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Last Updated on May 15, 2019

How to Practice Mindful Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts

How to Practice Mindful Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts

Have you heard about the benefits of mindful meditation, wanted to try it, and maybe even sat down to do it, only to find it extremely hard?

Your mind is racing, you can’t sit still or calm your thoughts. You think it’s just not for you?

Oh yeah, I’ve been there.

My husband and I attended a Chopra Center event in January. After three days and a lot of guest speakers, guess what our biggest takeaway was? Yep, you guessed it – meditate. Having a regular meditation practice is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being. You can start right now, right where you are.

I’m going to make this as simple and easy for you as possible so you can experience all those great benefits – without all the stress and frustration.

When I first started meditating, the soundtrack in my head sounded a little like this…

“Shoot, I forgot to send that email, should I do that first? Is 10 minutes too long, maybe I should just do 5 today? Who’s picking up the girls tonight? Am I doing this right? How long has it been? I have so much to do and I’m just sitting here doing nothing. I’m not sure I can do this. Am I done yet?”

I know I’m not the only one who’s felt like this when they first attempted to meditate. Upon asking a client yesterday if she meditated, she replied, “Oh yeah, my head won’t let me do stuff like that.”

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken with that say they just can’t do it or it’s not for them. Their mind races too much. They’re too impatient. It’s boring. There’s too much else to do. They can’t sit still.

But that’s exactly the point!!! Your mind is going to race. That’s what it does. In fact, most people have an average of 60-80,000 thoughts per day. That’s exactly why meditation is so helpful.

Saying, I can’t meditate because my mind races is a bit like saying, I can’t run because it’s hard to breathe and my legs hurt. Like with anything new, it’s not going to be easy when you first start. But the more you do it, the better you get. It’s a practice.

So if you’ve tried meditation and think it’s just not for you, or you’ve heard a lot about the benefits and just aren’t sure where to get started, you’re in the right place.

There are so many resources on meditation — how to, when to, why to, where to. So, what makes this article different?

Firstly, I’m not a meditation teacher. In fact, it took a long time for me to get into the practice of meditation.

I’ve always prided myself of moving fast, being busy and getting stuff done. I grew up in a high achieving, fast-paced, entrepreneurial family who valued hard work, productivity and action. I would much rather go on a hike, go to work or do anything other than sit still.

In fact, for a very long time, I took pride in the fact that I couldn’t sit still long enough to meditate. It was a badge of honor. It made me feel productive, busy, important. Can you relate?

The same was true with my yoga practice. I’ve been practicing for almost 25 years and I’m completely embarrassed to admit it now, but I used to leave during savasana (you know, the part when you lie on your back at the end of class). I left when the ‘real’ work was done.

But what I didn’t realize was that the silence, the chance for integration, the space, the quiet IS the real work. And probably one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. The same is true with meditation. All the benefits they say are true.

In this article, I’ll share all about meditation, the benefits you’ll reap from practicing, the biggest mistake you’re making, a basic framework to get you started and a whole bunch of resources to keep you going – and calm that racing mind of yours.

What Is Mindful Meditation?

In short, mindfulness meditation is combining the practice of mindfulness and meditation.

Mindfulness is:[1]

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The basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us…Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.

Mindfulness is essentially being aware of what is happening in the present moment:[2]

It is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.

Meditation has been practiced since antiquity in numerous religious traditions and beliefs, often as part of the path towards enlightenment and self realization. Since the 19th century, it has spread from its origins to other cultures where it is commonly practiced in private and business life.

Meditation is essentially about finding quiet in your mind, being in the present moment, and entering a deep state of peace and relaxation. It’s not about clearing your mind from all thoughts and feelings. It’s about learning to observe those thoughts and feelings without attachment or judgement.

Deepak Chopra defines meditation as:

    Mindfulness meditation is just one type. From active meditation to walking meditations, guided meditation to transcendental meditation, there are many types of practices (and even definitions). Many people feel prayer, contemplation, and mantras are forms of meditation.

    Regardless of which form you choose, meditation has all sorts of benefits mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

    Benefits of Meditation

    Meditation allows you to calm your thoughts, achieve greater mental and emotional clarity and enables you to access your true self – the one free from the weights, stresses, fears and anxieties of the world we live in.

    Studies have shown that meditation can transform your life and:

    • Lower stress levels and blood pressure[3]
    • Help you sleep better
    • Improve your overall health and relationships
    • Increase productivity
    • Create more joy and connection in your life
    • Manifest your deepest desires
    • Create an expanded sense of awareness and even..
    • Increase world peace

    Research has also shown significant proven benefits in the areas of depression,[4] anxiety and chronic pain.

    Meditation is quite literally the answer for all that ails you. It’s backed by science:

    10 Benefits of Meditation That You Might Not Know About

    Common Mistakes Made with Meditation Practice

    Want to know the biggest mistake you’re making with your meditation practice? It’s how you’re thinking about it. It’s likely your beliefs around meditation that are getting in the way, not the practice itself.

    Think You’re Doing it Wrong?

    You think you can’t do it.

    You think it takes years of practice to receive any benefits from meditation, or on the flip side, you meditated once and are frustrated you don’t see the benefits already.

    You think a successful meditation means you’re not having any thoughts.

    You think it’s just for yogis, airy fairy folks and ancient philosophers.

    You think you don’t have enough time.

    Here’s what I want you to know:

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    First and foremost, you can’t do it wrong. And there’s really no one right way. In fact, as we mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of meditation practices and techniques. It’s about finding what works for you.

    You don’t have to meditate every morning for 30 minutes. You can start with 5 minutes and work your way up to there. In fact, you could start with five, mindful breaths. There, you just practiced mindful mediation! See? You can do it.

    You will most likely have a multitude of thoughts while you’re meditating, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.

    You don’t have to dress up in flowy clothes, burn incense and chant ‘OM’ if you don’t want to. But feel free to if that’s what you connect with. You can mediate at your desk, in your car – not while driving please – or on your hike.

    So stop being so hard on yourself. If you think you’re doing it wrong, your mind is going to want to throw in the towel and stop – or worse yet, not get started in the first place.

    Repeat after me:

    I cannot meditate wrong. There are many different ways to mediate and I just need to find what works for me.

    There’s a One-Size-Fits-All Approach?

    I’m a big fan of this premise in all of life. The thing about most advice (on any topic really) is not that it doesn’t work, it’s that it doesn’t work for everybody. Any habit you are trying to create needs to take into account your unique personality, lifestyle and challenges.

    Have you ever set out with great intentions to do something – a new diet, exercise regimen or meditation practice, only to fall flat on your face a few days or weeks later? Then what? You beat yourself up that you didn’t do it ‘right’, that you failed.

    However, you haven’t failed, you have just found something that doesn’t work for you. And now, it’s time to find something that does. What works for a friend, colleague or spouse will not necessarily work for you.

    There is a perfect form of meditation that will work for YOU – you just have to find what that is.

    For me, quiet, silent, breathing meditation was SO hard when I first started. I found it much easier to follow guided meditations as it kept my mind more engaged. So, I would scour YouTube and try out meditations on everything from anxiety to calmness, confidence to happiness.

    I’m also an avid hiker, so I would look for walking and hiking meditations and eventually learn to do them myself.

    Even now, after years of mediation, while I can mediate in silence, I prefer a guided or group mediation. It helps to calm my active mind.

    So if you’ve tried meditation and it hasn’t worked for you. Try one of the suggestions below. Try until you find something that resonates with who you are.

    A Basic Framework for Meditation

    To get you started, I reached out to yoga, meditation and mindfulness teacher, Libby Carstensen, to give you a basic framework for mindfulness meditation.

    Her first reminder?

    Meditation isn’t about quieting the mind but about finding the quiet that is already there.

    Here’s her advice:

    I recommend my clients begin their daily practice by starting with a simple breathing technique to calm the mind and then begin their meditation practice.

    Remember this teaching, the breath controls the mind. “Pranayama” is the yogic technology of breath control. When consciously breathing, or breathing on purpose, the breath will restore control over the mind and allow you to focus and direct your awareness.

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    As Yogi Bhajan, the great Kundalini Yoga master said,

    “The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”

    Start with the 4-7-8 Breath.

    [5] This technique, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than replaying your 60-80,000 thoughts.

    The 4-7-8 count, also known as the relaxing breath technique, is one of the easiest to do and the benefits are immediate. Dr. Weil has even described it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”

    It’s perfect for anyone looking to calm their mind before meditation or whenever you’re feeling anxious.

    The 4-7-8 Technique:

    1. Rest the tip of your tongue at the top back of your teeth
    2. Let out a deep exhale, along with a big sigh or whooshing sound
    3. Close your mouth and slowly inhale through your nose for a count of four
    4. Hold your breath for a count of seven
    5. Exhale deeply though your mouth and completely for a count of eight, being sure to let out a big sigh or whooshing sound
    6. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

    Always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation.

    Now you’re ready for your meditation. Here’s a simple framework for meditation:

      1. Get Clear and Set Your Intention

      Why do you want to meditate? What matters to you?

      I believe if your “why” is big enough then anything is possible. Is it health, peace of mind, inspiration, forgiveness, or connection?

      2. Set Yourself up for Success

      Eliminate any distractions, close the door, use the bathroom, silence your phone, ask your family to leave you alone for the next 5 to 20 minutes.

      3. Set Your Posture

      Lying down is a signal to the body to go to sleep, so I don’t recommend lying down for meditation. You can sit in a chair or cross-legged in easy pose using a pillow or a bolster.

      If you’re not comfortable, you won’t be able to relax. But don’t get too comfortable. The point is to focus your awareness, not to shut it down.

      4. Keep a Tall Spine

      Inhale, roll the shoulders up to your ears. Exhale, roll them back and down. This stacks the head atop your neck while floating the shoulders over hips.

      Consider this a neutral, tall spine. Every time you feel yourself hunching forward or slumping, reset your spine. Rest your hands comfortably on your knees or lap.

      5. Close Your Eyes

      With your eyes closed, direct your attention towards the brow point or the third eye.

      6. Focus Your Attention on Your Breath

      With your eyes closed, bring attention to your breath and notice how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Slowly inhale and exhale though the nose.

      If your mind begins to wander to one of your thoughts, and it will, return your focus back to your breath.

      7. Relax Your Body

      Begin with a body scan: start at the scalp and move your attention slowly downward, methodically relaxing and softening each part of the body.

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      Consciously relax your body and let go of any tension from your head, neck, or shoulders. Releasing body tension will help you open to whatever arises during your meditation.

      8. Repeat the Mantra So Hum

      Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, while thinking or silently repeating the word So. Then slowly exhale through your nose while silently repeating the word Hum. Continue to allow your breath to flow easily, silently repeating So . . . Hum . . . with each inflow and outflow of the breath.

      Whenever your attention drifts to thoughts in your mind, sounds in your environment, or sensations in your body, gently return to your breath, silently repeating So . . . Hum.

      9. Now You’re Meditating

      Continue the practice for as long as it is comfortable. Start with 5 minutes a day working up to 20 minutes once or twice a day.

      When your practice is complete, stop the repetition of the mantra and sit silently with your eyes closed, taking a moment to rest in the stillness and silence.

      10. Never Run to or From Meditation

      Notice if you want to quickly move onto the next thing after your meditation practice. Take a few minutes to stretch and bring your awareness back into the present moment before you rush off on all the things you need to do.

      Bonus Tips for Meditation

      If you’re looking for some additional ways to get going. Here are a few additional ways to start meditating:

      Download an App

      Headspace

      and Calm are both fantastic and popular apps that my clients and I have used. They contain guided meditations and breathwork on everything from stress, anxiety, self-esteem, concentration, walking, forgiveness, gratitude and sleep.

      You can choose from shorter meditation to longer as you progress and get more comfortable. Both offer a free trial so you have nothing to lose.

      Join a Group or Class

      Feel like you just can’t do this on your own yet? There are plenty of group meditation practices and classes out there.

      Search for ones that are close to you. These are often held at Yoga and movement studios. You can search online for local Meetup Groups, check out Meditation Finder or Google “local meditation groups” or “local meditation classes” to find something nearby.

      Surf the Internet

      There are some incredible meditation resources on the web, including:

      • The Chopra Center
      • Roger Gabriel, Chopra Cent er Educator
      • Top 25 Best Meditation Resources: Guided Meditation, Meditation Music, and Meditation Apps
      • YouTube. Just search for topics you’re interested in. Guided Meditation for Anxiety? Check. Guided walking meditation? Yep, there’s 200. Morning Meditation? Here’s one of my favorite 5-minute ones. Test a bunch and see what you like. At one point, I did a new one almost every day as I explored what worked and what didn’t work for me.
      • Deepak and Oprah’s 21 Day Meditation Experiences. I love these as you feel like you’re part of something bigger. And they are amazing. A few minutes of Oprah’s words of wisdom, followed by Deepak Chopra and then the mediation.

      Final Thoughts

      It’s time to practice. It’s time to commit. It’s time to choose a method that resonates with you and try it. No more excuses.

      Set a goal. Commit to a month. Too long? Commit to 10, 5 or even just 3 sessions. But start somewhere.

      Studies show changes in the brain in as little as 8 weeks of meditation,[6] but you’ll start to feel changes in your overall mental health and well-being long before then.

      In fact, start practicing mindful meditation today and you’ll begin to feel the benefits in all areas of your life. You’ll be able to bring the calmness, awareness, and clarity into each day and your relationships, career, conversations and activities. The longer you stick with it, the easier it will become and the more benefits you’ll notice.

      You can do this. Your mind will calm. Your thoughts will start to slow.

      You’ve got this. The time is now. Let’s get started.

      Featured photo credit: Mor Shani via unsplash.com

      Reference

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      Tracy Kennedy

      Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

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      Last Updated on August 19, 2019

      How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

      How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

      We live in a world that constantly tells us what to do, how to act, what to be. Knowing how to be true to yourself and live the life you want can be a challenge.

      When someone asks how we are, we assume that the person does not mean the question sincerely, for it would lead to an in depth conversation. So telling them that you are good or fine, even if you’re not, is the usual answer.

      In an ideal world, we would stop and truly listen. We wouldn’t be afraid to be ourselves. Instead, when we answer about how we are doing, our mask, the persona we show the world, tightens. Sometimes even more so than it might have been before. Eventually, it becomes hard to take off, even when you’re alone.

      Imagine a world where we asked how someone was doing and they really told us. Imagine a world where there were no masks, only transparency when we talked to one another.

      If you want to live in a world that celebrates who you are, mistakes and all, take off the mask. It doesn’t mean you have to be positive or fine all the time.

      According to a Danish psychologist, Svend Brinkman, we expect each other to be happy and fine every second, and we expect it of ourselves. And that “has a dark side.”[1] Positive psychology can have its perks but not at the expense at hiding how you truly feel in order to remain seemingly positive to others.

      No one can feel positive all the time and yet, that is what our culture teaches us to embrace. We have to unlearn this. That said, telling others you are ‘“fine”’ all the time is actually detrimental to your wellbeing, because it stops you from being assertive, from being authentic or your truest self.

      When you acknowledge a feeling, it leads you to the problem that’s causing that feeling; and once you identify the problem, you can find a solution to it. When you hide that feeling, you stuff it way down so no one can help you.You can’t even help yourself.

      Feelings are there for one reason: to be felt. That doesn’t mean you have to act on that feeling. It just means that you start the process of problem solving so you can live the life you want.

      1. Embrace Your Vulnerability

      When you are your true self, you can better self-advocate or stand up for what you need. Your self-expression matters, and you should value your voice. It’s okay to need things, it’s okay to speak up, and it’s okay not to be okay.

      Telling someone you are simply “fine” when you are not, does your story and your journey a great disservice. Being true to yourself entails embracing all aspects of your existence.

      When you bring your whole self to the table, there is nothing that you can’t beat. Here’re 7 benefits of being vulnerable you should learn.

      Can you take off the mask? This is the toughest thing anyone can do. We have learned to wait until we are safe before we start to be authentic.

      In relationships especially, this can be hard. Some people avoid vulnerability at any cost. And in our relationship with ourselves, we can look in the mirror and immediately put on the mask.

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      It all starts with your story. You have been on your own unique journey. That journey has led you here, to the person you are today. You have to be unafraid, and embrace all aspects of that journey.

      You should seek to thrive, not just survive. That means you do not have to compete or compare yourself with anyone.

      Authenticity means you are enough. It’s enough to be who you are to get what you want.

      What if for the first time ever, you were real? What if you said what you wanted to say, did what you wanted to do, and didn’t apologize for it?

      You were assertive, forthcoming in your opinions or actions to stand for what is right for you, (rather than being passive or aggressive) in doing so. You didn’t let things get to you. You knew you had something special to offer.

      That’s where we all should be.

      So, answer me this:

      How are you, really?

      And know that no matter the answer, you should still be accepted.

      Bravery is in the understanding that you still may not be accepted for your truth.

      Bravery is knowing you matter even when others say that you do not.

      Bravery is believing in yourself when all evidence counters doing so (i.e. past failures or losses)

      Bravery is in being vulnerable while knowing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

      It’s taking control.

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      2. Choose Your Attitude in Adversity

      You can take control of your destiny and live the life you want by being true to yourself. You can start anytime. You can start today.

      You can start with one day at a time, just facing what happens that day. Most of us get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of a big change. Even if the only thing we change is our attitude.

      In one instant, you can become a different person with a change of attitude. When you take control of your attitude, you become able to better understand what is around you. This allows you to move forward.

      Originally, you may have had a life plan. It could have started when you were little; you were hoping to become a mermaid, doctor, astronaut or all three when you grew up. You were hoping to be someone. You were hoping to be remembered.

      You can still dream those dreams, but eventually reality sets in. Obstacles and struggles arise. You set on a different path when the last one didn’t work out. You think of all the “shoulds” in your life in living the life you want. You should be doing this…should be doing that…

      Clayton Barbeau, psychologist, coined the term “shoulding yourself.’[2] When we are set on one path and find ourselves doing something different. It becomes all the things you should be doing rather than seeing the opportunities right in front of you.

      But in all this disarray, did you lose sight of the real you?

      It may be in our perceived failures and blunders that we lose sight of who we are, because we try to maintain position and status.

      In being who we really are and achieving what we really want, we need to be resilient: How to Build Resilience to Face What Life Throws at You

      It means that we do not see all possibilities of what might happen, but must trust ourselves to begin again, and continue to build the life we want. In the face of adversity, you must choose your attitude.

      Can attitude overcome adversity? It certainly helps. While seeking to be true to yourself and live the life you want, you will have to face a fact:

      Change will happen.

      Whether that change is good or bad is unique to each person and their perspective.

      You might have to start over, once, twice, a few times. It doesn’t mean that everything will be okay, but that you will be okay. What remains or should remain is the true you. When you’ve lost sight of that, you’ve lost sight of everything.

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      And then, you rebuild. Moment after moment, day after day. We all have a choice, and in this moment, that matters.

      You can choose to have a positive attitude, seeing the silver lining in each situation and, where there is none, the potential for one. Maybe that silver lining is you and what you will do with the situation. How will you use it for something good?

      That’s how you can tap into yourself and your power. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes on purpose. It can happen when we aren’t even looking for it, or it can be your only focus. Everyone gets there differently.

      You can rise, or you can remain. Your choice.

      When the worst happens, you can rely on your authenticity to pull you through. That’s because Self Advocacy, speaking up to let others know what you need, is part of finding the real you.

      There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Or sometimes, helping others can help us deal with the pain of a hurtful situation. You decide how you’re going to help others, and suddenly, you become your best self.

      3. Do What Makes You Happy When No One’s Looking

      Being the best version of you has nothing to do with your success or your status. It has everything to do with your Character, what you do when no one’s looking.

      In order to create the life you want, you have to be the person you want to be. Faking it till you make it is just a way to white knuckle it through your journey. You have the fire inside of you to make things right, to put the pieces together, to live authentically. And Character is how you get there.

      If you fall down and you help another up while you’re down there, it’s like you rise twice.

      Along with attitude, your character is about the choices you make rather than what happens to you.

      Yes, it’s about doing the right thing even when obstacles seem insurmountable.  It’s about using that mountain you’ve been given to show others it can be moved.  It’s about being unapologetically you, taking control, choosing your attitude in adversity and being the best version of you to create the life you want.

      How do you know what you really want? Is it truly status or success?

      Unfortunately, these things do not always bring happiness. And aspects of our image or “performance driven existence” may not achieve satisfaction. Materialism is part of our refusal to accept ourselves as enough. All the things we use to repress our true selves are about being enough.

      “Enoughness” is what we truly seek, but ego gets in the way.

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      Ego is the perception of self as outer worth. It’s not REAL self worth.

      Ego represses our true self with a new self— the self of chasing ‘“Am I ever enough?”’ questions. And instead of filling our true selves with self-love and acceptance, when we “should ourselves” and chase “enoughness,” we feed the ego or our image.

      It’s important to realize YOU ARE ENOUGH, without all the material trappings.

      Stanford psychologist Meagan O’Reilly describes the damage of not thinking we are enough. One of her tactics for combating this is to complete the sentence,[3]

      “If I believed I were already enough, I’d ____”

      What would you do if you felt you were enough?

      By believing you are enough, you can live the life you want.

      So many fake it to try to get there, and they end up losing themselves when they lose more and more touch with their Authenticity.

      Final Thoughts

      By being yourself, you are being brave. By acknowledging all you can be, you tell the universe that you can until you believe it too. The steps are easy, and you are worth it. All of it is about the purpose you are leading and the passion that is your fuel.

      Being true to yourself is all about mastering how to live life authentically rather than faking or forcing it. Having the life you want (and deserve) is about being trusting in yourself and the purpose you are living for. Both need passion behind it, fueling it each second, or you will experience burn out.

      When you are authentic, you can call the road you walk your own. When you live your life for you and not just the results of all your actions (faking it till you make it), you can let go of what you don’t need. This clarifies and pushes purpose to you, living for something that is greater than you.

      You will find that making decisions based on what will actually achieve your goals, will help you attain the life you want, and your success with each step, will allow you to enjoy the process. Good luck!

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      Featured photo credit: Ariana Prestes via unsplash.com

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