How Meditation and Mindfulness continue to improve my everyday life and how you can find your own ‘Inner Zen’ too.
As you may know, I participated in a Buddhist Meditation Retreat over New Years Eve 2017. (If you’d like to find out more about my time there, keep on reading here)
First of all, let me go back a little bit and expain why meditation has been so life-altering and game-changing for me:
1. My Journey To Mindfulness
I used to be the person that could never sit still.
I mean, I NEVER did nothing.
Before I had a smartphone I used to listen to music every second, call friends or meet up with them; when I was a kid I used to play gameboy all the time (I was one of those freaks, lol), I watched TV, sang, danced and did anything possible in order not to listen to my thoughts and to distract myself as much as possible from what was going on inside of me.
Over a decade ago I obviously didn’t consciously understand why was doing these things, I just did them. I didn’t even know what coping mechanism meant back then.
Now, that I am an adult and have an iPhone, a Laptop and thus access to all sorts of social media and entertainment at my fingertips, I sometimes catch myself spending hours and hours reading blogs, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, watching YouTube etc. because it’s a comfortable escape from reality and oh so much easier than facing my problems and being proactive.
I feel like we have become so impatient.
With ourselves, our friends and partners and in life in general.
And I blame it on the fact that literally everything is available at our fingertips.
Need something? – order it from Amazon.
Fancy a date? – go on Tinder.
Hungry? – get Ubereats.
If the microwave takes a little too long we get annoyed. We can’t wait 5 minutes for the bus without checking our notifications. If we’re on a date and the other person goes to the bathroom we immediately reach to our phones to check what we missed.
What do you mean the new episodes aren’t on Netflix yet?
Do you have a power bank? My phone is about to die!
Oh no, I forgot my headphones and can’t listen to music on the bus now, I can’t just sit here in silence by myself can I?!
Sounds familiar? It definitely does to me.
My phone seems to be my partner in every situation.
Checking what I missed overnight in the morning, music while I’m getting ready, Google Maps to find the way, a podcast on the tube, checking Instagram stories every free minute…
While I love the perks of social media and being a content creator I also have to force myself sometimes to just put that damn thing down and tune in with my underlying thoughts and emotions.
I’ve gotten a lot better than I have ever been; i.e. I don’t use my phone while I eat and I avoid it as much as possible when I’m with other people… Unless they’re constantly checking their phone too, then I get tempted.
Bottomline is for as long as I can remember I used to literally never give my mind a break to just be and at the same time I wondered why I had trouble sleeping, anxiety and felt stressed and restless almost 24/7.
2. How To Find The Right Type Of Meditation
Over the past say 2 years or so I have slowly, slowly opened myself up to the idea of incorporating meditation and mindfulness into my daily life and it has been one of the most helpful tools for my overall wellbeing I have ever tried.
In Thailand I did some Yoga and Meditation for like 5 days and didn’t keep up with it.
I started again years later and tried silent group meditation which I couldn’t cope with at all…
‘THIS SHIT IS SO BORING!’, I thought.
I couldn’t get comfortable, my thoughts were racing and it wasn’t relaxing to me AT ALL.
I picked it up again using the app Headspace.
I lasted for a couple of weeks and then dropped out again.
Too impatient, couldn’t be bothered. Oh, and the free trial ended.
My tip for you if you want to start meditating is try everything until you find something that suits you.
I never believed I would be someone to mediate on the regular so if I can find a way to do that, so can you.
There are so many different kinds of mindfulness and meditation, from being completely silent and still to absolutely expressive and dynamic. I am 100% certain if you want to you will find the right fit for you. (find a few examples here.)
I kept trying things and failing to keep up with anything but nevertheless a part of me had faith there had to be a way to relax my mind as I knew how badly I needed it.
What I found works best for me are Guided Meditations, you can find many different ones on YouTube and Spotify.
I usually meditate before bed (which helps me sleep as well) and if you have some sort of audio guide in the meditation it helps your mind stay in the moment as well.
During a retreat I attended in LA last November we did daily guided meditations in our group of 10 woman. Compared to the silent group meditation I mentioned earlier, this one was absolutely INCREDIBLE.
I was completely in the moment and almost struggled to open my eyes after it was over because I was in such a beautiful, serene state of relaxation. The energy in the room was so powerful an vibrant, it was really indescribable.
Some of us became very emotional, others were just filled with absolute bliss.
This was the first key moment for me on my journey to meditation where I thought: ‘I can do this. And even more so I NEED this.’
At the Buddhist Meditation Retreat in late December last year, I experienced an even deeper state of relaxation and complete peace during our practice.
Something I learned there and carry with me every single day since then is the ability to enter this state of mind at any time by doing breathing exercises and visualizing the experience I had at the retreat to get back into that peaceful head space.
Utter serenity and not a worry in the world.
One of the best experiences I ever had.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty:
3. How I Meditate
When I’m at home I light candles or incense, close the door, open a window, dim the lights or turn them off completely. I sit or lay down on my bed and breathe in on the count of 4, hold my breath on a count of 5 and then release it and try to release tension in your body with each out breath too. (You can kind of do you here in terms of how long you breath in/out and hold. Start with whatever feels comfortable and not forced for you.)
I do those breathing exercises until I start to feel more relaxed and then I either start a guided meditation, listen to some buddhist chanting (not everyone’s cup of tea) or just sit in silence with my thoughts.
When I notice my thoughts wandering off too much I re-focus on my breath or I do a couple more of the breathing exercises I explained above.
I sit there for as long as I feel like, if I do it before bed it’s usually about ten minutes and then I always fall asleep and if I do it during the day maybe I’ll do 20 minutes or so.
In a perfect world I would to this twice a day but I am not there yet, as for right now, which is okay.
There is no right or wrong way do to it so remember never to judge yourself in any way. If you can only do two minutes, start with two minutes.
4. Alternative Ways To Meditate:
Try and walk at a moderate speed (not too fast) and count your breath to help your mind stay in the moment. (1 in, 2 out, 3 in, 4 out, up to 10 then start again. Might feel weird at first but it works. Alternatively you can count your steps up to 10 as well.)
I went for a run with a friend the other week and he laughed at me because I ran super slow. I don’t run for fitness, I run for mental clarity. I take 4 steps as I breathe in and 4 as I breathe out. When I get out of breath I slow down even more. I stopped listening to music when I run outside too and just focus on my body, breath and steps. To me it’s one of my favorite ways to relax and reduce stress.
I say a little prayer/mantra to myself every time I leave the house. You don’t have to say it out loud, you can just close your eyes and think it to yourself. This can be anything, a quote, a little motivation/inspiration or just an empowering thought that puts you in a positive head space. You can also write down your favorite quotes and mantras and keep reading them whenever you feel like it which leads me to the next point:
I don’t know what it is but when I write, it puts my mind at peace almost instantly. It is so relaxing and therapeutic to just write down your thoughts and ideas without structure or judgement. I highly recommend using an actual pen and notebook to do so, it makes it even more meditative than writing on a phone or laptop.
I personally believe that literally any everyday task can be relaxing if you do it the right way. Some people find cleaning and tidying to be very de-stressing (not me, lol).
You might want to just listen to an audio book and lie on your bed or give yourself some extra care in your evening or morning routine. I think the most important thing is to not do a million things at once and just give your mind and body the chance to just chill.
5. Everyday Mindfulness
Another big change I have made in my life is incorporating little moments of mindfulness and conscious relaxation into my everyday life.
Everything kinda stresses me out sometimes.
I leave my house and already I feel a little anxious and irritated by all the people, the city noise and pollution.
Something I started doing all the time (even at this very moment) is pay attention and observe how I’m breathing.
You don’t realize how many times a day your breathing becomes shallow.
Every time I notice I’m not breathing in and out very deeply, I do exactly that or, again, do the exercise explained above (4 seconds in, 5 seconds hold, release).
I can’t explain to you what it does but it just immediately relaxes your mind and body – you have to try it!
Remember to close your eyes if you can and try to release tension in the body with each breath as well.
Another little exercise I do when I wake up in the morning is, instead of getting up and reaching for my phone right away, I look up at the ceiling, stretch and think of what I am grateful for today.
How you start your morning changes the tone of your entire day, trust me.
Thirdly, every night before I go to sleep, if I can’t be bothered to meditate for long, I just lay on my back, palms facing upwards and I try to give myself positive thoughts and let go of any stress or trouble I experienced during the day.
I do my breathing exercises and fall asleep shortly after.
Honestly guys, I have never slept better in my life.
Meditation and Mindfulness have drastically improved my (mental) health and I highly recommend it to absolutely everyone.
Let me know if you have any questions on this topic or if I can help at all.