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Last Updated on May 13, 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 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

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.

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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