Written by: Paige Williams, DPT
Strangely, I had most of this blog written before recent developments with COVID-19 hit the United States hard. Over the last few weeks; things have escalated quickly, which is likely only creating extra stress in our lives. In this time, we have many worries and thoughts going through our heads. You are not alone with your concerns regarding sickness, childcare, job security and finances.
Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to begin a practice in Mindfulness and Meditation. It’s the perfect time to teach ourselves to slow down, calm our brains, learn to take things day by day and moment by moment, especially for things that we cannot control.
Although Mindfulness/Meditation tends to have a “stigma,” it’s actually been studied rigorously and has been proven to help with stress levels, emotional regulation, and perspective taking. Studies have shown that a mindfulness breathing practice decreases negative emotions, reduces anxiety and depression, reduces perceived stress and improves psychological states. Mindfulness based stressed reduction is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotional regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. Mindfulness has also been studied with relation to insomnia and has been shown to improve sleep quality.
I have to admit; I was a skeptic about Mindfulness and Meditation as many of you reading this might be. I figured I was too busy, had too much going on in my mind and would never be able to clear my head or sit still for 5 minutes. I’m sure all of you are stuck in this same mindset; afraid that you can’t clear the current chaos from your brain. Then I got a concussion in early September and my whole world changed. I found that the single best thing I could do to get rid of my headache, brain fog and racing thoughts was meditation. I started off easy with an app and began with short 10-minute guided sessions. Shockingly, it was easy to do and I felt almost immediate results!
In my recovery through Meditation, I began to realize that my experience was not unique. Mindfulness and Meditation not only helps those with traumatic brain injury or concussions; but techniques have been proven to treat chronic pain and illness, boost creativity, reduce stress and anxiety, improve relationships and improve focus and attention.
After all, it’s really just about living in the moment, without judgement. I promise you that learning this skill will become useful for you not just in the coming weeks and months, but in the stresses of daily life long term. Teaching yourself to wind down, reflect and de-stress will help you stay in the present with your family, friends and co-workers.
Here are a couple tips on how to start your practice!
- Start with 5 minutes alone in a quiet space and focus on your breathing. When a thought occurs don’t kick yourself; just let it continue to float on by.
- Focus on the breath IN!
- Then focus on the breath OUT!
- Get an app on your phone; I like Insight Timer. But there are plenty of good ones out there. Insight timer allows you to access all of the following:
- Courses on beginning a meditation practice
- Music options & guided meditation
- Meditation for kids
- Timer options for the more skilled meditator!
- Buy a meditation book. I have “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,” and it’s especially great for those who are not entirely sold. The author is a news anchor who had a meltdown on national television and is now a motivational speaker on mindfulness.
- Go to a Yoga class, learn how to focus on your breath.
- You might have to do this online right now; but yoga is a great way to transition into learning how to breath and relax.
- Take a walk outside, don’t bring your phone or music and just listen to the sounds in nature. Try not to think about anything.
- Explore Bozeman Resources
- The Dharma Center (https://bozemandharmacenter.org/)
- Bozeman Insight Community & Bozeman Zen Group meet weekly
My biggest tip for starting your meditation practice is to let thoughts cross through your brain; because they will! Just don’t get sucked in to listening or responding to those thoughts.
Lastly, remember that Meditation is a SKILL! You must practice to get better, and just like anything else, you cannot expect to be great at calming your mind on the first try.
Be consistent. Be patient. Be in the moment.