Before I begin discussing my love of meditation and various routines, I want you to take a minute to reflect on two things:

1) When was the last time you took ten minutes to yourself?  And by that I mean purely to yourself, with no distractions? 

2) If you reflect on your daily schedule, can you find a spare ten minutes that could be put to better use?

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I started meditating early on in college.  I had seen a psychologist for my anxiety for the majority of my childhood, and for the most part had a good grip on expressing my emotions.  In my twenties, however, I came to realize that aspects of my stress became more founded as I studied, contemplated my future, and balanced school, extracurricular activities and a vibrant social life.

It was not until graduating college, however, that I made  meditation a part of my daily routine.  Once I started the ‘real world,’ I found that the day-to-day responsibilities of my job took time away from when I would naturally have scheduled time to relax, like between classes, before bed, etc.  With all of the transitions and moving parts occurring between adjusting to my new lifestyle, finding an apartment and a new group of friends, and figuring out the boundaries of a new relationship, I felt distracted and lacked direction in ways I had not felt before.

Furthermore, in college, I would often reserve meditation specifically for times when I was feeling overwhelmed or stressed as a calming mechanism to achieve a sense of clarity.  When I was stressed out, even if I couldn’t immediately solve the problem through meditation, sitting and acknowledging the feeling of discomfort (be it anger, sadness, stress, etc.) helped me work through why I was feeling that way.  While this is still a tactic I use regularly to cope with the more difficult human emotions we all experience, it had never occurred to me to work meditation into my day to day routine – regardless of how I’m feeling – to focus on the present moment.

As a present-minded person, it’s interesting for me to write about meditation.  Sure, I get lost in daydreams and future fantasies like anyone else from time to time, but I live most of my life immersed in what is around me and driven by emotion.  However, in my six months since my ‘formal journey’ into the practice of meditation, I’ve come to notice that each day I put aside simply for reflection, my mind strengthens my sense of self, allows me to clearly reflect on my motivations for my goals (big or small), and arguably most importantly, teaches me where my emotions ‘live’ in my body and how to be present with them.

Step 1: Breathing

If you take away nothing else from this post, remember this: deep breathing is a form of meditation in and of itself.  The slow motions of settling yourself through an inhale and exhale visibly lowers heart rate and slows down the scattered nature of a stressed out mind.  Seems obvious, right?  So then why is it so hard to sit down and make yourself do it?  When I don’t have enough time to meditate, or feel stressed out in a way where I can’t give myself the full attention, I give this a try: find a quiet spot to sit or stand for even just 90 seconds with your eyes closed.  Then count to ten with breathing (breathing in on ‘one’, exhaling on ‘two’, etc.)  Open your eyes.  Nervous about that interview now?  Maybe a little bit, but at least you gave your mind a moment to settle.  Even though not a formal, ‘practiced’ exercise, deep breathing is a mini-meditation.

My mind strengthens my sense of self, clearly reflect on my motivations, and teaches me where my emotions ‘live’ in my body.

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Where do our feelings ‘live?’

When I first started meditation, I was advised to pay attention to my emotional development both before and after the difficult emotion I was targeting.  For these kinds of emotions, I resort to University of Texas psychologist’s Kristin Neff’s meditations.  When I grapple with what Neff classifies as a 'difficult emotion – stress, anger, hurt, sadness, grief,' etc. – I follow her encouragement to use meditation that gives ‘kindness’ to both the mind and region of the body that holds that emotion.  For example, I feel stress in my mind as well as in the tightening in my chest.  Concentrating on these areas simultaneously might not solve the problem entirely, but it will allow you to be more aware of how emotions manifest themselves internally and give more clarity as to how your mind and body are connected.

How to get there? Headspace.

An app called Headspace is an excellent way for meditation beginners to start their routine path to a calmer mind.  Developed by Andy Puddicombe in 2010, the app uses  the simple mantra to ‘treat your head right.’  It begins with an introductory 30-day free trial of a ten minute session per day, focused on breathing and being present in the moment both physically and emotionally.  The app encourages a ‘full body scan’ as well as acknowledging the presence of underlying emotions during the exercise.  Downloading Headspace was the first step into my journey of meditation as well.  The daily routines (as well as pro tips from Andy for beginners) allows you to get comfortable with the exercise not just in times of high stress or a need to calm down, but on a daily level as well.  Since going through my thirty day trial, I’ve found that on days when I meditate I not only feel more in touch with my emotions, but have a clearer vision of what I want to accomplish on a day-to-day scale.


Download Headspace on the App store… Right now, a 15 day meditation streak gets you a month for free for a friend!  And you know what they say, it only takes 21 days to make or break a habit!

 

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