• A New Twist on Meditation for Stress Relief

    Think meditation is boring? I used to, too. Then I realized that there’s a lot more to mindfulness meditationmeditation than sitting completely still and trying to empty your mind of all thought. Besides, there is no way to empty your mind of all thought. I mean, you don’t sit around consciously deciding what to think do you? So, today I offer some “realistic” meditations for those who want an excuse to sit still for a while, and a few meditations for those who have a difficult time sitting still between commercial breaks of their favorite TV show. I’ve divided them into the categories “Sitting Still” and “Moving” so you can easily find find the type you’re most interested in.

    Sitting Still Meditations

    For all of the sitting meditations you’ll want to be sitting up either a) in a chair with your back straight but relaxed (if you were a tree you should be able to sway in the wind) and feet flat on the floor; or b) cross-legged on a cushion or pillow so that your knees are slightly lower than your hips with your back straight but relaxed (if you were a tree you should be able to sway in the wind). Begin each of these by taking a deep breath and relaxing your shoulders. Repeat with neck, jaw, back, and hips. If you want to meditate for a specific amount of time, set a timer so that you don’t have to watch the clock.

    1. Breathing Meditation – Simply breathe. Do not alter your breathing in any way; just pay attention to your breath. Keep paying attention to your breath. If you have a thought – and you will have lots of thoughts – just notice it and let it go, don’t follow it into the past or future (you can do that after you’re done meditating if you’d like, but not during the meditation). Go back to paying attention to your breath. If your mind is relentlessly pelting you with thoughts and you’re having a hard time concentrating on your breathing begin counting each breath. You can count in one of two ways; either “breath 1, breath 2”, or “In 1 Out 1, In 2 Out 2.” When you have a thought, start over at 1. IF you get to 10 start over at 1. Yes, that says IF you get to 10; many expert meditators don’t make it to 10.  **confession: I’ve had sessions where I never got past 1**
    2. Nature Meditation – Find a spot in nature that is soothing, relaxing, or calming to you. Get settled and relaxed as described above (pssst… you can skip the cushion if you’re outside). Experience what it’s like to just BE in nature. Feel the air around you; feel the air/breeze against your skin and moving through your hair. Feel your body, your bottom, your legs, &/or your feet against the earth. Feel the slow, steady, stable rhythm of the earth. Listen to the sounds of nature all around you. Smell nature all around you. Visually take in all of the colors and textures of nature all around you. Spend some time looking at the uniqueness of each tree, plant, and animal around you. Don’t label anything, simply experience what it’s like to just BE in nature. When you have thoughts, just notice them and let them go – don’t follow them into the past or future. Go back to experiencing nature.
    3. Listening Meditation – Decide on a sound you want to focus on (birdsong, clock ticking, neighbor’s dog barking, kids playing, traffic, breeze rustling through the trees, etc.). Get settled and relaxed as described above. Focus on that sound. Really hear it. Hear the nuances of the sound that you may not have noticed before. Notice if there are several layers, voices, or pitches to the sound. Notice how the sound changes over time. Does it repeat, is it constantly changing, or do some parts change while others stay the same? Don’t label the sounds you hear, just listen to them. When you have thoughts, just notice them and let them go – don’t follow them into the past or future. Go back to listening to your sound.
    4. Visual Meditation – Decide on an object you want to focus on (flower, vase, artwork, pencil, raisin, candle, lamp, table, etc.). Get settled and relaxed as described above. Focus on the object. Really see it. See nuances of the object that you may not have noticed before. Notice if there are several textures, layers, or patterns to the object. Notice how the object looks from different angles. Does it change in a uniform way, randomly, or is it the same no matter how you look at it. Don’t label the things you see, just see them. When you have thoughts, just notice them and let them go – don’t follow them into the past or future. Go back to looking at your object.

     Moving Meditations

    Begin each of these by taking a deep breath and relaxing your shoulders. Repeat with neck, jaw, back, and hips.  If you want to meditate for a specific amount of time, set a timer so that you don’t have to watch the clock.

    1. Walking Meditation – Find somewhere that you can walk uninterrupted. Leave your ipod at home and if you have a walking partner agree to have NO conversation during the walking meditation. Walk. Notice what you notice, but resist naming or labeling anything. Notice some of the details of the things you approach or pass. See old things in a new way. See the extraordinary in the ordinary. When you have thoughts, just notice them and let them go – don’t follow them into the past or future. Go back to really noticing the things you pass on your walk.
    2. Coloring Mandalas (very simply – mandalas are spiritual pictures and there are many books and kits with mandalas that are already drawn in outline form just waiting for you to color them) – You will need a mandala coloring book or kit and some colored pencils. Choose the mandala you want to color. Don’t think about it, just choose the one you are drawn to. Lay out your mandala and colored pencils (some kits supply colored pencils, which is a huge bonus) in front of you. Using a soft focus, look at your colored pencils and choose the one that you are immediately drawn to. Next, look at the mandala with a soft focus and choose the area that first captures your attention. Color the chosen area with the chosen pencil. Put your pencil down. Repeat the process of choosing a pencil and area. Color the newly chosen area with the newly chosen pencil. Repeat the process until the entire mandala is colored (or, if you’re using one, until your timer goes off). Don’t worry about using any one color too much or not enough, and don’t worry whether one color will clash with the color next to it. No matter if you have a preponderance of one color over all the others or you have purple and orange next to each other, I guarantee your mandala will look way better than you think it will; you may  have to give it a couple days, however. The one you think you will hate may end up being the one you love the most. **Speaking from personal experience here**
    3. Active Mindfulness – This is a great one for the goal oriented among you. You can be productive AND meditate all at the same time. The caveat, and yes there’s always a caveat, is that you must choose one activity and only one activity to do during your meditation. No multi-tasking allowed. You must also allow plenty of time; no hurrying through this activity so you can get to the next. If it helps, you can think of it as being thorough, rather than slow. So… choose your activity (washing dishes, chopping veggies for dinner, dusting, mopping, mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, etc). Any activity is fine. Now pay attention to each detail of your activity. For instance: How do your hands feel in the soapy dishwater? Can you feel the individual bubbles? (you don’t have to be able to, just notice if you do) What is the texture of the dish in your hands? Does it have more than one texture? How heavy or light is the dish? Is food crusted onto it making you scrub or does it wipe right off? Can you hear or feel the bubbles popping? Notice each step of the process. Are there more steps than you realized? Continue noticing each detail until you are finished with the task. Many people discover that they don’t hate chores nearly as much when they do them in a mindful way such as this.

    I’ve only scratched the surface of meditation possibilities here. There are many additional types of meditation out there, as well as numerous variations on each type. If you enjoyed one or more of these meditations, I encourage you to look into it/them further. Even if you didn’t like any of these, I encourage you to explore other types of meditation. Maybe you’ll enjoy a guided meditation.

    Let me know if you find meditation useful for stress relief. If you do, please comment here or where ever you access my posts. If you don’t find meditation useful, I’d like to hear that too. What don’t you like? Does it make your stress worse or does it just not help?

    And of course, if you’re moved to… feel free to like, share, comment, retweet, etc.

3 Responses so far.

  1. I enjoyed your article Michelle. Ever read Jon Cabat-Zinn? He also gives examples of meditation in daily activities; like when doing the dishes. For me, it’s during my walk every morning. My mind starts out racing but by the end of the walk I’ve reached focus with a quiter mind, an appreciation of nature, and usually a problem solved. Thanks for sharing!