“Meditation? Oh, I’ve tried that. I don’t think it’s for me!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received this response from clients, friends, and family, when asked what to do to relieve stress.
The truth is, there are MANY ways to approach stress reduction in daily life, but for me, meditation has made such a difference that it is THE ONE PRACTICE I return to, again and again. Waking up to my morning sitting practice is something I look forward to NOW… but it definitely wasn’t always that way and it DEFINITELY doesn’t feel peaceful, deep, or profound each time I sit down.
The biggest misconception about meditation that I hear is that “to do meditation ‘right’ you must completely empty your mind and be silent and still the whole time”. SO not true, and for most of us (if we’re not living alone in a cave dedicating our whole lives to the practice), near IMPOSSIBLE! So take some pressure off of yourself right now if you’ve tried meditating and this was not even close to your experience!
Meditation is often described as a PROCESS of stilling the mind-meaning it happens little by little over time; but in our achievement-driven society, we often feel like we should “get it on the first try”. The truth is, there's really nothing to "get". We may or may not ever experience a meditation of complete silence, but consistent practice with intentional focus WILL help us calm our systems, deepen our breath, and at least become aware of the thoughts and beliefs that are driving us, perhaps to places we'd rather not continue to go. From there, it is up to us whether we question and release some of these patterns or not.
In using meditation with my clients here’s the approach that I take:
Meditation is the process of completely being with yourself and all that is going on around and within you, and slowly but surely, increasing the space and capacity to be with it, without distracting, numbing or running away from it. We first learn to be with it, whatever ‘it’ is in that practice. We begin to notice the thoughts and beliefs that often circulate in our minds, our habitual patterns of responding. We allow them to arise WITHOUT reacting to them as we usually would. We simply breathe, and let be.
In this way, meditation is more of a practice of becoming AWARE. Becoming aware of our default responses of the mind and body to situations. That’s the first and perhaps the BIGGEST step. Simply becoming aware, conscious of the way in which we are responding to life. Because the pace of our lives tend to be rapid, and the tendency to multitask and to distract is ultra high and accessible, it can be HELPFUL to begin a practice in a dedicated space free of external distractions- it’s not required- it just offers you the gift of removing a couple of external obstacles, so we can better be with the internal ones ;).
With this reframe of meditation being a practice of increasing awareness, rather than complete silence and emptiness, there are, again, many approaches! The one that I practice myself and often utilize with clients is one of being with the self, in a relatively quiet and peaceful place, focusing on the breath.
I suggest starting with the breath awareness for many reasons, including:
This practice is enough. I cannot say that enough! You can simply sit, and continually bring your attention back to your breath. This is the practice I return to daily, especially when feeling challenged. Depending on what I or a client is working on, I may also incorporate some stress reduction techniques like ambient sound, guided visualization, positive affirmation, and progressive neuromuscular relaxation (PNMR).
You’ve likely heard of many of these; but maybe not the last one! It’s actually just a fancy word for the process of becoming aware of tension in the body, and giving it permission to release. Often, chronic pain and headaches can be a result of a holding pattern in our bodies. Just pause for a minute right now- notice how you are sitting- are you holding tension anywhere? Jaw clenched? Shoulders lifted? Glutes clenched? Thighs crossed and squeezing? Abdominal muscles drawn in?
You’re not alone! These are common areas of holding for many of us, and what PNMR gives us the opportunity to do is become aware of these holding patterns and to release them, either actively or passively. If someone doesn’t feel much sensation in their body, and has a history of ignoring the body’s signals and forcing through, I might suggest active PNMR. In this practice, you actively tense and squeeze certain muscle groups, hold, and release as much tension as possible on the exhale. This offers training in becoming aware of what tension/holding feels like in the body and what relaxation feels like.
If I am in a session with a client, and they are already experiencing or are sensitive to pain or discomfort in their body, I often opt for passive PNMR, in which we still scan through the body, muscle group by muscle group, and become aware of the tension; but rather than actively tensing and releasing, we practice bringing awareness to that particular place, breathing into it, and give it permission to release when it’s ready.
So if this reframe of meditation has you curious and you’d like to give it a try, let’s craft a practice:
I hope that you found this topic helpful; it truly is one of the most simple and profound practices for healing the patterns that create chronic stress in our body/minds.
If you are interested in PNMR, I’ve recorded a guided body scan and golden light visualization meditation and I would LOVE to share it with you! Simply email me : firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “I AM CALM” and I will add you to my email list to send it your way!
Additionally, if you are really focused on reducing stress in your life to heal from chronic or autoimmune illnesses, and you’d like to receive support through your journey, I would LOVE to support you! I currently have 1 spot open in my private coaching practice, so if this is coming at the right time for you, please schedule a FREE 30 minute discovery call with me here, so we can chat, learn more about one another, and see if we are a good fit for partnering on your current health focus!
Until next time, deep, deep breaths.