I got this question in my inbox from MsMindbody reader Jane*:
“I am rarely in the ‘now,’ and I find that it’s affecting my day-to-day life. For instance, often when my boyfriend is talking, I am looking at him, but I cannot concentrate on anything he is saying because I am thinking about something else—generally something negative like anxiety or worry. Is this the kind of thing that mindfulness meditation is helpful for? And, could you give me a few tips on how to start?”
First of all, hi Jane, I’m so glad you found MsMindbody.com.
Second of all, hoo boy! This is just the type of thing mindfulness meditation can help with. Here’s why: When you meditate, you teach yourself how to:
- Focus on what you want to focus on
- Notice when your thoughts have drifted off
- Choose to re-direct your attention
It’s so simple, but so incredibly profound.
The benefits of meditation
As you get better at doing those three things, you learn how to stop giving all your attention to thoughts that don’t do you any good—worrying about how you look or what’s going to happen at some point in the future—and how to focus on whatever is going on in that exact moment.
As you strengthen your ability to focus through meditation, you will find that the pace of your thoughts does slow. When that happens, your quieter, wiser thoughts have a better chance of being heard. I am always amazed at how little pops of insight bubble up when I’m meditating regularly. And when your wiser self is invited to the table more often, you start to become more patient, generous, compassionate, loving. It changes your relationships—you become less likely to react in anger, because you learn that every thought pattern changes and evaporates. When you stop getting your buttons pushed, you also become less likely to push your loved ones’ buttons. It’s a fabulous ripple effect.
Learning to meditate also gives you a chance to see how you really feel—something you won’t likely discover if you never give yourself the opportunity to be quiet, sit still, and listen to exactly what’s going on inside your mind and heart.
How to get started
The hardest part of getting started is, well, getting started. My best advice is to find a time of day when you’re least busy and then commit to spending a few minutes of that time meditating. It could be during your morning bus ride to work, while you’re drinking your cup of coffee in the morning, or those last few minutes before you get in bed. Regularity is more important than length—if you can do two minutes every morning while the coffee brews, that’s better than 20 minutes on Sunday afternoons.
When it’s your special time of day, sit up tall and rest your hands comfortably in your lap. Close your eyes or keep them open. Start just by taking a two or three deep breaths—the shift in your breathing pattern will energize you and send a signal to your mind and body that something is up. Then start paying attention on whatever you choose to focus on. Here are a few different techniques to try—see which feels best for you:
- Count your exhales, starting again when you get to 10.
- As you inhale, silently say “Breathing in.” As you exhale, silently say “Breathing out.”
- Visualize calming energy flowing in to your body with each inhale, stress and negativity flowing out with each exhale.
- Repeat a word or phrase with each breath. It could be “Om,” “Amen,” “Peace,” or anything that really resonates with you.
Odds are, shortly after you start meditation you’ll notice that you’ve already let your attention drift. No big deal. Noticing is good. It means you’re already learning how to observe your thoughts instead of getting yanked around by them. All you have to do is return to focusing on whatever you’ve chosen to focus on. It’s lovely when you have a meditation session where your focus rarely wavers. But everyone everywhere will times where it seems all they do is realize they’ve gotten off track and have to start over again and again. Both are helpful.
Once you get some practice in redirecting your attention, you can start to use that skill even when you’re not “meditating.” That way, when you’re talking to your boyfriend but you notice that you’re worrying about something entirely unrelated, you’ll have some tools for letting that train of thought go and coming back to what’s actually happening right then.
MsMindbody reader suggestions
Jane, you can also check out how other MsMindbody readers find ways to work meditation in to their busy lives. So many inspiring ideas there.
I particularly love this idea from Dianne O’Connor. Since I’m publishing it here, she’ll be receiving a copy of Sharon Salzberg’s new book, Real Happiness. Thanks for sharing, Dianne, and keep sitting!
“First thing in the morning I light a single candle, sit comfortably in a chair and
focus on the flame with an open heart for five or ten minutes. Sometimes I clear my
mind of all thoughts, sometimes pray, sometimes ponder a certain topic. Somehow this
small amount of time helps me be more at peace for the rest of the day and more
patient with others.”
Do you have a question you’d like answered?
Please post it by leaving a comment. Everyone whose questions I answer will get a treat from my mind-body goodie bag!
Take care and keep breathing,
* Not her real name.