Meditation caused me more stress.
That is, until I learned some very important things that I will be sharing with you in this post.
Seriously, I was actually bad at meditation. It angered me. Any attempt I made ended in frustration and anxiety. Nothing zen about that!
When I started group therapy with an emphasis on meditation, it was all I could do to not roll my eyes every time someone spoke of how amazing and peaceful meditation was. Calling me a skeptic would have been a gross understatement. I had personally tried it and felt like an absolute failure.
Why did I suck so bad at meditation?
Because I believed the lies. I believed that I had to clear my mind for anything good to happen to me through meditation. If I couldn’t clear my mind, I was obviously incapable of doing meditation right.
My mind does not clear. Ever. It’s exhausting.
My therapist assured me that I could meditate and receive positive benefits from it, so I grudgingly gave it a try. It didn’t help. I was agitated and wanted nothing more than to get out of there. I couldn’t just sit there with my mind blank for 1 minute much less 20 minutes or more!!!
On the verge of giving up, I was convinced by my wonderful therapist to give meditation another try. I totally respect all of the good she has brought into my life, so I figured I could try it just one more time. This is when she shared the greatest thing I had ever heard about meditation…
There is no wrong way to meditate!
I can’t clear my mind, and THAT’S OKAY!!! Rather than trying to force my brain into an empty submission, she gave me instruction to just focus on my breathing. When my mind wanders (as it is wont to do), I just have to bring the focus back to my breathing. It really was that simple.
I tried it.
It wasn’t horrible.
Not feeling like a failure was a hard judgment to lose, but meditation became so much more enjoyable when I did. I like to consider what I now do as “active meditation” because I just can’t calm myself to stillness. I am not that meditatively advanced!
Keeping my hands and mind focused has made the greatest difference.
So, how did I do it???
I tried biometric meditations to work on my focus. My therapist has a biofeedback system that connects to her laptop with a meditation “game” of sorts. One exercise was to match my breath to a light as it brightened and dimmed. The point was to get my breathing in sync and remain there long enough to cause the magical lantern to open to reveal a treasure (or something similarly motivational). So, I played along (with much doubt in my mind initially).
I am a skeptic, so I varied my breathing to see how it affected what was going on within the program. I convinced myself that I could overcome it! Turns out, it’s pretty legit and I even focused enough to reveal the treasure. Yay me! Keeping my brain active helped me actually benefit from meditation. It was a miracle!
Another method of “active meditation” that I use is called the body scan meditation. You can do it anywhere and in any position. You literally scan your body systematically and acknowledge sensations or emotions as you come to them. Sometimes this one is tough for me. We spend our lives being told to get over stuff that when we give all the stuff the attention it deserves, it can be truly overwhelming.
However, if you experience it and accept it for what it is (usually just an emotion or, in my case, an unfounded belief), then you can move on and it really does lose some of its power. You practice meditation enough and you actually get to a place where you can recognize and appreciate the emotions and sensations without letting them ruin your day. I know this because I am in that place 85% of the time.
It is the sweetest freedom you will ever find.
If you’ve read my previous posts, you’re probably thinking that meditation sounds a lot like mindfulness. Well, you aren’t wrong. Being mindful of your actions is a huge part of meditation. I’ve said it before, but it is so true that mindfulness can be applied in every area of life and produce beneficial results. Mindful meditation is just a really fantastic combo!
The benefits of meditation are numerous!
Meditation helps you lower your blood pressure, improve concentration and even reduce stress (just to name a few)! I try to find ways to meditate in my daily life (just as much as I find ways to be mindful) because I can physically and mentally feel the difference.
It helps that I am one of those weird people who can turn grocery shopping into a meditative experience (unless I have a tiny entourage…if you know what I mean). The produce department is one of my favorites for applying meditation and mindfulness! All of the colors and textures and scents keep my brain occupied while still allowing me to experience some peace.
Sounds a tad contradictory, right? If you struggle with your brain being set on maximum all of the time, then you’ll understand.
Something was still missing from meditation for me. As a problem solver by nature, I considered what my biggest issue was:
What do I do with my hands???
There are people out there who can sit calmly with their hands in an open, resting position. I am not one of them. I fidget…a lot! So, this was a serious obstacle to finding the peaceful side of meditation for me.
I needed something to occupy my hands while still helping me pace my breathing, and that’s where I came up with the idea for a meditation pacer.
A meditation pacer was a simple addition to my meditation practice, and it solved the problem of how I was to keep my hands occupied. My design consists of an anchor bead or pendant on each end with 10 sliding beads in the body of the piece. The anchor piece can be symbolic to the practitioner, and it can serve as a reminder of the focus of their practice (we’ll talk about mantras next week, by the way). I chose 10 sliding beads since I have always associated the ideal number of calming breaths to be 10.
How does it work?
- During each inhale you slide a bead slowly from one hand to the other (as in the pictures above and below). This is completely up to your meditation and to the length and speed of breath that you would take. It works really well for both lefties and righties!
- Grasp the next bead in line and inhale as you slide it in the direction of the original bead.
- Repeat until all 10 beads have transferred sides.
- Continue in the opposite direction for as many cycles as you need to reach a peaceful state.
I love using a meditation pacer to keep my hands occupied and keep track of my breathing. It’s small enough to carry with me wherever I go, and I even keep one in my self-soothing kit. (Click here to read my post about self-soothing.)
If you think a meditation pacer would aid you in your journey to peace, they will be available in the Starrhealthyself Shop beginning on March 29th.
If you just can’t wait that long or you want a fully customized pacer, contact me at email@example.com. I will be happy to work with you and help you come to enjoy your meditation and gain as many of the benefits as you can!!!
For anyone who would like to start out with a little extra help, I highly recommend checking out the awesomeness of Cara McDonald on www.caramcdonald.com. She is truly amazing and has really great guided meditations, meditation suggestions, and yoga playlists! I’ve been a loyal reader of hers for a while now.
Subscribe to the Starrhealthyself Newsletter for exclusive content and special opportunities! Be on the lookout for really great discounts for subscribers in my online shop!