An anxious girl’s guide to meditation
The first time someone told me they had started meditating, I was outwardly supportive but inwardly skeptical. To me, the word ‘meditation’ was at the time synonymous with the kind of woo-woo, sage-scented nonsense that I wanted no part in. But, if I were being honest with myself, the idea of having to sit silently with the goal of clearing your mind was more than a little intimidating, and for someone who is chronically plugged into the internet and whose brain runs a mile a minute, seemed frankly unachievable. But as I grew older and adult life began to threaten to get the best of me, the idea of being able to achieve even a few minutes of anything resembling peace became more and more appealing.
If you’re the kind of person who has always been labelled an overthinker, then you’re no stranger to sinking into a stubborn thought pattern that refuses to be overridden. As someone who falls into the aforementioned category, all my research around how to start meditating led me to the conclusion that the best way would be to just start with it. It’s important not to put pressure on yourself to achieve some kind of outcome when you first begin the practice of meditation.
Much like sports, there are many different types of meditation that you could choose to practise. While most modern meditation practices draw their roots from Buddhist tradition, I was drawn to the most popular contemporary form, which is mindfulness meditation. There is no universally agreed-upon definition for this, but it basically boils down to being completely present in the moment without distraction, and observing your thoughts and feelings without bias or judgement.
It’s both harder and simpler than it sounds. I found that using the app Headspace helped tremendously when I first started meditating—they curate beginner meditations by length, and you can start with one as quick as three minutes. While it was a struggle at first—my thoughts flit constantly from one topic to another, I found myself replaying work emails in my head and re-hashing conversations I had during the day—with persistent practice came isolated moments of blissful mindfulness. I am no expert, and it takes years of dedicated practice to achieve deep meditative states, but I found that over time, while I still had stray thoughts and emotions, I was able to acknowledge them and let them go.
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It’s difficult to summarise or quantify the effect that this sustained practice has had on my life, but I found myself less prone to flying off the handle or wearing my emotions on my sleeve, I gradually noticed that I had more patience for things that would once drive me to the brink, and that in moments when I would previously have had a lapse of willpower, I was able to persevere.
Like life, meditation is a journey – there is no one single moment when you feel you have mastered the art of meditation, and you may not even feel like you’re particularly good at it. But what made a significant impact on me was the fact that a daily meditation practice calls on you to show up for yourself everyday. It asks that, in the midst of meetings and phone calls and text messages and emails and laundry and dinner, you take a moment to check in with yourself.
So, the big question — how to start meditating? Start by sitting down somewhere quiet and comfortable, and by paying attention to your breath and body. Using a guided meditation app or audio makes it easier for those that find the process particularly unapproachable. Focus on the way your breath moves through your body. Begin to notice the sounds around you, maybe the hum of your A.C. or the jingle of a siren in the distance. If you find your mind wandering, bring your attention back to a part of your body. Keep repeating this for as long as your mind will allow. And just like that, you’re meditating.
Note: Meditation is in no way a substitute for medication or counselling when it comes to anxiety or other mental health issues. Please seek professional help if you feel you need it.