Everyone has dealt with stress or anxiety at one point or another. Our lives only get busier as responsibilities grow, and sometimes it almost feels impossible to keep up with our to-do lists. So how do we step back from the chaos and cultivate a calm state of mind in both our personal and professional lives? There is a lot of buzz around the concept of practicing mindfulness through meditation, but what does that actually mean? I had a lot of questions around this topic, and I quickly learned from battling anxiety that my mental health was just as important as my physical health. But the biggest question I had was, “Where do I start?”
If you search on “meditation” you’ll be bombarded with videos, centers, articles, blog posts, and how-to guides on the topic. It can be all be extremely overwhelming and intimidating, but don’t worry, I’m here to help! Back in the spring, I stumbled upon a yoga and meditation studio in Philadelphia that offered a three-weekend intensive meditation teacher training program. I told myself, “If this isn’t going to teach me about meditation and being mindful, I don’t know what will!”
I learned so much through this training program, but the biggest takeaway for me was that sitting still in silence every day (even for five minutes) will increase your self-awareness, patience and focus — especially at work. It can open doors to creativity, as you’ll have more mental discipline and control. Also, you’ll be able to choose more wisely how you react to conflicts or challenges and not be ruled by your emotions. If you can control your mind, you can control your life.
My sister joined me in sharing with our team what we learned from the meditation training. We also paired a 15-minute meditation session with a yoga practice, as they go hand in hand.
Here are the key learnings we shared with the studio:
- Meditation is a cumulative practice. Just like anything else you practice, you have to build it into your daily routine and be as consistent as possible.
- You are not going to notice a difference right away. Be patient. You will slowly start to see the benefits bleed into your life. As your flight is delayed or you are waiting in a long line, you will be able to take a deep breath and not let the frustrating experience take over.
- Don’t try to force yourself to stop thinking as you practice. That is not the goal of meditation. The goal is to let thoughts arise but pass like a cloud so you can observe them without judgment. Then you’ll be able to re-focus your mind on the present moment.
- It’s all about how you breathe. Breathing through your chest (which is how we all typically breathe) ignites your sympathetic nervous system, aka flight or fight response. Try to practice more belly breathing. You can do this by laying in your bed at night, putting a book on your stomach and watch it rise and fall. This will strengthen your stomach muscles and allow you to ignite your parasympathetic nervous system, which correlates to rest and relaxation.
- Create a dedicated space to practice meditation. You will be more inclined to practice if you do have a special area reserved, and seeing that space will also serve as a reminder to practice.
Being mindful and living in the present moment is something that I personally will always be working on. I am already seeing so many benefits in both my personal and professional life, but meditation is a lifelong practice, so I intend to strap in and enjoy the ride!
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Photography by Matt Lewis