Taking some time for reflection, introspection, and centering is vital for well-being. There are several well conducted scientific studies that link contemplative practice to happiness, resiliency, and clarity of mind. These calming, uplifting qualities affect our whole body health. Think of how good you feel when you are happy (high energy), and how easy it is to get sick when you are stressed (low energy). People extremely experienced in meditation have been known to produce powerful, measurable brainwaves, indicating they are using large parts of their brain that are not used otherwise,* thereby literally increasing their vibration (qi, prana, energy). What potential exists there?
Now, I’m not asking you to become a hermit in a cave and go without food and water for 30 days while you sit in Lotus position and chant Om. I’m saying, start with 5 minutes a day and sit quietly with yourself. If it makes you feel more comfortable, think of it as having a sit and think, or taking time out for prayer. I would challenge you to find 5-10 minutes during your morning routine to start your day off right with this simple exercise. I mean, push the snooze button one less time or set your alarm 10 minutes earlier. You can do that.
Meditation exercise: Choose any comfortable position that you can maintain for at least 5 minutes; usually seated or lying flat on your back. Rest your hands comfortably on your lap, your knees, by your sides, or adopt a mudra. Set a timer, then relax. Focus on your breath. Don’t change your breath, just notice it. Maybe even think, “Inhale. Exhale.” When thoughts start to crowd your attention to breath, honor them and let them pass, then come back to your breath. After 5 minutes, take one more long, deep breath and bring attention to your thoughts. Maybe journal what you uncovered, if anything. Don’t judge what surfaces, or doesn’t, just notice it. Work your way up to 10 minutes or more a day.
Meditation doesn’t mean your thoughts are completely quiet for the duration of your session. You just have to siphon them in a direction that works for you. Focus on your breath, give your mind something to grab onto so it isn’t flying around knocking things off of shelves. Remember, this is a practice. Perfection isn’t the goal.
What I have described above is basic beginner meditation. Breathe in, breathe out. No sweat. Your next step is Gratitude Meditation. Once you have established your connection with center through your breath, begin to think of what you are grateful for. It is very hard to be negative when you are being thankful. I have many things to be grateful for: My family, my friends, my dogs. Even when things aren’t peachy, find the silver lining. I’m thankful for this floor I am sitting on. I’m thankful for my warm bed. Begin to list the reasons why. Then really feel it. Feel your heart swell, feel warmth snake its way from your center into your periphery, feel a smile come to your face. This is an especially good practice right away in the morning. It starts your day off on a high note. Do it while the coffee is brewing, and see how much better your day can be when you start it with gratitude!
Often, people find old emotions pop up when they sit quietly for a moment. These emotions may be quite intense. People are often surprised when they suddenly start sobbing two minutes into their meditation. If this happens to you, you are not failing, this is completely normal and healthy. We live in a culture that wants us to keep a stiff upper lip rather than experiencing emotions in the moment. We stop listening to our gut, so what we really feel gets buried rather than expressed. When we give ourselves the opportunity to finally explore the undercurrent of ourselves, feelings we didn’t even realize we had may start flooding to the surface. One of my teachers likened our consciousness to an iceberg: What is below the surface is much larger than what we can see. Whenever we do something that opens up hidden doors to our subconscious—like yoga, meditation, or a massage—the water line lowers and a little more of the iceberg is uncovered.** You may not be aware of repressed feelings. They may just surface as generic sobbing. Or they might not. Either way, it’s okay. Keep your journal, and some tissues, handy and let the feelings flow.
Using meditation to center and cultivate positivity increases our vibration. You will be able to feel it. It will feel like a good mood. Take a few minutes each morning to practice positivity and see what kind of day you have. When I start to think about all of the things I am grateful for, my day starts to look a little brighter. The more I do this, the more positive thinking becomes a habit, then a mantra, then reality. Not that negative thoughts disappear overnight, but now you have a go-to game plan. When your habitual criticism pops up, become aware of it, stop and breathe, then replace whatever you just said to yourself with gratitude. You can do these little mini centering exercises in the middle of your workday, while in traffic, or during a potty break. Turn “Why doesn’t anything ever go my way?” into “How can I make this work for me?”
*Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. with Richard Mendius, M.D. (find it on Amazon)
**Lecture by Melody J. Francis, BHS, eRYT 500, LMT, NCBTMB, CBP. Black Hills Yoga School, 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training. Rapid City, SD. June, 2016-December, 2016