I can laugh now at how I groaned at the many suggestions that I learn to meditate to help mitigate the myriad layers of stress in my life. So many people knew it could help me: The licensed social worker who ran my postpartum support group, the caring volunteer at my support group for Christian women recovering from abusive marriages, my online yoga teacher who specialized in trauma-sensitive yoga and holding space for Black people as they navigate racism and micro-aggressions in daily life. I groaned because I felt too stressed and overwhelmed to be still. Honestly, it seemed impossible. I had two teenagers who, thanks to COVID-19, were unhappily adapting to these restrictive, stay-at-home orders---plus a newly crawling, teething infant.
In my frustration, I wanted to dismiss the advice because meditation felt unattainable. Between racing thoughts and my pelvis injury from giving birth, trying to just sit still in a quiet room was both stressful and painful. Internal stillness was not accessible, and I felt like I was drowning. Yet, I needed help.
See also Stillness is Overrated: How to Move into a Meditation Practice
I took a class on meditation in 2019 when stress was ticking up. But I was not able to recreate the class experience for myself at home. I decided to use recorded guided meditations as a bridge. This launched my short, daily practice. Even now, on Day 56, it is rare for me to meditate for more than 20 minutes at a time. Extended free periods are not part of single motherhood---especially now during quarantine! But because I don't require a long time to meditate, it's possible to stick with my practice.
I now have reached the ability to settle into a meditative calm even while sitting next to my baby as he happily plays with his object permanence box and wooden stacking blocks. He even mimics my deep breaths. Our shared meditations usually last three to five minutes. When I have time alone, my meditation time is 15--20 minutes long. I still enjoy guided meditations, but sitting in silence doesn't feel impossible anymore. Stillness is no longer a stranger; it is a friend who welcomes me and allows me to be myself.
Discovering Meditation's Benefits
I used to be overwhelmed by racing thoughts---sometimes when I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of responsibility and sometimes when I was experiencing a flashback of trauma, pain, or abuse. Since taking up meditation, I'm not a prisoner to racing thoughts or a drumming heartbeat. As I focus on my breath, I can bring my heart rate down and bring myself back to the present.
Not every meditation experience has been a magical, mystical experience---and yet, I can absolutely attest that in the stillness, the pain that clung to me has been shaken loose. I know now not to run from the pain but to notice it. To allow it to be felt, and to let it instruct me on where I need to intentionally focus for healing. This is hard work; but it has vastly improved my health by giving me a powerful coping mechanism for stress and trauma.
Now, I've developed my own practice ritual that lowers my stress and allows me to stay calmer throughout the day. I'm more available for my children and more able to show up for myself.
See also The Relaxed Mind: A Seven-Step Method for Deepening Meditation Practice
7 Strategies to Help You Build Your Meditation Practice
Initially, I pictured meditating for hours while having intensely spiritual and restorative times in a beautiful, clutter-free room with the sun peeking through the blinds while beautiful, instrumental music is piped in via unseen speakers. The more I pictured this beautiful practice, the less able I was to start my practice. Cinematic perfection can be for your vision boards. Start where very little is required. When interruptions arise, being able to accept them and continue is key. Try these seven strategies for building a meditation practice.
1. Schedule: Commit to starting at the same time each day. Routines help you stick with your practice.
2. Comfort:Prioritize how comfortable you feel on your chair, cushion, or mat. If you're uncomfortable, it will be more difficult to keep going.
3. Posture:If you're sitting, sit up straight so your lungs can fully expand. If you're lying down, support your lower back.
4. Kindness: Often when we finally sit down without an agenda, we experience negative thoughts. Notice them and use affirmations to change the tide. Try answering them with, I am worthy of this time. Our brains can hold contradictory thoughts, and you don't need to fix them.
5. Time: If you have never meditated before, try simply sitting and breathing for two minutes. Use a timer so you're not constantly checking the clock.
6. Breathe: Take deep breaths that make your belly and chest float in and out. This isn't how most of us usually breathe, so it will take practice.
7. Sound: If silence isn't working for you, try using instrumental music or nature sounds. Guided meditations can prompt breathing and imagery.
Try My Practice
Prior to beginning, I utilize movement such as walking, gentle stretches, or a yoga sequence. Movement helps me shift my energy into a state more receptive to my practice:
1. Sit on your mat as erect as possible and ring a bell to begin.
2. Repeat your personal affirmations three times.
3. Take eight rounds of conscious breathing.
4 . Then, practice box breathing in silence for however long feels right.
5.When (not if) you experience an interruption (for me it's usually my children), attend to them and then continue.
6. When you're finished, sound the bell again and re-acclimate to your surroundings.
This practice is now integral to my life. I've moved from self-doubt and a continuous, distracting anxious buzz to being better able to accept and respond to stressors. My meditative practice plants seeds of peace, healing and love for myself and my loved ones.