Let Me Meditate on That

sunWhen I first started doing yoga about ten years ago, I sort of snubbed the spiritual/mediation part of it. It felt odd for me to include it since my whole purpose was to use yoga for exercise, not enlightenment. Let me just get my stretch and strength on. I don’t need to appeal to a higher consciousness to make it count.

Things like that, thoughts like that, have a way of coming back to bite me in the ass. Because here I am, ten years later, meditating.

Of course, like yoga, I’m using it more for health purposes rather than enlightenment.

Meditation, taking that brief timeout to rest the brain, has proven to reduce stress levels and that is an area of my world that I’ve always needed help with. I have a tendency to work and stew and think and worry and work some more and never give myself a break. This summer, I decided to teach myself to give myself that break I need.

And I’d like to say that my anecdotal evidence supports the science I’ve seen. I feel much better mentally and my stress levels are quite a bit lower. I’m happier. It’s a nice, bright feeling. I rather like it.

So, if you’d like to give meditating a try, here’s how I do it.

First of all, I don’t think of nothing. A lot of meditating folks will tell you to clear your mind and not think of anything and that’s just an invitation to thinking about something and that’s frustrating when you’re trying so very hard not to think of anything. Total opposite effect that meditating is supposed to have.

If I want to clear my mind as much as possible and not think of anything then I focus on thinking about one thing. The easiest thing to do is just count breaths. Focus solely on your breathing (deep breaths in and out through the nose) and the numbers. That way you’re focused, but not really thinking. You know what I mean? I give myself a set number of breaths that I’m supposed to hit and when I get to that number, I can be done. Just doing even a small number that way relaxes me.

I’ve also used my mediation time to focus on other thoughts. For example, when I meditate in corpse pose (lying on your back, arms out a little, palms up, legs and feet relaxed, eyes closed) I picture myself breathing in happiness and breathing out unhappiness. It sounds stupid, but it’s fun, it’s relaxing, it’s positive, and it keeps my mind from wandering all over hell and thinking stressful thoughts. I end up feeling happier when I’m done because, well, I’ve been breathing in happiness, haven’t I? Yeah.

When I meditate sitting up, I’ll focus on other positive, productive thoughts, a short phrase that I might repeat to myself or a picture I’ll create in my head and concentrate on, but it’ll just be one thing for the entire period.

That sort of focus calms my mind and reduces my stress levels. It’s calming but for me it’s also productive because I’m focusing on something (like breathing in happiness). I’m doing as much as relaxing.

Second of all, meditating takes practice. Your brain needs to be conditioned to accept your quiet time. I try to meditate about the same time every day. That sort of habit helps. Some days I’m very focused and some days, my brain is like a monkey on meth and cannot be contained. I still do it on those days and get what I can from it. Even a little is better than nothing. But the more I do it, the better I get at it.

Which is really good for my stress levels.

Shut Up, Brain

Human brain NIH

I’m one of those people that has trouble with ruminations. Ruminating, if you don’t know, is going over and over and over (and over) something in your head. I tend to replay stupid things I’ve done or said in mind, sometimes for hours. It keeps me from falling asleep. It keeps me from concentrating on other things that I need to be doing. It ratchets up the anxiety to the point that I think my head is going to pop off.

For example, last week I had some text message confusion with some people I work with at the clothing store. Long story short, my phone doesn’t like group messaging, reply all is a fucking crime, and I should have put that phone list in my phone when I got it. When I finally figured out what was going on and why, I felt like a total idiot.

And so, my brain set to work not only replaying that whole fiasco out, but also trying to come up with a way to explain myself should it come up in conversation during the next floorset about how I’m a moron without looking like a huge moron.

For two hours, I tortured myself with this garbage that everyone else involved likely laughed off and probably won’t even remember the next time I see them. But I don’t like being an idiot or looking like one, so I must be punished, I guess.

Finally, after driving myself crazy, I decided to try a little meditation. I do yoga daily and though I don’t usually do the meditation portion at the end of my workouts, I will do it on occasion when I’m feeling stressed or anxious, or in this case, dumb. And it worked! I did a quick meditation and immediately felt better, the anxiety and burden of stupid lifted off of my mind.

So what did my brain do?

Marvel at the fact that I was no longer thinking about it by trying to think about it again. Like someone with a sore tooth realizing the tooth is no longer sore and then poking around to see if they find any trace of that soreness left, thereby making the tooth sore again.

Yes, I’m that kind of dingbat. Or at least my brain is.

So, of course, I started thinking about it again. And then I meditated again. And then I poked around again until I started thinking about it again. And so I deleted the evidence from my phone. And I meditated again.

And then I said, “You know what? I need a blog post for Monday. Here. Let me just write about how stupid my brain can be and how stupid I can be. THAT will fix it.”

So there. Maybe now my brain will shut up about it for good.

Well…maybe a little more meditation.