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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts

How to Practice Mindfulness 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 difficult?

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

Many first-time meditators feel the same, but the key, like most things in life, is to simply practice.

Starting a meditation practice can have huge benefits if you stick with it. 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.

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.”

Most people, upon starting a meditation practice, begin to list the excuses as to why it’s not working. They’re too impatient. It’s boring. There’s too much else to do. They can’t sit still.

But that’s really the point. You have a racing mind, and you feel anxious, and you want to cultivate patience. That’s exactly what a meditation practice will help you with.

Most people have an average of 60-80,000 thoughts per day. In order to get them under control and get the most out of them, meditation is a great option.

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.

In this article, you’ll read 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, mindful meditation is combining the practice of mindfulness and meditation.

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and not overly reactive. Whenever you bring awareness to the information your senses are offering, you’re being mindful.[1]

Therefore, mindfulness meditation 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.

Mindful 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.

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A simple definition of meditation, offering by Deepak Chopra’s Chopra Center, is “a journey from external activity to inner silence.”[2]

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 all forms of meditation, and they certainly can be if they lead to a sense of inner peace and stillness.

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

Benefits of Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation allows you to calm your thoughts, achieve greater mental and emotional clarity, and 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.

Common Mistakes Made in a 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 mindful 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:

First and foremost, you can’t do it wrong because 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. 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, and 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:

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

Is There 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, so start experimenting to see what you mind and body need from you.

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

For most people, silent meditations are difficult at first. Instead, try looking up some guided meditations on YouTube to get you started.

Some connect more with nature and find it easier to practice meditation while walking or hiking outside.

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 Mindful 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.[5]

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.

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

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.[6]

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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, and ask your family to leave you alone for the next 5 to 20 minutes.

3. Correct 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 the 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.

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.

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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

Apps like Headspace and Calm are both fantastic places to start. They contain guided mindful 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 mindful meditation resources on the web, including:

  • The Chopra Center
  • Roger Gabriel, Chopra Center 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 mindful meditation[7], 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.

More Tips on Mindful Meditation

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 April 19, 2021

How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

You may be wondering how to clear your mind. Maybe you are facing a tough presentation at work and really need to focus, or perhaps you’ve got a lot going on at home and just need to relax for a few minutes. Whatever the reason, having a clear mind can help you find your center.

The only problem is that you can’t completely erase the thousands of thoughts you have each day. The goal is to be able to observe those thoughts without engaging with each one of them.

The good news is that clearing your mind and returning to the present moment comes from a simple act of acknowledging that you’re overwhelmed in the first place. A path to better mental health and overall quality of life starts here.

What Happens When You’re Not Present?

We’ve evolved to keep looking and working towards a future goal. The very nature of our careers is to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up for the future. Our thoughts and, therefore, our habits and actions consistently point in the forward-moving direction, whether it’s in your relationship, career, or goals.

The point at which this becomes harmful is when we become too stuck in this forward motion and can’t reduce stress in the short or long-term. The result of this is burnout.[1] It’s a term that is most often used in the workplace, but burnout can happen in any area of our life where you feel like you’re pushing too hard and too fast.

The idea here is that you’re so engrossed in the forward movement that you take on too much and rest too little. There is no pause in the present because you have this sense that you must keep working.

On a physical plane, the body takes a real hit with burnout. You feel more muscle fatigue, poor concentration, insomnia, anxiety, poor metabolism, and so much more.

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These symptoms are the body’s way of throwing you red flags and warning you that you must slow down. But because your mind is so preoccupied with this forward momentum, it disconnects you from listening to your body’s signals. The only time you really hear them is when the signals are too loud to ignore, such as during serious illness or pain.

As we can see, not being present is something that snowballs over time. Eventually, it can cause serious mental, emotional, and physical ailments. 

To help you deal with this, you can check out Lifehack’s Free Life Assessment to see where you may be off balance. Then, you can check out the points below to keep moving in the right direction.

How Do We Come Back to the Present?

Answering this question will answer the question of how to clear your mind because they go hand in hand. There are many tools you can use to begin a mindfulness practice.

To reiterate, mindfulness is simply defined as the act or practice of being fully present.[2] Tools that allow you to step into this practice include meditation, journaling, a body-centered movement practice such as Qigong, or simple breathing exercises.

Underneath it all, however, is one technique that acts as a universal connector, and that is acknowledgment. This term may not sound like a technique, but its power truly flourishes when put into practice.

For us to come back to the present moment, we have to acknowledge that we have trailed off into the past or the future. Likewise, for us to clear our mind, we have to acknowledge that our mind is overwhelmed, distracted, or scattered.

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This simple act of pausing and catching ourselves in the moment is how we can build our acknowledgment practice. So, the next time you find yourself overwhelmed at work with mental to-do lists, pause. Acknowledge your state of mind and say to yourself that you’re overwhelmed. This sends a signal to your whole being that you’re aware of what’s going on.

It cuts the cords of illusion, denial, and ignorance. You are now building your awareness of yourself, which is an incredibly potent gift.

How to Clear Your Mind

Now that you’ve acknowledged where you are and how you feel, you can take action and learn ways to clear your mind. You can take a few moments away from your desk or to-do list, and practice something to ground yourself back into the present moment.

1. Take a Walk

Grounding yourself can be as simple as taking a walk and admiring the changing of the leaves. This practice is also known as “forest bathing,” and it doesn’t necessarily need to take place in a forest. It can be in your favorite park or even walking around your town or neighborhood.

Bring your attention to the senses as you enjoy your walk. Can you tune in to the sounds of your footsteps on the earth? Can you notice the smells and take in the sights around you while staying present in the moment? Can you touch a leaf or the bark of a tree and allow the texture to teach you something new?

Such a practice does wonders in clearing your mind and bringing you back to the now. It also connects you more deeply to your environment.

2. Box Breathing

As you’re learning how to clear your mind, a mind-clearing practice may look like sitting down and going through a nourishing meditation or breath practice. Breathing is, honestly, the easiest and best way to clear your mind. Even taking a few deep breaths in and out and feeling and noticing the breath will bring you right back to the present moment.[3]

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In yoga, we call this breath Same Vrti, meaning a 1:1 breath ratio. It can also be translated as “box breathing.” The idea is to make the length of your inhales and exhales the same, as this allows you to take in more oxygen and slow down the chatter of the monkey mind. It also kicks on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestion, offering many health benefits in the long run.

This will allow your heart rate to slow down so that you can reduce any anxiety you may be feeling. It also aids in digestion, as the metabolism is back on track, and helps you physically process food and drink properly.

3. Add Meditation

how to meditate and clear your mind is also helpful when you want to clear negative thoughts and relieve stress. In fact, following your breath is a meditation in itself. Adding a visual, like imagining gentle ripples on a lake or clouds passing along a beautiful blue sky, can give the mind something to attach to without running through the train of your thoughts.

On the other hand, if you are mentally overwhelmed and meditation sounds like more stress, tuning in to a guided meditation session can be alleviating. It often helps to hear the voice of a teacher or guide who can walk you into more peace and contentment with their words and energy. If you can’t find such a guide in a local studio, turn to the many meditation apps on your phone, or YouTube.

4. Write Your Thoughts

Alternatively, another powerful practice for when you’re learning how to clear your mind is sitting down and writing out all of the thoughts in your head. We call this a “brain dump,” and it is an effective method for simply releasing your thoughts so that you can mentally breathe and process things better.

Grab a piece of paper and write out all of the thoughts that are pressing for your attention. The idea is not to analyze the thoughts or fix them, but to give those thoughts an exit so that you can move on with your day without fixating on them aggressively. This can look like a laundry list of thoughts, or a diary entry.

Afterward, feel free to close your journal or rip up the paper as part of your stress management. You don’t need to hold on to what you wrote, but it does help to see the expression of what you’re holding on to mentally. Likewise, this practice is very potent to do at night before bedtime. So many of us struggle to sleep soundly with many thoughts bouncing back and forth, and this exercise before bed can allow us to enter a deeper level of rest.

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Regardless of what you do, understand that practicing mindfulness is a lifelong process. With life’s ups and downs, it’s stressful to attach yourself to the practice of being mindful and in the present moment because it’s never guaranteed that you will be present for 100% of your life.

In this practice, what matters more than anything is intention. Our intention of staying present and sticking to our mindfulness practice is what will encourage us to keep coming back to it, even when we forget.

Final Thoughts

With the thousands of thoughts that we have in our head each day, it can sound overwhelming to even tackle this and try to learn how to clear your mind. The technique, however, is powerful, simple, and effective.

It all comes down to first recognizing and acknowledging that we are overwhelmed, stressed, or far away from the present moment. That acknowledgment acts as a wake-up alarm, inviting us to examine our state of mind and take action.

In this way, not only are we clearing our minds in a manner that works for us, but we’re also building our self-awareness, which is a beautiful and powerful way of being in the world.

More Tips on How to Clear Your Mind

Featured photo credit: Elijah Hiett via unsplash.com

Reference

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