Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all hippy on you. (Or maybe I AM, but is that really a bad thing?)
I used to be one of the biggest skeptics of meditation. “I suffer from obsessive thoughts… how the HELL am I supposed to ‘quiet my mind?’ It’s not possible, so you can put the yoga mat away, KAREN.”
It wasn’t until I read renowned life coach Jen Sincero’s book, You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, that I finally gave meditation a go.
Jeepers, had I been wrong.
You wouldn’t think that “emptying your mind” could have any possible use other than to put you to sleep (I may have dozed off a time or two…) or cause your thoughts to escalate even more. (“Shit, that deadline is coming up, I should be doing laundry, I have no money, I’m going to be homeless, is that smell coming from my feet…”) But it does. Meditation is so beneficial for mental health and opens the door to less anxiety, clearer focus, and creative ideas.
Yes, meditation is hard. But take it from me: it is SO worth it. Because even though it takes work to do it right and it feels pointless in the moment, the more often you do it, the more skilled you become at embracing your bacon (i.e. your true, unadulterated self). It will be easier to taste your bacon and let it shine through no matter where you are, what you are doing, or who you are with.
Here are some handy tips to help you get the most out of meditation.
Place Any Doubts on the Back Burner
If you allow your doubts to swirl around even in your subconscious, meditation isn’t going to work for you. Doubts are counterproductive to the whole point of meditation: a mind clear of thoughts. Doubts are negative thoughts. To meditate correctly, you can’t have any of those hanging around. (So take a seat, Karen.)
Write Down All Your Thoughts, Anxieties, Emotions, and Fears Beforehand
I’ve found this step particularly useful for my obsessive-compulsive brain. Before meditating, write down everything that is clogging up your head in that moment. Did something sucky happen at work that day? Write it down. Are you feeling particularly lonely today? Write it down. Are you doubting your greatness? Write it down. Are you anxious about meeting your in-laws tomorrow? Write it down. Do you have a Karen in your life? Write it down.
Be very specific when you write. The more specific you are, the clearer your mind will feel. The act of writing it all down assures you that you will not forget about these things if you need to remember them for any reason later. It’s also like taking out the trash and is very cathartic.
As soon as you get it all down on paper, dive right into your meditation zone, because that’s when your mind will be the clearest.
Tell Yourself You Can Obsess Over the Other Crap Later
Since you have it all written down, you have no reason to worry about all that stuff while you’re meditating. Even though most of the things we obsess over aren’t worth it in the first place, for the purposes of meditation, sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we always have the option to obsess over them later.
Breathe Deeply and Focus on It Like Your Life Depends on It
“Who cares about breathing? Wait, is there a RIGHT way to breathe?? Oh no, I think I’ve forgotten how to breathe…”
Don’t panic. No one is testing your breathing skills. Focusing hardcore on your breathing simply helps you clear your head of any lingering thoughts. It also helps you relax. (So relax, DAMMIT! Jk.)
Have you ever literally stopped to smell the roses? If not, how do you suppose you would do that? (Again, no one’s testing you.) Imagine you’re bending down to smell a rose. Breathe in slowly through your nose (deeply, to take in the glorious smell), and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Imagine any negative vibes literally leaving your body as you exhale. (Personally, it helps if I allow myself to smile a little as I do this. Puts me in positive mode.)
Repeat this process throughout your entire meditation session. You will be surprised by how good it makes you feel.
Pick a Word or Phrase and Focus on Saying It
Some may call this a mantra, but I don’t like that term because it automatically makes you assume you have to make that silly “Oooom” sound. If anything is going to pull you right out of meditation, it’s the feeling of absurdity. (However, if you find that “om” best helps you get in the zone, by all means, have at it. No judgment here.)
Instead of “mantra,” I’m going to call it a BMT (Bacon Meditation Term). Your BMT can be whatever you want it to be. For example, I have two BMTs: “dew” (because I LOVE me some Mountain Dew) and “mahogany red” (for some reason, the color I dye my hair is a comforting word to me…). Come up with a BMT that feels natural to you and use it to help you focus while meditating. Say it calmly and slowly, either out loud or in your head. Whenever a thought tries to work its way into your zone (“My rent check is going to bounce this month, HOLY SHIT!”), say your BMT as you exhale and recenter yourself back on your breathing.
You don’t necessarily have to cross your legs like Buddha, but sitting comfortably is a must in meditation. If your leg falls asleep or your back begins aching, it’s going to pull you out of your zone and distract you. (I do not recommend lying down, unless you want to meditate yourself right to sleep…) So sit in a position that is relaxing and comfortable, whether it be cross legged, on your knees, or with your back flat against a chair and your legs straight out in front of you. Find what works best for you.
Relax Your Face
You may not even realize it, but your face muscles can tense up just like any other part of your body. If you’re feeling a lot of stress, focus your energy on relaxing your face muscles. Loosen up your brow, unclench your teeth, and let all your face muscles fall. If it helps, lightly massage your face to feel your muscles, gently pulling them down so that they feel relaxed. Visualize your face muscles drooping much like your shoulders would when you let yourself slouch. Slouch those face muscles!
Set a Timer
If you’re worried about getting too caught up in the meditation zone and falling behind on your busy routine, set a timer. Shoot for a minimum of five minutes a day. For days when you have a little more free time, increase that duration to 10 minutes.
Make Sure You’re in a Quiet Environment
The first time I meditated, I was sitting cross legged on my bed. I was not two minutes in when I heard my cat’s piss trickling against the inside of her litter box.
While it’s not possible to be in a COMPLETELY quiet space (there will always be the ticking of a clock, birds chirping outside, house creaking, or cat piss sounds), do your best to find a place with very few distractions. If it helps, turn on a fan so that the only sound you hear is consistent buzzing background noise.
To really reap the benefits of meditation, this is extremely important to remember: practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the better you get at it, which means the easier it is to call on your crispy bacon. Set aside time every day to meditate for at least five minutes. You will eventually begin noticing that you aren’t stuck in your head with a tornado of negative thoughts quite as often.
I understand any skepticism you may have about meditation. But instead of putting so much energy into convincing yourself it won’t work, put it towards trying it a few times before you decide it’s not for you. And REALLY try, because you deserve your bacon. Picture it, feel it, taste it.
Mmmm… Bacon. (Now THERE’S a good BMT.)