20 Minutes on a Cushion
This piece was originally published on Medium in 2020.
In July, I added daily meditation to my List of Things to Keep Me Sane. I had been meditation-curious for a very long time, and it was suggested to me by someone I trust, who also gave me some excellent resources to get started.
The Shift meditation app has some great guided meditations designed to focus on specific areas of life, as well as more general recordings for when you just need to chill. I typically vary from guided meditation, like the ones on Shift, to doing some with only the assistance of some music. Never in a million years would I have thought this possible, but 2020 being the trainwreck it is has caused me to refocus my energy more than once and this is one of the most productive ways so far. (I say so far because we ain’t quite out of the woods yet!).
The simple act of sitting still for 20 minutes (sometimes longer) previously seemed out of reach. But the pandemic definitely scrambled up my insides and caused me to take stock less of what I want my life to look like (together! awesome! crushing it!) and more of what I want it to feel like (more peaceful, less angst-y). Working on myself both externally in a way I never have before (I exercise daily) and internally (meditation, journaling, eating better) has made the trainwreck almost…dare I say it…enjoyable at times.
So, what is it about meditation that makes it so effective? Evidence points to things like “increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being.” After about 4 and a half months of daily practice, I can attest to this. Am I a paragon of perfect mental health, walking around with an aura of Zen visible by all? Hell no. But what I am is calmer (even if I am the only one who knows it), more focused on my internal state and less concerned with the external circumstances of life and more able to gain a sense of internal focus than I ever would have imagined. Don’t get me wrong, I have election panic daily, our new home purchase has been rocky and I do not emanate calm around those things for sure. But I am less agitated in general. More specifically, I am less anxious overall. My agitation levels are definitely related to my anxiety and the decrease in anxiety I feel is noticeable (again, even if only to me, though my husband Paul says he sees it, too). I expect these benefits will continue to grow, as I get “better” at meditating and I don’t need to remind myself of my mantra as my mind wanders.
There’s a lot of mystery around meditation, but here’s what it looks like for me (and I have been assured I am doing it right 😉):
I set my zafu (cushion) up someplace I know I can count on some quiet for about 20 minutes and get comfy. Sometimes I sit in darkness, sometimes I tilt my face to the sun.
I cue up my guided meditation or my music and put on a timer for 20 minutes. I put the timer on low volume so it’s not jarring when it goes off.
I sit up straight on my cushion, though leaning on a wall is fine, too. Yoga has given me the strength to be able to sit up without support, and I am pretty proud of that. (Though I do lean sometimes. Because why not? It’s not like anyone is keeping count or judging me. Not even me! 🤷🏼♀️)
I release some things out loud. I connect with some things out loud. Anger, worry, fear, lack, scarcity. Abundance, joy, nature, money. Nothing is off limits.
I close my eyes and begin my mantra: “I inhale, I exhale.”
6. I bring myself back to my mantra whenever my mind starts wandering. The idea is to not get stuck on things — like the laundry that needs doing, the person who wronged you, the ways you think you have failed, but rather to let those thoughts float on by without judgement. See them, send them on their way, refocus on your mantra. I do this by taking a breath and a pause and imagine them floating away like falling leaves, or the pages of a book turning.
7. When my time is up, I spend a minute or so bringing myself back to real life and getting some kinks out. I then almost always move straight into yoga.
Leaving Facebook at the end of September definitely accelerated this process, which surprised me, but shouldn’t have. I am currently only using Instagram (LFSNanan), but I am following a lot of political accounts and going down those rabbit holes is almost as easy (even though I haven’t found as many), so I’ll be unfollowing most of those after the election! I still plan on coming back to Facebook for a couple of days next week, but then leaving again for good. I miss many of my friends, but the things I don’t miss are proving more beneficial to my mental health than I expected.
When I meditate to music, I listen to this playlist. I love it so much, I often leave my earbuds in or play it on our speaker all day.
One more thing! I try to keep a journal nearby, because despite the clearing of thoughts, I do sometimes get some good ideas and answers right in the moment. Leaving Facebook was one of them, as was the title of this blog, which felt super clever at the time. 🤨
If you are mediation-curious yourself, I recommend the Shift app and starting small. By starting with small, realistic expectations, you’ll be more likely to find success and less judge-y on yourself, which is a huge part of the process. Turn the pages at your own pace and feel the Shift within. (See what I did there?!)