If there has been one habit to change my life over the past 10 years, it is meditation.
Not long ago, I was struggling with such crippling bouts of anxiety and depression that I couldn’t make myself walk into a grocery store. I would sit in the car with my racing thoughts, my fears, and my insecurities screaming in my ears until I would run out of air and begin to gasp.
I was completely out of touch with my body. I was on a strict plan, dieting and torturing myself down to a low body fat, and the negativity in my head just got worse and worse as I went along.
Out of desperation, I began to seek out help. I contacted a doctor and went on medication. Looking around the internet from names I respected, I kept seeing the name of a book over and over again: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
Tolle isn’t for everyone, but that book changed my life forever. For the first time, I realized this simple truth:
I am not my thoughts.
Thoughts are just a product of my brain’s activity. I could choose to grip onto them tightly, become interwoven in their web, and fall down into the gutter where they wanted to take me. Or, I could see them for what they were: brain neurons firing off.
This made me feel empowered. I had distance from these mean, horrible voices for the first time in my life. I immediately wanted to learn more about meditation, which is the practice of separating the real YOU (the witness, the one who can see and hear the thoughts) from the thoughts themselves and training your awareness.
I learned meditation by attending a few classes at a local meditation center, and by reading this book. I was fortunate enough to make meditation a daily habit before I became pregnant with my fourth child.
Meditation not only helped me to separate from my thoughts, but it also taught me to become in tune with my body. I learned to focus my attention, and during my pregnancy, this really helped me to learn and react to what my body needed and what it was trying to tell me.
It also helped me to bond with my baby. During meditation I would focus on the connection between my son and I; we would be sharing a body for such a short and special part of our lives. This helped me to stay grateful and positive through most of my pregnancy.
I also used what I had learned in meditation during my labor and his birth, which was unmedicated. Rather than being overtaken by my thoughts during labor, I felt overtaken by my own body. Meditation helped me stay in touch with it and focus my efforts where they were needed, whether that was my breathing, or on my husband’s calming words, or on the position I needed to be in.
Once I gave birth, I was terrified of experiencing postpartum depression. With my first three births, I had experienced bouts of PPD ranging from mild to severe. This time, I was able to handle any feelings of depression and despair using a combination of exercise and meditation.
When those thoughts arose, I had distance from them like I had never had before. They didn’t swallow me whole, they felt manageable. I could remind myself that those voices telling me I wasn’t good enough were not real, and that the crushing feelings would pass. (An important note: it worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone, so PLEASE call your doctor if you’re experiencing PPD and come up with the best game plan for YOU!)
Meditation is a practice, a daily habit that improves and maintains your mental health, the same way that brushing your teeth maintains your dental health. It may not be completely magical or life changing the first time you try it, but once you become consistent with it, you’ll begin to feel small effects in your daily life.
To meditate, you don’t need a special cushion, or to sit in a perfect posture on your floor, or anything special. Just find yourself a few minutes, maybe 5 at first, and a quiet place where you can relax.
Close your eyes to block out any visual distractions, and then just focus your attention on one thing.
The goal of meditation is to learn to do just that: focus your attention. The untrained mind is all over the place, especially in this age of constant distraction. We jump from thought to thought, idea to idea, social network to social network. In meditation, this is called Monkey Mind.
Practicing the control of your focus is like strength training a muscle. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.
The easiest thing to focus on for the beginner is your breathing. All you have to do is pay attention to it. You can choose how to do this: focus on the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe, or the feeling of the air coming in and out of your nose, or your shoulders rising and falling.
Your mind will wander. When it does this, all you have to do is realize it, and gently bring your focus back. Repeat this for the length of your meditation session.
ACTION: Find a quiet, relaxing space where you will not be interrupted and play the meditation. Practice keeping your attention just on Amy’s words and focusing on your breath. Then, leave a comment and let me know how you’re feeling. Are you relaxed? Was it difficult to focus your attention?
Then, for the rest of the week, relax and play the meditation once a day. Notice, does it get any easier to hold your attention? Does anything change for you outside of the meditation?
PS-Everyday Yoga Escape has an amazing prenatal yoga series available here!