Let me be clear about this. I am not the “meditating type,” if such a type actually exists. I don’t wear long flowery skirts, I’m not into mystical rituals, and chanting has always creeped me out. To be perfectly honest, I always thought that meditation was for weirdos who would be better served by a little self-discipline and a well-crafted to-do list.
Until I had kids, and realized that perhaps I had become one of those weirdos, and that self-discipline and to-do lists weren’t the answer. I put on my research brain, determined to find a way to get myself back on track. Virtually every article I read about dealing with the challenges of parenting and balancing multiple roles came back to one idea: mindfulness practice, both formal and informal. (Formal practice includes meditation and yoga. Informal practice refers to those random moments during the day when you decide to purposefully pay attention—I’ll talk more about that later.) Once I started looking into it, I realized that there’s nothing woo-woo about all of it. It’s just about paying attention to whatever is happening, and accepting it without judgment. I found an entire body of research outlining the benefits of mindfulness meditation, including improved memory and concentration, stress reduction, and decreased emotional reactivity. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for.
I found an 8-week mindfulness meditation course, which taught me the basics of meditation, including different types (such as the body scan and focused breathing) and how to sit properly. Now, most days of the week, I sit for 20 minutes or so and just breathe. I don’t have a specific meditation space (we have a small house) or a fancy set-up, just a meditation cushion to help with my posture and a yoga mat that I fold over and sit on to cushion my knees. From there, I close my eyes and simply pay attention to my inhalations and exhalations. I don’t change my breathing, I am just aware of it. Every time I notice my mind wandering (which happens approximately every 8 seconds, or perhaps every 6), I bring my attention back to my breathing. And then I do it again, and again, until the timer on my iPhone goes off.
Am I a calmer, better person since I’ve started meditating? Some days I start to think so, but most days, well, I’m not so sure. Meditating is a bit like training for a sport—the more time you spend on the practice field, the better you’ll be able to perform during the big game, which in my case happens when I’m exhausted, my daughters are nagging me, and I can’t find a single piece of chocolate in the house. I’m definitely still a newbie. I do know that my brain is no unlike my young daughters: easily distracted, moody, and in need of a serious time out every once in awhile. So, I’ll keep sitting and breathing. I don’t expect to turn into the Dalai Mama any time soon, but hopefully I’ll feel a little more grounded than I might have otherwise.
If you’re interested in meditating, here are some resources to get you started:
- Here is a list of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction, the program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn) trainers throughout the country.
- There are many books on getting started with mindfulness practice, but I particularly like Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness, The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program, as well as Dr. Ronald Siegel’s The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems. Both books come with audio recordings of guided meditations.
- Wildmind.org has a great section on good postures for meditation.
- This is the meditation cushion I use. It is filled with buckwheat hulls, and feels a lot like a bean bag. However, there are other ones that feel more like pillows. Ideally, you should find a store where you could try them out and see what is most comfortable for you.
- I shelled out $1.99 for the Insight Timer app on my iPhone, because I like the (fake) sound of the Tibetan Singing Bowl for starting and ending my meditation. There’s also a version for Android phones. In the event that you are looking for a real singing bowl (which I don’t own), you should probably find a store and check them out for yourself. They come in many different tones, and you should find one that really resonates with you.
So, what do you all think? What do you use for meditation? What has worked for you? I’d love to hear your questions and thoughts.