• Jesse Williams, LPC-MHSP

Meditation for the Non-Meditator

Research tells us that meditation changes our brains, our stress levels, and our well-being. This little mental time-out gives a chance for our minds to just be in the now, accepting and flowing with the energies of life. Through the process, we get carried away on a wave of relaxation, breathing energy into insight, empowerment, calmness, and serenity. Inner peace is achieved, and we are able to better process and handle the challenges of our day-to-day lives.

What beautiful language and sentiment!

But in reality, how feasible is the practice of meditation? How often do we find ourselves riding on that wave of relation? How many of us stop to bring that stillness into our soul? Sure, we love the idea of it. We know it's good for us. But for a lot of people, the actual practice is... well... difficult. How often do we actually stop to meditate?

For many of us, our overworked minds aren't exactly on board. We live in a society that has practiced how to stay busy at every possible moment, so naturally, we struggle with just slowing down. And in the process of resisting slowing down, our minds provide plenty of excuses to avoid the very practice that would bring more health and less stress. Here's some examples:

"I wouldn't even know how to meditate or what to think about."

"I just don't have time to sit with my eyes closed for thirty minutes."

"I'll just fall asleep if I try."

"I can't get my mind to turn off so that I can meditate."

"I'm too busy to sit still with my thoughts."

"I'm just not a person who can meditate."

These excuses are just that: excuses. They stop us from achieving the stillness and health that we could be gifting our brilliant minds and inner self. And yet, those excuses can be convincing. So much so that we end up not meditating. We end up not taking a break. And we end up in that steady go-go-go-go-go frame of mind, constantly speeding down the tracks of life towards burn out.

And no one wants that. No one intentionally heads towards burn out. And yet, it happens.

I decided that spending time breaking apart the excuses that we tell ourselves provides an excellent way to answer questions about meditation and suggest some new ways of approaching it.

So, let's explore the excuses I listed!

"I wouldn't even know how to meditate or what to think about."

This is probably the most common excuse I hear. And it's reasonable: many people have never taken time to just figure out the how-to of meditating. And those who have often find themselves thoroughly confused at the hundreds of different ways to approach meditation. Yet, the fact of the matter is this: there is no singular "correct" way to meditate.

Some people prefer the classic "Light a candle/focus on the flame/let your thoughts float by" approach. This involves choosing an object to focus upon and just inviting stillness into the body.

For other people, meditation is simply sitting in the moment, allowing the breathing process to occur. They might just take a short amount of time to "watch their breath" as their daily meditations. Many of times this involves just paying attention to the breathing process and allowing thoughts to come and go without directly engaging. It's a fairly simplified technique, and yet, this approach may not feel approachable for everyone.

Still others have found that turning on a meditation app on a phone or tablet makes the process less confusing and much more doable. These apps can be as interactive as guided mediations (where someone is speaking to you and "guiding" you throughout the process) or as simple as a timer that dings when your meditation time is up. Even sites like Youtube can provide some great tools for meditation with a quick search for "Meditation Music" or "Guided Meditation." Many times, people find these tech-focused approaches to be the most accessible and easiest way to start getting into the practice of meditating.

My personal favorite form of meditation is a combination of multiple approaches, and it's a way of meditating that my own therapist once taught me. If I'm in the mood for some meditation music, I might put some on, either through Spotify or Youtube or iTunes. If you want to involve the sense of smell into the process, try lighting some incense or a candle. Then I sit or lay still (which ever feels right for my body in that moment), and take about 10 seconds just to settle my mind into the feel of my body. Just feeling the now. Next, I set a meditation timer app for anywhere from three to fifteen minutes, and I start counting my breath cycles (I count one "breath cycle " as an inhale and an exhale). I don't breathe in for any set amount of time or breathe out for an exact number of seconds; I just breathe as I normally would while counting my breath cycles. It looks something like this:

Breathe in... Breathe out... 1... Breathe in... Breathe out... 2... Breathe in... Breathe out... 3... If I lose count, I just pick up where I thought I left off. No stressing over the exactness of the count. Then to add another layer to it (and to keep my mind from wondering off), I pay particular attention to relaxing the tongue. Yeah... you read that right. Relaxing the tongue!

Why "relaxing the tongue"? Two reasons: concentration and deeper relaxation. The tongue is incredibly difficult to get to calm down and relax; it takes concentration and effort. And usually, it's just enough effort to result in a deeper focus on the moment. As the mind becomes focused on relaxing a part of the body that can be a bit defiant, you also end up relaxing all of your other facial muscles in the same process (which is where we tend to carry a lot of stress).

If my mind starts to wonder (which it does) or random thoughts come up, I just ground myself back into my breathing, counting, and relaxing my tongue. Weird sounding process--yes--but it makes for an incredibly easy way to get into meditation.

"I just don't have time to sit with my eyes closed for thirty minutes."

A huge misconception with people wanting to start meditation is to think they have to commit to a highly-regimented-thirty-minutes-per-day practice. While maybe this works for some people, meditation isn't a one-size-fits-all type of process. Meditation is all about honoring your own mind and body.

With that in mind, oftentimes people don't have any idea of a target time for themselves. You want to find a balance between pushing yourself to experience to getting more comfortable with stillness and not burning yourself out on too long of a meditation session. As a general rule of thumb, a great goal to start out with is to aim for 12-15 minutes a day. And remember: there's no rule that says you have to do it all at once! Some people find the easiest way to do this is to break it up into 3-5 minute segments. Maybe try a 5-minute meditation in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening. Or if your mind is struggling with 5-minute lengths of time, try 3-minute meditations. It's all about honoring your mind and body and respecting what your mind and body is able to do. Also, know that no two sessions will be the same. Some days you will be more distracted than others. Some days you may end your meditation and think that it was pointless or that you just couldn't get into the headspace. No worries! Just roll with it. Meditation is a practice-- not a perfection.

"I'll just fall asleep if I try."

Play around with the time that you meditate if you find yourself falling asleep. Maybe first thing in the morning doesn't work for you-- then don't do your meditation in the morning! Or maybe you fall asleep when you try to meditate at night; then try moving it to the morning. Or maybe your sleepiness is a sign that you are struggling with too long of a meditation.

Try playing around with the time of your meditation or break up your meditations into smaller segments.

"I can't get my mind to turn off so I can't meditate."

This is the equivalent of saying "I can't walk up the steps without getting out of breath, so I definitely shouldn't exercise." If you find yourself having trouble turning the hamster wheel in your head off, then you should definitely try meditating! You very well might not succeed at first but stick with it. Meditation is about practice, and oftentimes, we have to practice learning how to relax and exist in stillness.

Think of your problem solving mind and your meditation mind like a pair of muscles that work together. Your arm uses your bicep to bend your arm and your tricep to straighten your arm back out. Those muscles work together as a pair. Similarly, your mind uses one "muscle" to bend your mind towards problem solving and activity, and the other "muscle" to straighten back out towards relaxation and meditation. The problem is that many of us have practiced flexing our problem solving/activity "muscle" for many years, while ignoring strengthening the"muscle" that helps us relax. This ends up resulting in a mind that is incredibly strong at activity and thought racing and problem solving, yet incredibly weak when it comes to relaxation and stillness and meditation.

Meditation is the work out to strengthen those relaxation muscles!

"I'm too busy to sit still with my thoughts."

This goes with the previous excuse. If you're racing around that much, chances are that your relaxation "muscle" is going to need some exercising. Go flex that relaxation "muscle"!

Also, be intentional with your practice: carve out the time for meditation. Sometimes this requires a conscious effort to put self-care and health first. Try building meditation into your daily schedule, whether in a solid block of 15-minutes or in 5-minute segments.

Your body and mind will thank you for it!

"I'm just not a person who can meditate."

Anyone can meditate! Meditation truly is for all of us, but it's all about finding the right style of meditation for your needs. Check in with your intuition and follow the technique that feels right for you. Meditation is just as much about learning to relax as it is about learning to trust your intuition and honoring your body.

So here is your challenge for the week: if you aren't already involved in a meditation practice, take some time this week to explore your style of meditation. Use your intuition. Explore what feels right for you. Set it into your schedule.

Then get to working out those relaxation muscles!


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