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The phone is ringing, the dog needs to be let out and your kids are begging for more screen time. In such a hectic world, wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply shut off your thoughts for a while? Thankfully, there’s a way to do that. Here’s how to use meditation to clear your mind.
The Benefits of Meditation
Why meditate? This ancient practice dates back to at least 900-500 BCE in India. Originally part of Hinduism, meditation now includes secular practices as well. Almost anyone can learn to do it, and you don’t need any special equipment or training. Some of the possible benefits include:
- Decreasing heart rate and cortisol levels
- Reducing depression
- Making you calmer
- Improving attention and memory
- Increasing self-compassion
With so many positive effects, it’s no wonder that meditation has become more popular.
How to Meditate
To develop the skill of clearing your mind, you need to learn how to meditate. Meditation doesn’t truly make your mind go blank, but it clears away unwanted thoughts and helps you focus on one thing at a time. This can be something visual, like a calm sea, or audible, like a mantra in your mind. It helps you get into a state of flow.
There are different types of meditation, but this one is about focusing your thoughts. Here’s how to do it:
- Get Comfortable
Disregard anyone who claims you must meditate in a strict, stoic pose. You don’t have to hold a downward dog the whole time, either. Simply sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
You want your body to feel good enough that you can relax without focusing on any pain or discomfort you might have. At the same time, you do want to remain alert. Find a position that’s going to keep you awake, both mentally and physically — you don’t want your limbs going to sleep.
If at any time during the session you start to feel uncomfortable, readjust yourself. There are types of meditation that encourage you to focus on your discomfort until it goes away, but this list describes a different, more cerebral kind of meditation where you clear your mind.
Silence your phone and let people know that you’ll be meditating, so you need to have peace and quiet for a while.
- Set a Timer
If you’re a beginner, consider keeping your first few sessions short. With practice, you might eventually be able to hold still for longer periods of time, but beginners should start small. You want to set yourself up for success by gradually training yourself to meditate.
For novices, 10 minutes is a good amount of time. This lets you get a feel for meditation and end the session while your mind is still easily able to focus. You can do several of these short sessions throughout the day.
Advanced meditators might want to set the timer for an hour or more. Remember, though, that even experts are limited by bodily functions like needing to eat or use the bathroom. If you want to meditate for an hour every day but can’t stay still very long, consider breaking your session into three manageable 20-minute chunks.
- Notice How You Feel
As you sit down to practice, how does your body feel? Comfortable? Tense?
Emotionally, how are you doing? Maybe you feel eager, frustrated or calm.
Take note of how you feel overall and consider writing it down. When you finish meditating, you can come back to this journal entry and see if meditating made a difference in your mind or body. If you do this every time, you might eventually see a trend in how meditation improves your mood or ability to relax your muscles.
- Start Breathing Deeply
Take a slow, deep inhalation through your nose. Breathe as if you’re trying to fill your stomach with air — even though, of course, the air is going into your lungs — and watch your belly rise. If you want to, you can hold your breath for a few seconds before slowly exhaling.
Settle into this pattern of slow, deep breathing that makes your belly rise and fall. This is called diaphragmatic breathing, and it’s how you normally breathe when you’re very calm.
Interestingly, while being calm makes you breathe slowly and deeply, the reverse is also true. Breathing diaphragmatically signals to your brain that you actually are calm, so you will start to relax.
- Center Your Thoughts
This is the heart of meditation. Close your eyes.
Now, pick one thing to focus on. You can visualize an ocean wave that swells with every inhale and crashes as you exhale. You could use the same technique to imagine a flower that blooms and closes, or simply a circle that grows and shrinks.
Or, you could focus on the sound of your breathing. Pay close attention to how it sounds going in through your nose and out through your mouth. Does it have any interesting qualities? You can also count your breaths silently, focusing on the numbers.
Your thoughts are going to jump from one thing to another at some point. They’ll wander to everything from dinner to football, from your appearance to your to-do list. That’s fine. Just keep bringing your thoughts back to whatever you’re focusing on.
At first, this might be difficult, but rest assured that it gets easier over time. Just like any other skill, meditation must be honed and practiced again and again. One day, you’ll realize that an hour has gone by and all you’ve thought about is your breathing.
- End Your Session
When the timer goes off or you decide that you’re done, slowly open your eyes and start to move around. If you want to, you can start by moving one body part at a time, like your toes, and work your way up to your face.
Then, reevaluate how you feel. Are you less anxious? Did your shoulders relax? Perhaps you struggled with boredom or restlessness during your exercise.
Whatever your mood or reaction was, it’s OK. Part of meditation involves acknowledging all emotions as part of the human experience.
Be proud of yourself for meditating. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes, it still requires effort to set aside time to practice a new skill. Schedule your next session on your calendar, in your journal or with a phone reminder.
Meditation to Clear Your Mind
When you need a steady force to guide you, remember that your breath is always there, and you can breathe deeply and focus your thoughts to calm down. It will probably get easier over time. Meditation is a valuable tool for reducing stress, calming your body and clearing your mind.
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