If the thought of mediation makes you jittery and anxious, I get it. That was me a few years ago too. Honestly, sometimes that’s still me. But after accidentally discovering meditation and feeling its benefits first hand, now I just make it work.
Let’s go back a bit to 2015.
I’m running my business, a dance studio for little ones (insert noise level here), I’m in a cohabitating, toxic relationship (insert worry and constant arguments here). I’m working two jobs and I’ve picked up a paying side gig (insert constant stress to make it everywhere on time here) and, to top it all off, I’ve decided to enroll in FIU’s accelerated, online, Communications Master’s program (insert poor sleep and absolute burnout here). My grandmother dies, unexpectedly on January 11th. Insert depression here.
You’re probably saying, “Well, whatever’s next, you asked for it, taking all that on at once.” You’re probably right. But I can’t go back to change it so here I am.
Before I continue, I am NOT suggesting that meditation is the solution to depression. Meditation helped me deal with all the bricks 2015 threw at me, hitting center mass every time, leaving me breathless. But if you’re living with depression, you should see a therapist. You should see one today.
I lost half my hair; I had massive breakouts from eating like crap and barely sleeping. I gained 20 pounds that I’m still trying to lose.
During one particular traffic jam to my afternoon job, a silver Toyota Corolla cut me off and slammed the brakes. I rear-ended it. You’d think I’d be, shocked, angry or irritated. I wasn’t. I was stone cold quiet and unmoved for a good 5 minutes before everything – midterms, my shit relationship, the fact that I was going to be late to work, my grandmother being dead, and – for some reason – how hungry I was – all hit me at once. It felt like I’d woken up from a nightmare with a gasping breath… under water. I had a breakdown there on I-95 Southbound.
No one was hurt except my pride for crying like a child over a fender bender in front of the cop and the other driver. They didn’t get it. They didn’t have to.
I got home relieved that I was alone but with my heart still racing, with ragged breath. I felt exhausted. Too tired to make it to the couch. I sprawled out on the wooden floor. I lay there listening to the house creak, the AC unit kicking on which made the wooden floor vibrate a little bit beneath me. The old fridge in the next room hummed its way into cooling the beer bottles inside then quieted down to rest. I could hear a few cars driving past the house and, eventually, I could hear my own breathing. It was slower now, and my heart no longer racing. My mind was quiet for the first time in what felt like forever. No thoughts.
It was like the weight of my life had been lifted off my shoulders even though all my problems were still very much there. But now it was like I could see them from a distance. I could measure them and size them up like an opponent who no longer felt too tough to beat.
In my exhaustion I had accidentally meditated for the first time. I don’t know how long I was on that floor. It could have been minutes or it could have been hours. But the effects of just breathing and not thinking during that time have stuck with me since. I also haven’t been able to meditate that successfully since then (nor do I want to if it means being in a similar place in life again).
These days I no longer wait until everything falls apart. I get ahead of my emotions and my stressors by adding short meditations throughout my day. Before you come at me with the, I have no time for that, here’s how I do it.
This is the hardest time for me to meditate so this is also my shortest meditation of the day. Right before leaving my driveway and before turning on the radio in my car I close my eyes and take 3 deep, slow breaths. Then I inhale for 4 seconds, hold my breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. This is known as Breath Awareness Meditation. It’s known to reduce anxiety and improve concentration. I do this for 1 minute, or repeat the process about 3 or 4 times.
I have an alarm set for noon each day (you can set yours for your lunch break or another slow part of your day.) I find a place to be alone. Sometimes my office is fine, sometimes the bathroom, sometimes I step out to my car. I start the same way, taking 3 deep, slow breaths. I close my eyes and continue to breathe slowly imagining that from my heart there is a light the turns on like a candle’s flame and slowly grows with every breath I take until it surrounds me entirely. Its glow is peaceful inside and around me, full of love. This light’s task is to keep me calm and bring its calmness and love to everything it touches. This is known as Metta Meditation and reduces anger, frustration, anxiety, and interpersonal conflict. I dedicate about 5 minutes to this session.
Sitting upright or laying down flat I start with 3 deep slow breaths and continue my breathing in through the nose, blowing slowly out through my mouth with relaxed lips. I start focusing on my feet, I move them around, scrunch up my toes and then relax them. I move my focus to my calves, my thighs, tensing and relaxing the muscles, and slowly scan the rest of my body releasing any tension through breathing. I take two or three breaths for each extremity and a few extra breaths for my stomach and heart, for my core. This is known as Body Scan meditation and it promotes calmness, relaxation, and more peaceful sleep. Depending on how tired I am, I might dedicate 5 to 10 minutes to this meditation.
Oh… to finish the story, I realized the first thing I could control was getting out of that toxic relationship. I broke it off the night before graduation. I used all my savings to move into a one bedroom apartment. Having finished my degree I had a little more time for me. After moping around feeling alone in my new apartment for a few weeks I took up yoga and got a cocker spaniel I named Lia.
Back to the meditation… Whatever time you spend watching TV or scrolling through social media, take 5min from there for yourself, for your peace of mind, for your clarity, calmness and relaxation. You don’t need to be in the middle of a life storm to reap the benefits of a quieter mind that lets you see the real problems and the solutions.
Just one minute of deep breathing has been proven to lower stress and relax the body. Try it now… do this just 5 times: inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds (or a little slower if that’s more natural to you).
I know you feel that…