We live in stressful times. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives were driven by routines and schedules that had us racing out the door, driving through maniacal traffic, rushing through lunches to get to meetings, and ignoring our body’s signals to take a break so that we don’t lose momentum.
The pandemic may have benefited many by allowing those to work from the comfort of their homes, this also has come with a price: the lack of social contact, virtual schooling children while trying to work, working twice as hard to prove yourself through a virtual screen, and wondering when it will be safe to visit family and friends again.
The circumstances may have changed, but the stressors are ever-present.
Now is the time to implement methods or practices for yourself that will benefit your health and wellness throughout your lifetime: meditate. Yes, even a short daily meditation practice can be instrumental in reducing and managing stress on a daily basis.
Respond, Not React
I often tell my students ‘Imagine that your head is in a vice that contracts day by day. As the vice tightens, the pressure in your head grows, and it continues this way until your head literally crumbles. That’s what stress does to your mind and body when it isn’t managed.’
When meditating, you release the grip of that vice little by little each day. Instead of bursting like an overheated pressure cooker, you release steam consistently, which prevents you from blowing up. An established long-term meditation practice will turn you into the master of your mind and you are better equipped to choose what to respond to and how you want to respond so that you can maintain your peace of mind.
The Practicality of Meditation
Studies have shown that meditation practice may reduce blood pressure and ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and other diseases worsened by stress. People who participated in an 8-week mindfulness practice had a decreased inflammatory response to stress.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the benefits of meditation include:
- Building skills to manage stress.
- Focusing on the present moment.
- Reducing negative emotions.
- Increasing patience and tolerance.
These benefits are important in helping you manage your busy lifestyle. When you meditate each day, the effects last well past your actual meditation session. You develop clarity and learn to see life as it happens, not only as it happens to you — making you more resilient to the ups and downs of life. Self-awareness grows and you learn to make choices that keep you in balance each day.
These choices could look like:
- Taking a breathing break in between meetings.
- Scheduling self-care into your weekly calendar.
- Recognizing the differences between thoughts that serve you and the thoughts that work against you.
- Seeing a difficult situation outside of yourself or adopting a different perspective to gain valuable insight.
- Feeling more hopeful about the future.
Addiction to Stress
As simple as it sounds, meditation isn’t exactly an easy practice. For most people who are on the go, the thought of slowing down and connecting with their breath, their thoughts, or emotions can be a daunting task. It almost seems counterintuitive to maintaining a productive workflow.
Our addiction to stress prevents us from slowing down and making choices that serve our health and wellness. One of the best ways to disconnect from our attachment to stress is to start meditating.
How Meditation Changed My Life
When I trained as a yoga teacher back in 2009, I was convinced that meditation wasn’t for me. Despite having a daily yoga practice, I simply couldn’t sit still and slow down the thoughts in my mind. I had pretty much written off meditation until 2015, when I was introduced to a visualization-based meditation rooted in viniyoga. It was the first time I experienced true meditation. The effects of my daily practice coupled with the curiosity to learn more guided me down a path that led to me being trained as a Yoga Therapist in the viniyoga tradition.
My meditation practice has taught me to:
- Communicate better – by bettering the way I communicate I have strengthened my relationships with my husband, my children, and close friends.
- Be discerning – I’m able to catch myself in a negative action or thought pattern and pivot into a more supportive action or thought pattern.
- Be present in every moment – to live in the present connected to my body and breath allows me to show up as the best version of myself.
- Resist the urge to numb my emotions and heal them instead – my healing journey began not too long ago, and I credit the strength and self-compassion I have developed through my meditation practice in supporting me on my healing journey.
One Size Does Not Fit All
If you are new to meditation or if you struggle with meditating, know that it isn’t a one-technique-fits-all approach. There are many schools of meditation that teach different techniques, but they eventually get you to the same place — an increased ability to focus on the present and peacefulness within yourself. The key is to find the technique that works for you.
Here are some meditation techniques that might help you get started with establishing your daily practice:
- Breathwork-focused meditation.
- Visualization or object-based meditation.
- Body scanning.
- Zen meditation.
- Loving Kindness meditation.
- Chanting or prayer using mala beads or a rosary.
Setting Up for Success
Begin by setting a timer for five minutes and do your best to stay focused on your breath, your visual object, or your chant. When focused on the breath you could notice how the breath moves in and out of the body, with a visual object like a flower you might notice its shape, color, or scent, and with a chant, you could notice the tone of your voice and the vibration it creates within yourself.
If your attention wanders, gently bring it back to the present moment by noticing where you are, what you’re doing, and saying a grounding statement like, “I am here now”. Practice this daily until you have sustained your attention for the whole five-minute session. You can then gradually begin adding time, minute by minute.
It helps to practice at the same time and in the same place every day. Set up your space with a comfortable cushion or chair and a blanket if you get cold. You don’t have to sit cross-legged unless it’s comfortable for you to do so. Fighting with your body will hinder your ability to meditate, so get super comfortable. Meditation is best practiced sitting up – the goal of meditation is to develop sustained focused attention and not to fall asleep.
Remember, just like anything else, meditation is a learned skill and your ability to sit for longer periods will come with time, effort, patience, and commitment.
Commit to Yourself
A daily meditation practice can strengthen your ability to focus on any task at hand. By bringing your awareness into the present moment during practice, you learn to become more aware of your thoughts and actions whether you’re grocery shopping, having an important conversation, writing reports, working out, parenting or taking a walk. Developing your mind’s ability to stay focused in the present moment can keep you from making silly mistakes at work, writing angry emails and sending them, blowing up at your kids for no reason, and choosing fast food over a healthy meal.
This is what mindfulness is all about – being acutely aware of the present moment and your role in that moment. This self-awareness brings with it the power of choice – allowing you to choose a better, more harmonious way to interact with yourself and the world around you.
About the Author
Akshaya Chinapa is a holistic wellness coach, a rebel, a soul seeker and a compassionate human being. A long-time yoga teacher turned yoga therapist, Akshaya integrates yoga therapy, meditation and breathwork in her unique take on life coaching. She has taught yoga since 2009 and most recently worked in the Integrative Medicine clinic at Baylor Scott and White Health before launching her private wellness practice. She is passionate about helping women who struggle to make time to take care of their health and make important life changes, so they can prioritize themselves and live a life they love. When she isn’t coaching or writing, Akshaya loves to cook and bake for her husband and children. She rewatches seasons of The Great British Bake Off in her downtime.
Website: www.akshayachinapa.com IG: @akshaya.chinapa