I can not do it. My mind wanders. I can’t sit still. I can’t concentrate for that long. I’m falling asleep. I have too many noisy thoughts.
If your first attempt or attempts at meditation resulted in any of these thoughts, then congratulations, you’ve meditated!
Many people perceive meditation as a magical moment of transformation. But meditation is not about perfection. It’s a matter of awareness. Being aware that your mind is wandering, that you’re tired, that you can’t sit still, that your mind is racing – that’s the point of meditation.
Judson Brewer, an associate professor at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School and a leading meditation expert, said a common mistake people make is not understanding the purpose of meditation. “I did this for 10 years,” he said. “I banged my head against the wall thinking I had to focus on my breathing, and I was doing something wrong because I couldn’t.”
If you’re struggling with meditation, Brewer suggests reminding yourself that at its core, a meditation practice is about helping you learn how your mind works. The day I spoke with Brewer, a student had just complained to him that she was having trouble meditating.
“I told him to really take an attitude of curiosity,” he said. “When she notices there is a thought, can she be aware of it? “Oh no, my mind has wandered” tends to be in the background when we think we’re failing to meditate. But just notice it. “This is what it’s like to be caught up in my mind.” You just learned something about how your mind works.
Even the fact that you think you’ve failed meditation is worth noticing, says Brewer. Have you formed a habit loop of berating yourself? “It doesn’t matter what the mind does,” Brewer said. “Every piece of information is good information. Be aware of this.
Here are some simple tips to help you learn to meditate and incorporate meditation and mindfulness into your day.
Meditate in the morning. A morning meditation is a good way to ground yourself, and studies show that a regular morning practice can less stress hormones overtime. I created a morning ritual where I enjoy a cup of coffee, followed by a short guided meditation. Meditating during your other morning rituals can help you form a habit — and you’re less likely to doze off.
Use an app. It’s much easier to start a meditation practice with a little help. A number of apps – Headspace, Calm, Ten Percent Happier and Unplug – offer free trials and programs to get you started. The apps also offer a wide variety. Unplug offers “meditation quicks” and quirky topics such as a meditation for “before you send that email you wish you hadn’t sent”.
Feel your feet. For a moment of mindfulness at work, take a few seconds to focus on your feet. How do they feel? Are they hot and sweaty? Do they tingle? Are they sore and sore? Is a foot different? Think about the connection your feet have with the ground. Your mind is less likely to wander when you notice your feet. Brewer calls the feet “anxiety-free zones.” And focusing on the feet literally feels grounded.
Try consistent breathing. Sit quietly and inhale for a count of six, then exhale for a count of six. You can sit or lie down. Place your hands on your stomach. If it’s too difficult, start by counting to three or four and work your way up. The ultimate goal of this technique is to slow your breathing down to five breaths per minute. Train for five minutes a day.
Notice the five senses. Begin by taking a few calming breaths. Now see five things around you. These can be things on your desk like a lamp, notepad, and pen, or trees and rocks as you walk around. Touch four things: the fabric of your clothes, a book, a leaf, the cat. Listen to three things. Notice a barking dog, the click of a keyboard, laughter in the break room. Feel two things. Sniff the air, the smell of detergent lingering on your clothes. Taste one thing. End your meditation with a bite of chocolate, a piece of fruit, or a treat from the office candy dish.
Brush your teeth and meditate. It’s my favorite because it’s so easy to do. Brush your teeth, but focus on the rustle of the toothbrush. Notice the taste of toothpaste and the foam that forms in your mouth. Bring your awareness to the coolness of water as you rinse your mouth. Add a new element of awareness by standing on one leg while brushing your teeth.
Gray hair is experiencing something of a renaissance as more and more women let their hair return to its natural color during the pandemic. The New Yorker celebrated this trend with a Photo documentary of women with silver hair. The Gray & Proud group has over 31,000 members on Facebook, while the hashtag #silversisters celebrates gray on Instagram.
But while such hair may be advertised on social media, women say they still face discrimination when they go gray, according to a study published in the Journal of Women and Aging. When researchers at the University of Exeter interviewed 80 women recruited into closed Facebook groups “going gray”, they found two competing themes: women who go gray say they are still sometimes ashamed of “letting go “. But they also report times when they feel more respected and accessible.
When deciding to go gray, researchers have found that many women feel like they have to choose between feeling authentic and looking competent. Here are some of the comments collected by the researchers.
“I work with college-aged students. Before I stopped coloring my hair, they thought I was much younger and actually treated me like one of their own. Now they treat me like an old person – assuming I can’t relate to them. — Tracey, 40
“I love my natural hair color. I feel comfortable and love who I am and who I am changing into. I have noticed with my silver hair that I am considered and treated more fragile — Mattie, 50
But women also said there were benefits to going gray, including feeling authentic, more freedom, accessibility and respect.
“I actually feel better about myself because my exterior matches my chronological age. That’s me, like it or not. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not. It’s quite liberating.” — Rose, 50
“Just recently, I’ve noticed more people wanting to talk to me and approach me in public places. I mostly notice younger men and women chatting with me. As a nurse, I feel better received as knowledgeable, trustworthy and capable — Katie, 60
“I think young people are really polite to me. LOL. Maybe some sort of default respect because I’m older? It’s so strange!” — Alex, 40
Today’s everyday coach is James A. Coana University of Virginia neuroscientist who studied the effect of holding hands.
The board: Hold the hand of someone you love.
Why you should try it: Using MRI machines, Coan examined the effects on the brain of holding hands with a stranger or someone you love. Participants included heterosexual and homosexual couples. To simulate stress, he subjected participants to a mild electric shock while holding the hand of a stranger, friend or loved one.
Holding hands reduced stress overall, but the calming effect was greater when holding hands with a loved one. Notably, the effect observed in the brain was similar to that of an analgesic.
How to do: Hold hands early and often – on a walk, in the evening watching TV, or while waiting for your meal in a restaurant.
How do you define healthy aging? Washington Post editors want to know. Fill in this form and tell us more.
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