Yes it looks hippie, it sounds hippie, but here is why I think you should give mediating a try!
There is no debating that we are all stressed - all the time! When you ask people how they are doing, you usually hear about how busy their lives are. And this never stops. Even going to an exercise class, which should be time off from your busy day, turns into a stressful event, because you just have to go and tick it off your list. Most people are even stressed during their sleep, thinking of all the things that need to get done. There is no time to breathe, rest, and recover. This is where meditating comes in! It’s a time to just reconnect to your breath, to yourself, and to nothing at all. It’s a time to clear your mind as much as possible from endless to do lists, and find a path to deeper consciousness where gratitude, love, and compassion come from.
There are two parts to your autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for all automated actions like digestion, breathing, stress response, and other things that happen unconsciously.
The first part is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). It helps you rest and digest. After eating, it slows the rest of your body down to focus on breaking the food apart and transporting the nutrients to their destinations: building muscles and bones, fueling your brain, and giving you energy to live. The PNS calms you down so you can have restful sleep and ease any stress from the rest of the day.
Complimentary to the PNS is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This one is your automated stress response: fight or flight. When you come across a mammoth in the wild, you are able to either run away or fight it and kill it. In order for your body to be on full alert, unnecessary functions get shut down during this time. This includes your digestion, the reproductive system, and clear thinking. There is no way you will rationally analyze the height, weight, and distance of the mammoth, instead you will just fight for your life. More blood gets spread across your extremities (arms and legs), so you are able to move quickly. Your heart rate rises, your breath is shallow.
In our daily life, we hardly ever cross paths with a real mammoth. However, our body doesn’t realize that a flooded email inbox, an annoying boss, a difficult relationship or financial worries are not mammoths - alas our stress response from the SNS is aways the same, no matter how insignificant the stressful situation may be.
There is no real way to tell the body to just relax. Even if you are telling yourself not to think about a stressful situation too much, you can’t just shut it off. Your brain will keep running away with its own thoughts. There is only one way to consciously activate the PNS to turn down the stress in your body: deep breaths all the way into the belly (also called diaphragmatic breathing). If the mammoth was still standing in front of you, you would probably be hyperventilating. Taking the time to fill your belly with air and letting it back out again, signals to your brain that you are safe. This means your body has time to relax, rest, and recover from the stress you had before.
During our day, we don’t have enough moments where we focus on deep breathing. Most of our work is stressful and done with shallow breaths. When we are hunched over the keyboard at the desk, we are cutting off the breath circulation to the belly. And when we are going for a run, we are panting to finish the last kilometer. This is why I personally think meditation is a great tool. For those few minutes, you are connecting to your breath and completely relaxing your body. I urge you to give it a try!
First and foremost, there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Some people like to just have complete silence around them, others need a guided meditation so they don’t get lost in their thoughts. You can sit, stand or lie down to make yourself comfortable. Don’t worry too much about your environment and what is going on around you. You can absolutely take some time to meditate in a busy coffee shop, on a plane or in the comfort of your own bed.
Here are my four favorite ways to mediate:
1. Guided meditations
This is the easiest way to start! Someone basically tells you how to relax and breathe, what to think about, and what to let go of. If you google guided meditations, you will find plenty of free resources. There are two guided meditations I use often:
The app itself is free with lots of free meditations to get you started. Then there are in app purchases you can make once you want to get into longer meditations. Themes for the mediations include “Welcoming the Day”, “Falling Asleep”, and “Mindful Breathing”. They range between 3 - 10 minutes each. I love the layout of this app. You can do a quick daily check in to see how you are feeling. Your mediation days get tracked and to cheer you on you can win badges for mediating for one week straight, selecting different kinds of emotions you are feeling, and many more fun things. What I like is that I always have my phone with me, which means a meditation is just an app away! I can pretty much do this anywhere, even when sitting in the taxi in traffic.
Yes, you either love Deepak and Oprah or you don’t. Oh but if you do, then you have to sign up for their free 21 day mediation challenge. It runs a few times a year with different themes. The next one is kicking off this coming Monday, July 13th and the theme is “Manifesting Grace through Gratitude”. Yes, you can sense how this theme is right up my alley!
For 21 days straight you get daily emails with a new mediation. They usually start with an introduction to the day’s topic (around 10 minutes), followed by a 10 minute mediation to soft music in the background. There is also an app that comes with this where the meditations get automatically synched to your phone every day.
2. Relaxing music
You may not necessarily need someone to walk you through every single second of the mediation, but you are having a hard time to just be by yourself when it is quiet? Then try a meditation with calming music. You can find a lot of meditation music on iTunes, and there are several mediation masters who offer CDs (like Deepak Chopra). Personally, my favorite meditation music of all times is “Sacred Blessings” from Anthony Robbins. It’s a compilation of some of the most beautiful mediation music out there!
If you are having a hard time letting go of your to do list, chanting a mantra during your mediation may be just the thing for you! This does not have to be a fancy sanskrit sentence. My favorite mantra is “Let … go”. Simple, yet oh so powerful. Inhale with “let”. Exhale with “go”. Do this just a few times and you can literally feel your mind calm down.
4. Focus on the breath
This is probably the simplest way to meditate and I do this multiple times throughout the day: again, think sitting in the back of a taxi, lying in bed, or slouching at the desk. I take a minute or so to close my eyes, place my hands on the belly, and take a deep breath. The belly should rise up into your hands as you inhale. When you exhale, the belly falls back down. Keep your hands there to feel and guide your breath. Focus on inhaling into your belly and expanding your ribcage. As you exhale, push the air out of the ribs and then out of the belly, until the last bit of air has come out. This does not have to be a long meditation. Just 5 deep breaths will already make all the stress melt away, the mammoth turn into a mouse, and your health will improve. Give it a try!