help you in the same way it has helped me and many others.
© Copyright 2016 by Diann Wingert, LCSW, BCD, therapist in Pasadena, California
All Rights Reserved.