Meditation, pure and simple, is training the mind to focus. To meditate is the act of focusing on one thing and when you become distracted (which is pretty much inevitable), you bring your awareness back. Over and over again. When we do this, we are able to cut off the negative rumination that can cause us to feel more stress, distress and anxiety. It also helps us to increase our self-awareness, focus on the present moment, and improve our patience, creativity and even our imagination.
Meditation is often described as “clearing your mind of thoughts,” but this just isn’t the case. A 2020 study suggests that people, on average, have around 6.5 thoughts a minute and around 6000 thoughts a day (assuming eight hours of sleep). And while it may not be the tens of thousands of thoughts originally estimated, it’s still quite a few, and shutting them off? We just can’t. Nor do we want to.
Our thoughts are what make us who we are, they are what spark our actions into being. Our thoughts inspire us to invent new tools, carry out new adventures and make a legacy for ourselves and our loved ones. Meditation is a tool we can use to cultivate our thoughts so they become the hero of our dreams rather than the villain of our nightmares.
And I know you might be thinking now, ‘That sounds great and all, but I don’t do sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours on end.’
I get it, neither do I! Meditation doesn’t have to be done for hours nor sitting in a cross-legged position for it to be beneficial. Studies have shown that even 5-10 minutes of meditation a day can make a huge difference in our stress levels and even begin to re-wire the brain.
Meditation can be done pretty much anywhere: sitting, walking, swimming, showering, brushing your hair, or even drinking your morning tea or coffee. Remember, meditation is focusing. When you bring your full awareness to your everyday routines, you are doing a style of meditation.
Think of a habit that you do everyday: showering, brushing your teeth, brushing your hair, washing your face… Let’s imagine you choose washing your face.
When you wash you face, be mindful of every aspect of washing you face. Notice the sound of the water as it flows out of the tap and into the basin below. Notice the texture and temperature of the water as you splash your face with it. If you notice your thoughts wandering throughout this process, acknowledge them with compassion and then bring your awareness back to washing your face.
Feel the soap lather up between your hands. In small gentle movements, lather the soap against you face, perhaps also taking this moment to gently massage your forehead, temples, and jaw.
Notice how the skin feels as you rinse the soap off your face with clean water. Notice the texture of the towel as it dries your skin. Take a moment after the whole face washing ritual has finished, and notice any sensations arising without judgement, just awareness.
The action is something you do every day, but bringing mindful focus to the habit helps us reconnect with ourselves and feel more at ease and balanced.
We all count, but do you use your counting skills to help you focus? When you’re waiting for that big meeting and your thoughts are zooming all over the place and you just can’t focus, use a short counting meditation to help you calm your thoughts and reduce your stress levels.
Start at any number (for example 20) and count down with each breath. For example:
Inhale 20, exhale 20
Inhale 19, exhale 19
Inhale 18, exhale 18
Continue down to one. If you lose track that’s okay, start over. The idea isn’t necessarily getting down to one, but to cut off the negative rumination so we can bring our focus on more helpful aspects.
When you’re on your way to work or taking that much-needed short break and you’re walking from here to there, you can try a little walking meditation to ground and calm you.
See if you can bring a slight smile to your lips (if not outwardly, imagine one). Now bring your awareness to your steps, notice how your feet meet the ground as you take one step and then another. Notice how many steps you take per breath, can you even out the number of steps per inhale and exhale? For example inhale 1, 2, 3 steps; exhale 1, 2, 3 steps.
Many of us fidget, it’s our body’s natural reaction to help us focus (thus the invention of things like fidget spinners). We can hone that natural response to help us regulate and find balance. This can be a great thing to do when at your desk or even in a meeting and you’re feeling your stress and anxiety levels getting too high.
Bring your index finger to the base of your thumb. Inhale trace your index finger up your thumb; exhale trace your finger down your thumb.
Now bring thumb to the base of the index finger. Inhale trace your thumb up your index finger; exhale trace your thumb down your index finger.
Do this for your three other fingers and then switch and do it on the other hand. And then do both hands together.
So many of us spend hours writing reports, emails, texts… but we rarely use it just for ourselves. When you feel your brain jumbled with too many thoughts, writing meditation can be a great way to process them and give yourself some mental space.
In a journal or any place you can write, just start writing. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or having it make sense. Just let the words roll out of your brain, through your arm, into your hand and onto the paper. Even if what comes out is a shopping list, sometimes just releasing it all is what you need.
words by Tess Jewell-Larsen
Tess Jewell-Larsen helps women professionals, small business owners and high-achievers leave burnout and stress in the ashes while they achieve balance, clarity, and creativity in their work and daily life. Tess is a certified mindfulness coach, experienced yoga teacher and a yoga therapist in training. Tess is also the co-host of the podcast The Happy Edit, a podcast that dives into how we can build a foundation of happiness through different lenses. You can connect with Tess through Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn, or on her website tessjewelllarsen.coach.
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