As we enter the month of February, it’s common to reflect on love and relationships and hold Valentine’s Day celebrations. It is also often a missed opportunity to reflect on one of the most important relationships in our lives: the one we have with ourselves. Unlike New Year reflections, this one is not about goals or resolutions; it is about cultivating kindness and finding personal connection with oneself through meditation.
Meditation, to put it simply, changes the way we relate to our thoughts and feelings. It is a tool that helps people distance themselves from pesky thoughts or feelings they may have, allowing them to think clearly or focus on what they want to. The benefits of meditation are abundant. If practiced daily, meditation can help decrease stress, relieve anxiety, improve sleep, improve the immune system and increase focus. The most common form of meditation is mindfulness, a practice that can be most often found on guided meditation apps.
Meditation comes in many forms. The first distinction is a guided or unguided meditation practice. Guided meditations can be particularly helpful to those who are new to meditation, and they are easily accessible with meditation apps, Instagram accounts, YouTube videos and online workout subscriptions. The second distinction is Samatha or Vipassana. Samatha focuses on calming the mind by focusing on breath, mantra, physical objects or physical sensations in the body. Vipassana focuses on insight or clearing the mind by setting an intention, focusing on the breath, noting sensations, noting thoughts or noting feelings.
Each practice has a different purpose, according to Headspace. Focusing one’s attention helps to keep the mind from wandering. Scanning the physical sensations of the body helps to sync the mind and body. Noting helps bring awareness to what distracts the mind and gives insight into one’s thought patterns and tendencies. Visualization is a focus on imagery, such as light filling the body, rather than a focus on breathing. Loving-kindness is a focus on positive energy and goodwill to ourselves and others. Skillful compassion is often a focus on someone you love. Resting awareness is a practice in which you intentionally allow the mind to drift and think whatever it wants. And finally, reflection is a practice in which you ask yourself something in the second person such as, “What do you love about yourself?”
Meditation practices can be as short as five minutes or as long as you have time for, but the way in which you benefit is through daily practice. For many, this means meditating in the morning, even if it’s just while the coffee is brewing. For others, this could mean whenever you can fit it in — which could even be while dinner is cooking, before turning on a show or even once the kids are asleep. Better yet, try practicing meditation with your kids. And remember that the most stressful, busiest days are the days in which meditation is the most beneficial. With lots of practice, it is possible to learn your thought tendencies, stay calm during stressful times and develop a more loving relationship with yourself, which will, in turn, result in more positive relationships with others in your life.
If you enjoy supporting local Austinites, then check out these meditations on Instagram. Bonus, Gustavo Padron has meditations in Spanish!
For those who want free, accessible meditations, look no further than YouTube. Yoga with Adriene has some great meditations in addition to her incredible yoga classes. Plus, she’s from ATX!
For those who want every meditation you could possibly need, an app may be the way to go. Headspace has meditations for children, productivity, sleep, relationships and more.
For those who need a little movement with your meditation and want the experience of working with a teacher and having a community accompany your practice, a workout subscription with guided meditation classes may be all you need. Both of these subscriptions incorporate Pilates, yoga and meditation into their practices.