Full of anxiety and not sure where to start? This article contains 8 different meditation exercises to help you calm the thoughts in your head. These exercises can be used at home, but some of them have aspects that can be practiced no matter where you are. Learning what works best for you and your mind is what will be most effective during your meditation.
1) Non-Judgmental Observation
So often, meditation is confused with the ability to shut the mind off and experience complete silence. That’s not to say that this is impossible, but just being able to witness the mind without judging is a meditation in itself.
We judge others, we are judged by others, and we judge ourselves. What place can you retreat to in order to escape this judgment? Your head can be a place to start. When your mind is racing, try observing the thoughts like clouds floating by. Don’t attach yourself to them; just let them be. You don’t have to get caught up in the emotion of the stressful thoughts or start planning action that you have to take.
Pretend they are young children playing around in a room – not harming anything, but moving quickly. Let go. You can also pretend you are a lab assistant recording observations of a subject! Notice what is happening, but don’t judge it. Your job is just to observe. State what is happening in your head as facts, not opinions or judgments.
This can aid in detachment from the thoughts that have you worried. In addition, you can gain more clarity about what is stressing you. You are not your thoughts, and having thoughts does not automatically mean that they are true. Remember this and watch your mind compassionately.
2) Focus on the Breath
This one is a common meditation practice. Saying “inhale” or “exhale” to yourself can help you to focus on breathing instead of your racing mind. You can count your breaths if you choose. You can count each inhale and exhale as one, or you can count “one” for the inhale and “two” for the exhale. Use the counting method that works best for you.
When you are focused on the numbers of the breaths you are taking, it gives your mind another option. Also, making the breath audible while counting mentally can provide auditory stimulation that can distract the mind. Instead of focusing on numbers, you can pay attention to the sounds that your breaths are making. Inhale deeply through the nose, and sigh powerfully out of the mouth.
Repeat this process until you notice that you are listening to the sounds over the voice of anxiety in your head. You can play with the length of the breaths, as longer and deeper ones slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. Further, you can hold your breath at various stages if you feel that this helps you relax more easily.
3) Audio Assistance
Speaking of auditory stimulation, try playing some relaxing music in the background if you are able. Searching for “spa sounds” in your favorite search engine can elicit quality results. Nature sounds, white noise, and cats purring are all examples of sounds that can bring peace. Light music works too. All of these are available free with an application download or Internet search on your smartphone device or computer. You can use guided meditations if you prefer.
In these recordings, an individual is leading you through your breath work. Sections of the recording remind you to relax areas of your body that are holding tension. A clenched jaw is an example of this. Since this happens unconsciously, the recording is there to make sure that you check in with yourself. Guided visualizations incorporate meditation with imagining a peaceful environment, grounding image, successful accomplishment, and so on.
These program your brain to think about positive events and atmospheres, even when you are not trying. Affirmation recordings can provide positive sentences to replace the negative ones in your mind. These take hold in your subconscious, and you might find yourself saying the positive statements to yourself later without the recording playing! Feel free to record your own affirmations specific to your life experiences and play them back in your meditation.
4) Meditation with Movement
Some people find it difficult to sit still during meditation – and this is okay! Feel free to incorporate light stretches into your meditation that are aligned with your breath. For instance, you can lift your arms slowly above your head for inhales and lower them back down for exhales. This practice can help you to get more into your body and out of your mind. Yoga is another form of movement meditation that works well for others.
You can pay for yoga classes or take free community ones if they are offered in your area. Thousands of online videos are available as well, and they vary in skill level. Restorative yoga, in particular, focuses on relaxation and rest. Walking meditation is another concept that is gaining popularity. This involves counting steps, noticing what is around you, and grounding yourself in the present moment. It is best done at a slower pace. This type of light movement is a practice that you can use in your professional or personal life.
Lunch breaks can be spent walking outside, and getting to meetings can be opportunities to become more mindful. Pressing your palms together while standing is comfortable for others, too. Any motion with your body can work for a distraction from anxiety, if only for a moment. If you think any of these will work better for you, try them out and see how they go!
5) Outside Objects as Reminders
It is not always feasible to meditate in a completely quiet environment. However, you can use this to your advantage! Each time you are distracted by some sort of sound or stimulation, let that be a reminder to focus on the present moment. For instance, I live by a busy street.
When I am meditating, my mind often wanders. I often hear cars go by, and I use the cars as a reminder to come back to center. I have cats as well. Sometimes, they rub up against me while I am meditating. Instead of getting frustrated with them or feeling as though I have failed at my meditating session, I take that time to check in and bring my mind back to the present moment if it has wandered.
If it hasn’t, I am able to acknowledge the experience of the cat rubbing up against me and continue in my meditation. It doesn’t have to be cars or cats that you decide to use as reminders. Choose a sound or sensation you know you are likely to experience, and it can become your own personal mindfulness bell. Interruptions can function to test our meditation practice positively, as opposed to “ruining” a zen moment.
6) Environment of Comfort
We all have an image that comes to mind when we think of meditation. The person meditating is sitting upright with their eyes closed, looking serene and calm. Yet, there is no rule that says you have to be sitting on a cushion with your legs crossed and your hands resting on your thighs to meditate.
Don’t be afraid to get comfortable! Use blankets, pillows, or whatever you enjoy to get your body in a state of relaxation. You can pick your couch, your bed, or another nook in your house. We have rocking chairs on our porch that becomes so peaceful when the weather warms up.
Warm baths function well for this purpose also! I like to pick a corner of my floor and pile blankets and pillows there. This method works best when you pretend you are about to cuddle up to your favorite film. Burn your favorite candle, put a peppermint in your mouth, or wear fuzzy socks! Set the mood. You can prop up a body part if you desire, such as your head or feet. If you know you have lower back or neck pain, comfort items can be placed there. Prepare in this way, and then start focusing on your breath. Putting your legs up a wall can also encourage blood flow stimulation.
Set an alarm though in case you fall asleep!
7) Meditate on Something You Love
Instead of trying to shut your thoughts off, shift them! Think about an object, person, or animal that you absolutely love. This can be your dog, your spouse, your children, or whatever you choose.
Personally, I like thinking about one of my favorite beaches in Honduras. Tell yourself everything you love about the item or person. Make a mental list and tell yourself why you are so glad that these things or people are in your life. Dwelling on thoughts of gratitude and appreciation can remind you of what is going well in your life and of the beauty here on Earth. There is the option of just trying to think about how many things in your life are going well.
Another perspective on this is that you can recall your favorite memories. Remembering the positive experiences you’ve had in life can aid in lowering your anxiety and improving your mood. The positive emotions that arise add a pleasant feeling to the meditation process. Have fun with the memories that you choose! Examples of these can include:
The birth of a child.
One of your favorite accomplishments.
Engaging in one of your hobbies or passions.
A favorite meal or dessert.
Your favorite getaway location.
8) Lower the Mind’s Voice
Can’t get your thoughts to stop? Practice lowering the volume of voice in your mind. You might hear the thoughts continue to go, but see if you can turn that voice into a soft one – or even into a whisper! I notice sometimes that it feels like my thoughts are literally screaming at me.
It becomes overwhelming and scary, and I feel like I am scolding myself. It is hard to feel in control when this is happening. Taking a step back to breathe and silence the mind is necessary. When I am able to lower the volume of the voice in my head, I relax more. Then, I can separate myself from my anxiety – or “rise above” it – and figure out the actions or decisions I actually want to make.
Take some time in your practice to examine how loud your anxiety is. Even if you can’t instantly stop it, try to slow the words in your head down or lower how loud they are as you continue meditating. Each step that you take toward shaping your meditation practice is a step toward a more peaceful life.
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