Friday, December 1, 2017

How to Start Meditating

Hey everyone, thank you so much for your kindness after my last post!  I got a lot of nice comments and messages from people, and it made me feel very loved and supported.  I am so fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of amazing friends and family, and to also live in a progressive area where self care and mental health are not taboo or shameful.  I am very privileged in that sense, and also very grateful.

I got a couple of questions on meditation as well, so I thought I would just do a quick post about what I've been using and just talk a little bit about how the process has been for me.  So I was very skeptical of meditation for the same reason I suspect many are, and that's because I had this perception of it being very...I don't know, granola or something?  Crystals and patchouli?  I don't even know what I thought.  But really, it's just taking time to sit, breathe and train your brain to be quiet for a bit.  No tantric chanting, no woo, it's just training your mind to calm down.  My brain is constantly racing and can get on very anxious or negative loops to the point where I wish I could physically grab it and yell at it to stop.  Meditation is just that, it's just shushing your brain, or at least that's what it's been for me.  I do guided meditations because I'm not at a place yet where I can just sit quietly and zone out on my own, and that's where I recommend starting with if you're new to it.  It does take practice at first to get to a place where you sort of shove your thoughts to the side, but once you do, it is such a welcome relief every day.  It's my 10-15 minutes to absolutely zone out and be at peace.  My brain stops going in what I affectionately call the "cyclone of despair", which is exactly what it feels like.  You can pretty much do it any time, but I love doing it before bed.  It's been a godsend for better sleep, which had been an issue for me for several months.

I got started with the Stop, Breathe & Think app, which is free and what my therapist recommend to me as a starting point.  If you are feeling like I was, which was both skeptical and unsure of how to even begin, I definitely recommend starting with this.  Basically you tell the app how you feel physically, then it asks you to pick 5 emotions you're feeling at that moment.  Once you do that, it spits out 3 or 4 guided meditations to choose from, all ranging from 2 to 10 minutes.  They are all very basic and straightforward and were very helpful in helping me practice how to actually meditate.  Like I said, at first it was very difficult to quiet my mind and the thoughts I had racing constantly.  I really had to work at it, but once I did I was amazed about how it kind of does put you in this weird trance.  It's not a negative experience at all, you just kind of feel like you're in a dark, quiet room a million miles away from it all.  It feels like my negative/anxious thoughts are an object that I am setting down.

Once I kind of got the hang of it, and once I sort of exhausted the list of meditations the app has (I'm too cheap to buy their extra ones), I sought out guided meditations on Youtube.  I just searched "guided meditations" and explored all of the ones in the 10-15 minute range.  This opened up a lot of options and it's been fun kind of exploring different videos and coming up with a list of ones I like and can rotate between depending on my needs that day.  This Guided Meditation: Deep Relaxation & Bliss video is my absolute favorite one and I feel is probably the most approachable one even for beginners.  The lady has a very soothing voice, and really guides you through some deep breathing, and then asks you to picture being in a place where you're happy.  This is probably personal, but the image I use is from this summer when Eric and I were in Bend with Molly.  We would go out every day and read on the front porch for a few hours, which is a luxury that I haven't really afforded myself much this year.  We would drag Molly's bed out so she could be with us, and she absolutely loved sitting and watching all the birds/squirrels and being outside with us.  I just think of that time, just both of us sitting quietly and reading, the dog sleeping peacefully next to us, the smell of the juniper trees in front of the house we rented, and how quiet it was other than the sounds of the birds around the house.  That was such a peaceful, happy time this year, so that's what I think of.  :)  It's prompted me throughout the day to think about that image when I am feeling stressed, which was a benefit I wasn't expecting, but has been very effective.

Another great, approachable type of meditation is progressive muscle relaxation, which is basically the process of contracting your muscles very hard, then releasing them.  You typically start at the top of your body, then work your way down to your feet.  By the time you are done, you feel very relaxed.  I listened to this Squeeze Away Tension video at work this week and liked what I heard, so I will be trying it out in earnest this weekend.

I have also really been utilizing calming music while I'm at work (and sometimes at home if I'm up doing laundry or something), and it's made a huge difference in both my work productivity and my stress levels.  There are times I really like to get riled up and listen to Tupac, Black Flag or the Ramones, but lately I've just needed to try to calm myself rather than escalate my agro ways!  I just started looking up "zen music" on Youtube and have a playlist of the type of music that they play when you're in a spa, that's honestly the best way to describe it.  I've gravitated the most towards the videos from Yellow Brick Cinema, there's a wide variety and they are all super long, so typically one video lasts me a whole work day!  This one with the Native American flutes and thunderstorm is my absolute favorite though.  I love storms and we don't really get heavy ones here in Oregon, so to me the thunder is very relaxing.  I can't play this one around Molly because the thunder in it makes her nervous, that's how high quality the sound is!  I just save it for work.

Anyway, I hope that was all helpful.  I highly encourage anyone, even if you're just feeling a little anxious, angry or stressed, or you're having trouble sleeping, to give meditation a try!