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I’ve tried meditating, but I just can’t get into it. My mind goes a million miles a minute. What should I do?
I advise many of my weight-loss clients to add meditation to their daily routine. I’ve had people say that their morning meditation practice has helped them control overeating and emotional eating, manage stress levels, and improve their ability to relax. Their spouses and friends have even commented on their calmer (and happier!) disposition.
Research supports these benefits. Studies show that meditation does in fact reduce stress. Deep breathing while practicing yoga or meditating is a way to reduce anxiety and calm your nervous system. Meditation and mindfulness have also been shown to reduce pain, fatigue and stress in people with chronic pain.
But I recognize that meditating is easier said than done.
Even as a yoga instructor I fall in and out of my meditation and yoga practices. But I notice a major difference in my disposition when I let the practice fall out of my routine. When I commit to some sort of breath work, whether it’s yoga or meditation, I instantly feel better and those results become cumulative the more I practice.
Consistency is key, so if you aren’t able to get into traditional meditation, I recommend finding another type of mindfulness exercise that works for you.
First, take the pressure off. Yes, meditating can be a transformative experience, as the research and first-person experiences attest to. But putting that expectation on it right out of the gate can make it intimidating and frustrating.
Instead, look at meditation simply as a break or an excuse to slow down for a few minutes. Think of it as a little bit of time that you set aside to breathe. Some of my clients like to think of it as a mental vacation from the daily grind.
You can also look at it as training for your brain to become calmer and feel more positive emotions. Putting in a little bit of time each day is like training for a race or practicing your favorite sport or hobby — your brain and physical body learn a calmer way to focus and operate.
Breath work may be the most accessible tool we have to calm ourselves down and recenter throughout the day. It can be done in your car, your office, or in line at the store and can have a huge effect on our mental state.
Set a goal of just five breaths and then count these breaths with your fingers. Use your pointer finger to point and breathe in and out one time, then lift your second finger and breathe in and out a second time, and so on for five counts. This should take under 60 seconds.
Is five breaths too much? Start with just one mindful breath. Breathe in slowly to a count of 4, then breathe out slowly counting down from 4. I love using this as a way to calm down instantly in a stressful situation.
Meditative practices that don’t require you to sit still
Meditating doesn’t always have to be done sitting or lying in a quiet place. Some people have an easier job slowing down their mind when their body is moving.
Here are some meditative practices that many people find more accessible than traditional meditation. You can still reap the benefits of getting your brain into a meditative state, without fighting the internal battle of sitting still with your thoughts.
Yoga or stretching
One of the most popular forms of moving meditation is yoga. For those that feel like their minds are going a million miles a minute, mindful movement like that done in a yoga practice is extremely helpful. Yoga is designed to engage the mind and the body by pairing poses with breath work, which is a great way to quiet racing thoughts and focus the mind on the present moment.
If you don’t like yoga, just stretch. Pairing breathing with a stretch works in a similar way by giving your mind something to focus on so that your racing thoughts aren’t running quite as rampant. So, pick a few stretches that feel good to you and focus on slowly inhaling and exhaling while sinking deeper into each stretch.
Here are some of my favorite stretch-and-mantra combos.
3 moving meditations
I encourage my clients to incorporate meditation into their daily movements. Here are three easy ways to do it:
- Walking meditation: As you walk, count your steps. Stepping five steps as you inhale and then five steps as you exhale. Count your steps while doing this breath work. Yes, focusing on each step is a form of meditation. You're doing it!
- Nature meditation: While you’re outside walking or sitting on a park bench, under a tree, or on a picnic blanket, focus on something in nature that catches your eye. Maybe it’s a bird, a tree or flowers. Laser focus your mind to hone in on the details. What color is the flower, how many leaves are on it, can you smell it? Ask yourself questions like this to center your mind.
- Gratitude meditation while doing chores: While you’re cleaning dishes or doing laundry, use each item you’re holding to prompt you to give gratitude for something in your life. As you wash a bowl, you could think, “I am grateful for my hands allowing me to do this chore!” or as you fold a pair of pants you could think, “I am grateful for my legs that allow me to walk!"