Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on February 19, 2020

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 mindfulness 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 Mindfulness Meditation?

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

Mindfulness is:[1]

Advertising

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:

    Advertising

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

      Advertising

      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.

      More About Meditation

      Featured photo credit: Mor Shani via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Tracy Kennedy

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

      How to Build Self Discipline to Excel in Life 9 Simple Steps to Set Goals in Life to Achieve Success How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life 10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When Feeling Stuck The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

      Trending in Mental Strength

      1 Why an Attitude of Gratitude Is Essential (And How to Develop It) 2 How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life 3 15 Ways to Boost Your Motivation for Success 4 How Do I Change for the Better? 11 Little Things to Start Doing 5 100 Inspirational Quotes That Will Make You Love Life Again

      Read Next

      Advertising
      Advertising
      Advertising

      Last Updated on March 30, 2020

      What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

      What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

      Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

      You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

      This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

      What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

      According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

      Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

      There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

      How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

      When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

      Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

      Advertising

      1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

      One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

      The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

      Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

      2. Be Honest

      A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

      If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

      On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

      Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

      3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

      Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

      Advertising

      If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

      4. Succeed at Something

      When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

      Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

      5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

      Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

      Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

      If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

      If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

      Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

      Advertising

      6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

      Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

      You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

      On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

      You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

      7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

      Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

      Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

      Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

      When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

      Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

      Advertising

      In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

      Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

      It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

      Final Thoughts

      When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

      The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

      Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

      Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

      Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

      More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

      Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
      [2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
      [3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
      [4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
      [5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
      [6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
      [7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
      [8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

      Read Next