Sitting silently in a quiet room filled with disciplined people able to vanquish any form of a thought other than nothingness. Sounds like fun, right?
Actually, no; it doesn’t.
Meditation is built up to be this life-altering practice that everyone needs to do. Look at Dan Harris: He has an on-air panic attack while hosting for Good Morning America. He contributed the ordeal to a build-up of stress, which he was able to alleviate via meditation. Now he is the author of the New York Times bestseller, 10% Happier — all about how meditation can be used as a tool to be, well, 10% happier.
There have also been numerous studies on the benefits of meditation for everything from physical pain to depression. A study conducted in 2018 even showed the meditation can positively alter our genes.
But why is it that, when we think of meditation, we think of sitting for a drawn-out period; failing if we have a single stray thought?
I’m here to say: Meditation looks different for everyone. Let’s cut this crap about meditation needing to be the stereotypical silent, seated session and talk about various forms of meditation. Just like everything else in life — i.e., diet, hobbies, interests — the kind of meditation that works for one person won’t work for another.
Maybe a bit of a more in-depth look into varying forms of meditation will finally make it more appealing to the masses.
Back when I first started to tap into my spirituality, I came across a book called How to Train an Elephant. The author uses each chapter to challenge you to incorporate new mindfulness practices into your life. One of the chapters was all about leaving a room exactly how it was when you came in; leave no trace.
It’s easy to go about life without thinking too much about day-to-day activities. But if you think about it, that’s like we’re living life on auto-pilot.
Seeing as our time on this earth is limited, that’s pretty sad to think we’re not fully present for a majority of it.
Practicing mindfulness aims to bring more awareness into our lives. But, don’t take my word for it — take the word of professors at Harvard who are currently studying the benefits of mindfulness to fight diseases like depression.
This form of meditation is for those of you who want to sit or lie down, but can’t control their thoughts.
Guided Meditation is where a person facilitates the meditation, having you picture different scenarios or scenes in your head that are relaxing. This form of meditation is also known as guided imagery or visualization.
Personally, guided meditation is my favorite; my old therapist introduced me to the practice. She would have me close my eyes, sit back, and picture every single detail of a place that I find comforting. For me, I imagined the Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles. In college, it was a place I chose to escape to when things got unbearable with my boyfriend at the time.
I still use this form of meditation, and location, for my go-to relaxation technique.
Believe it or not, yoga doesn’t have to be this strenuous practice that only the giftedly flexible can truly enjoy. Actually, the kind of yoga we know today in the West is only one part of traditional yoga. Spoiler: There’s eight, and they’re known as limbs.
Yoga traditionally came about as a way to increase awareness and decrease disease. Meditation, the seated kind, was the primary practice. It wasn’t until yogis started to incur health issues from sitting so long that they began to incorporate a physical aspect.
Yet today, you can find a hot or sculpt yoga studio in every town here in the United States.
I’m not here to knock yoga though — I still practice it and love being able to move my body in these flowing ways. The beautiful thing about practicing yoga is that you can tailor it to be as intense as you want it.
Yoga is friendly to people with injuries or people that are complete beginners. It’s also helpful to those of us that just want to move and not overthink beyond that. Yoga is a great way to meditate while still focusing on something that takes quite a bit of energy.
Body Scan Meditation
Closing your eyes, focusing inward, moving through each body part as you either clench them or just note the sensation in each region.
This is body scanning, and I love it.
It’s a bit like guided imagery but more easily done alone. There’s something about going through your body and taking inventory on each part of it that is satisfying and relaxing.
Still not into the idea of yoga? Well, this kind of yoga isn’t focused on movement; it’s about the breath.
Kundalini yoga is an ancient practice of using breathwork, minimal movement, and mantras to work on the body. Different types of breathing lead to different outcomes.
My yoga teacher in college one time described an experience she had at a Walmart. The fluorescent lights combined with the negative energy from people around her put her into an unpleasant mood that she wasn’t able to shake. During her time in the Walmart, she practiced Breath of Fire, which is where you breathe, audibly, in and out through your nose. This method of breathing is meant to bring oxygen quickly into your bloodstream, thereby creating warmth and energy throughout the body.
Am I saying that next time you’re at the grocery store, you should breathe in a way that people could mistake for hyperventilation? No.
But at home, it could be the key to managing a stressful day.
“The little things” Meditation
I kind of just made this one up but bare with me.
Every seemingly mundane aspect of your life can be turned into a meditation practice. Eating a meal can be transformed into a practice of savoring every bite for its smell and taste; imagining where your food was grown and appreciating those who grew it.
Your daily commute to work, given you don’t drive, can be a chance for you to put away your phone, take out the headphones, and simply observe. Watch the people around you. Notice how they act. Take note of your surroundings.
If you ever see me staring blankly off into space, I am most likely enjoying a moment of solitude. A moment without my cell phone, music, book, things to do. This one is easy since I can essentially do it anywhere, and I find myself doing it more and more often.
It’s a short chance for me to just clear my mind, or not. I may be looking off into the world but I’m not noticing anything. Sort of like the Invisible Gorillastudy, a man in a gorilla suit could walk past me and I wouldn’t notice.
The benefits of meditation should feel accessible to all — not just disciplined practitioners that can clear their minds with ease.
No, meditation is for the masses. You just have to find the kind that works for you.