Want to lower your stress and anxiety levels in a natural way? Want to sleep better? How about increase your self-awareness or manage your weight? Meditation can help with all of that and more.
But who knew that sitting still and simply breathing could be so hard?
That used to be my attitude toward meditation. More than a decade ago, I'd tried it in a failed attempt to relieve my stress. Like a lot of women with a husband, school-age children, and a job, I often felt pulled in multiple directions.
So I tried sitting and just breathing. What happened instead was a lot of warring, loud thoughts that made peaceful meditation impossible. I told myself that I couldn't meditate, that it simply wasn't for me. But I was wrong.
A few years back, I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness, or being fully aware in the present moment. At that time, I let thoughts, worries, anxieties, and concerns drift unchecked through my mind nearly every minute of every day. Basically, I wasn't mindful.
I was also having some serious personal problems that began to affect my physical and emotional health. I suffered mild panic attacks. This was on top of the stress that many Black people experience due to our exposure to blatant racism as well as frequent microaggressions. Something had to give.
Being mindful wasn't easy at first. Not when you're used to thinking of what feels like a million things all at once. So I started with one thing: eating. Each forkful was a meditation. Instead of losing myself in a television show, I ate in silence and concentrated on the taste, smell, and texture of the meal. Next, I moved that mindfulness practice into my regular walks, focusing on the sound of my sneakers hitting the pavement. Getting a handle on mindfulness is what led me back to meditation.
Meditation is a practice and it takes practice to do it so that you reap the benefits. As I moved into making mindfulness a daily habit, I became ready to try meditation again.
I didn't set a lofty goal. Instead, I started off with five minutes. Despite the busyness that consumes most of us, almost everyone can find five minutes a day.
Meditation isn't so much about emptying the mind as it is about being fully engaged with the present. It's natural for your mind to drift into what's for dinner or the issue you had with a coworker that day. The trick is refocusing your thoughts onto what's going on now: your breath, the silence around you, the feel of the floor underneath you.
I don't chant or say "om," but other people do. It's important to find what works for you, whether it's silent meditation, guided meditation, or moving meditation such as tai chi. What finally clicked for me was visualizing a blue sky with clouds moving past. I focus on the word "peace" as I watch the clouds move across my mind. At the same time, I'm aware of my breath and the slow in-and-out of that movement. That's meditation for me. Yours could look very different. For you, it may be another word or vision, such as a straight road or the waves of the ocean. Using apps or guides can help you find the perfect method for you.
It's been a few months now since I retried meditation and it's truly been life-changing. First, I haven’t had a panic attack since I began practicing mindfulness. Second, I no longer feel swept up in the chaos of crazy days. No matter what's going on, I'm able to accept that some things are out of my control. And finally, I don't get the tight knots throughout my upper back as well as churning ones in my stomach that used to plague me anytime I felt stressed out. Overall, my physical and emotional health have improved.
If you've never tried meditating, or if you've tried it but couldn't get it to click for you, it's worth giving it another shot. We owe it to ourselves to reclaim our time and our peace, even if it's only in 10-minute slices per day.