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February: Meditation

By Kathleen Belonga

SAT FEB 06, 2021

Hello Friends!

Last week I was asked to speak on a podcast about meditation, it's going to be published this coming week. It got me thinking about all of you.

Maybe some of you have already started a meditation practice but if you haven't, I hope this will inspire you!

It’s been a good eight years since I starting meditating. Although I had been a long time yoga practitioner, my practice was primarily physical for years; I had never meditated until I was in grad school studying holistic health. I took a mindfulness class called Mindfulness for Daily Living. The class was taught by a certified MBSR teacher, based on the 8-Week MBSR Program. It was an amazing experience and I was immediately hooked on mindfulness meditation. Life at home with three young boys and a husband who worked long hours was stressful. Being able to slow down, breathe, and take a few minutes to care for me felt really good. The practices also helped me to have more compassion and acceptance for myself. Practicing helped me to ground myself and respond better as a parent when things got crazy. Some of you can relate I am sure.

Where did meditation come from?

Meditation began thousands of years ago in India with Vedic sages. Then into Hinduism, with yogis meditating for hours in caves. Meditation at that time was more of a spiritual practice. Fast forward to the 21st Century, in the Westernized world, now we have many secular styles of meditation for us to choose from like Mindfulness Meditation.

How can meditation help?

What I find so fascinating is that we have the ability to rewire our brains! Yes, we can literally change train our brains to think differently. This is a process that is adaptable throughout our lifetime.

For example, I used to be a complainer. It was just how I was raised. What I didn’t know was that my brain had been unconsciously conditioned to complain. So the more I complained, the more I complained! But, when I started practicing mindfulness meditation I was able to rewire those complaining pathways in my brain to think more positively and make better choices! That’s good news, right? I felt more positive, more fulfilled, and happier in my relationships.

How often should a person meditate?

Length of practice varies. I think even just a few minutes of conscious awareness and breathing each day can make an impact on someone’s overall well-being. The more consistent and longer you sit, the greater the benefit.

My personal experience has been most profound with longer sits. Like 15-30 minutes a day.

A little over a year ago, I went on a 5-day retreat. We practiced silence for the first few days and it was absolutely amazing! You may be wondering, what kind of silence? Yes, I am talking about the kind of silence where you do not talk to anyone, not even at meals. You are not allowed to use your phone, computer, journal, or even read a book. Completely unplugged. All forms of communication are removed.

What an amazing gift! After my time in silence, my mind was so free from distractions that I was able to find clarity on some issues I had been struggling with personally. It was liberating. I highly recommend a silent retreat.

Types of Meditation Practices

Finding the right type of practice for you is important. Meditation doesn’t always mean sitting still on a cushion in a quiet room. Some meditation practices require sitting, while other practices incorporate movement.

Some examples of practices:

  • Awareness - Noticing your body, sensations, breath. Centering and calming.
  • Breathing - Breath awareness, deep belly breathing. Calming and cooling. (helpful during Summer months, eases feelings of anger)
  • Mantra - repetition of words, quiets & relaxes the mind. (helpful during Fall months & quiets a scattered mind)
  • Concentration - Focus gaze on an object close by or on the horizon. (Candle gazing, look out into nature)
  • Walking - Great anchoring awareness of mind (wonderful for Winter months & easing depression)
  • Movement - Yoga is a mindfulness practice (if done with an intention to keep the focus on breath/body)

What’s the best time to practice?

Most teachers recommend mornings, although it’s ideal to start your day with clarity, there is no “correct” time of day. The “most ideal” time is the time that works best for you. Start out with a few minutes a day and build on time as it suits you. You may find doing two shorter meditations is helpful, do a short sit in the morning and again in the evening.

How does one start a practice?

The hardest part is just remembering to do it! - Sharon Salzburg

A lot of people think that they “can’t do it”. Yes, you can!

Have compassion with yourself, know that it’s normal to have your mind wander, it doesn’t mean you CAN’T do it. In fact, the art of meditation is to acknowledge the thoughts, then redirect the attention back to the breath. The practice itself is an exercise for your brain, to train your attention to do one thing at a time, which is very different from how most of us live our lives today.

Finding an app with guided practices can be helpful when you are just getting started or at times that you find it difficult to sit without ruminating.

Some of my favorite apps are:

  • 10% Happier
  • Calm
  • Insight Timer
  • Stop, Breathe, & Think
  • Headspace

Now, what are you waiting for? Take a moment to pause right now and notice your breath. Breathing in and breathing out. Repeat five times. You just did your first, but hopefully not the last, meditation practice.

This month I will be adding some short meditations and breathing practices to your library, so stay tuned!

Wishing you all the best!