Meditation is an ancient technique for mind-body wellness that is rising in popularity across the world. It seems as the world spirals into uncertainty and turns up the chaos, many have decided to tune into their breath and inner sense of calm and guidance. It seems enticing, yes? Question is, how can you start a meditation practice if you’re like many people who can’t seem to sit still long enough to learn how to do it, much less enjoy it?
We reached out to Hope & Grace Initiative Board Member and friend, Dr. Belisa Vranich, renowned clinical psychologist, public speaker, and author of Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health (St. Martin’s Press/Hay House,) to get some simple tips to help you settle down and settle into yourself. Here are Dr. Vranich’s tips for inner calm when you might feel anything but:
First, recognize what’s working against you
“One of the reasons you might not be able to tune in and relax might have to do with your addiction to an external stimulus. Your phone, your computer, television, tablets — anytime you’re sitting still, you’re probably staring at or scrolling through something. As a result, your brain never shuts off. The first question you must address is how to pry yourself away from your electronic addictions long enough to try meditation.
You should first understand what constant stimulus does to the brain. It might feel like a harmless scroll through social media or the need to check your email, or maybe you think that game helps you relax. The fact is, that stimulus activates the same brain circuitry as would any other addiction; it affects dopamine, which lights up your pleasure and reward centers.
Also, know what technology use is doing to our ability to focus and stay calm. Our generation has the shortest attention span in the history of man. I always cite the statistic that a goldfish has a nine-second attention span; people now only have a seven-second attention span. Our society is focused on short bursts of information that hit your need for connection, pleasure, and information, and it makes it very hard to remain focused and calm.
The oxymoronic messaging that being mindful is important when we’re the least mindful we’ve ever been in history is a crazy message. I completely agree. That said, it can be done. In order to calm your brain enough to meditate, much less operate in the world with a calm mind and body, you must begin to step away from it. Stop to think: would you drink a bottle of scotch and drive? No, so consider stopping the constant need to use technology. It really is an addictive thing, so treating it like something that has the potential to become addictive is a great start to achieving balance.”
Also, don’t focus on the time
“You also hear about people who say they meditate for hours every day. That might work for them, but it just seems excessive to me. I think if you get a good 20 minutes in, even 20 minutes combined throughout the day, that’s fine.”
Meditation techniques for the constantly moving
“There are plenty of ways to get calm and centered. A few of my favorites are:
Try moving meditation – I personally love yoga, but you have to find the right yoga class for you. It took me a long time to find the right yoga class for me because I need good music, so I finally found an instructor who plays The Beastie Boys and music I like. Find one that really resonates with you along with a teacher who can help you center and focus.
We should stop framing meditation as only sitting still on a mat or a chair somewhere. Yoga is a moving meditation. So is tai chi. Swimming can also become quite meditative. If you like moving meditation, find one that works best for you, and practice it regularly.
Prayer – If you are religious or spiritual, prayer is a type of meditation. The constant repetition of learned prayers, offerings, and/or mantras is transcendental and can bring true calm and connection. If prayer is your means of reaching a calm, centered and/or elevated state you should pray.
Meditation apps and/or songs – I know I mentioned that technology is causing many of the issues we have with focus and calm now, but if you’re going to use it maybe try utilizing its better functions. Many people love Headspace. I like meditative gifs. There are plenty of apps out there that offer help with meditation but always look for those which focus on the breath. Here’s a fun fact: if people focused more on their breath when they meditate, they would be able to meditate deeper and longer.
If you can’t find an app or don’t want to find one, use a song that works for you. Just count your inhale and your exhale so you stay focused on your breathing.” (editor note: Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” is a great song for meditation.)