If you’re anything like me, you research all the different kinds of meditation techniques our there or you’ve downloaded a ton of apps onto your phone. Great, you’ve got all this information at your fingertips, but you have no idea where to start. The more you look, the more overwhelmed you get, and the more discouraged you are to try meditating. That, or you just have trouble meditating in general.
When I first started meditating, I found that my mind was exceptionally busy and it was impossible for me to stop the hurricane of thoughts rushing in my head. It took me a really long time to learn how to focus so that I could do meditations without letting my mind wander. I want to share some of the tips that really helped me.
Just breathe. If your mind is too busy to focus on any guided meditation, put some soothing music on (or sit somewhere quiet/use earplugs) and just breathe. In your mind, think about this: breathe in through the nose for a count of five-eight, whatever feels natural to you. Hold for five-eight counts, then release through the nose or mouth for five-eight counts. Focus on the counting, on breathing in as much air as you can, and releasing all that stale air on the exhale.
If the breathing technique doesn’t work, or even it does, try this one: Go for a five to ten minute walk. It doesn’t matter where you go, in the park, down the street, etc. The key to this exercise is noting how you feel while you are walking. Once outside, begin taking mental notes on how the sun feels against your skin. Is there any wind? How does the wind feel? What other things do you feel as you are walking? Try to keep your mind focused on how you are feeling and what you are feeling as you complete this walk.
Another technique that sometimes helped me is listening to relaxing music. Go toy YouTube or SoundCloud or whatever you like and find some relaxing music, something that you think is nice and soothing. When you’ve found something, sit somewhere comfortably and close your eyes. Listen to the music and focus on the sounds. Is there a piano? A violin? Are there any nature sounds like running water, thunder, the ocean, birds, etc? Focus on all the things that you hear. If you can, begin noticing how the sounds make you feel. Do you feel a little more relaxed? Do you feel happy, sad, or angry? Then, if possible, dig a little deeper to discover what makes you feel that way or why you feel that way.
Find something to look at that calms you. For me, a picture or video of the ocean waves crashing against the shore, the sound of running water in a Japanese garden, or even just watching sakura (cherry blossoms) is calming. Focus on this picture of video (with or without sound, if a video) and just watch/look at it. Start at the top and work your way down as you notice every little detail about it. In your mind, describe the detail. For example, if I’m looking at a photo/video of cherry blossoms I might think this: The sky is a beautiful shade of blue and the tree’s dark bark contrasts against it. The long branches, reaching out everywhere with pale pink, delicate flowers. Green leaves pop out among the clusters of pink. Stray petals of pink cascade onto the ground when the gentle breeze caresses the tree. The petals are raining down onto the ground in pink “drops.” The trunk is dark and sturdy, deeply rooted into the ground. The green grass peeks out from under the blanket of pink petals…etc.
Find an object and hold it in your hands. For example, I have a small figurine of a wolf, which is my favorite animal. I can hold it in my hands and look at it, noticing all the intricacies of this figurine. Examining it, noticing how it feels in my hand (light or heavy, rough or soft, etc.) the colors that are used, the detail in the eyes or mouth. Run your fingers over it and feel the texture in your hands.
Do stretches. Find a mat or somewhere where you can stretch. Focus on the movements that you are doing and the counting. Stretch out your neck by placing your chin down towards your chest. Hold for ten seconds, then slowly move it up and around in circles, very slowly. When your ear is against your shoulder, hold it for another ten seconds before you continue to move around. Do this again when your other ear reaches your shoulder. Move to your shoulders, raising them up and down, then around in circles one way, then the other. Next, stretch your arms. Lift them above your head, grasp your right wrist with your left hand, and pull your right arms gently towards the left so you feel a stretch in your arm and your right side. Hold for ten seconds, and then do the same to the other arm. Bend forward like you’re trying to touch your toes, let your arms hang loose towards the floor or rest them on your legs. Hang there for a moment, and then slowly raise yourself up vertebrae by vertebrae while you head remains down. It is the last thing to come up. Next, do a lunge and have your arms where it’s comfortable for you. Hold the pose for ten seconds, or more, depending on how you feel. Do the same to the other leg. Lift your left or right leg up slightly and rotate the ankles in a circle, slowly. Repeat on the other side.
The last recommendation I have is writing. Get out a notebook or open a new word document and just let your mind take control of your fingers as you write whatever comes into your mind. Don’t think about it, just let your hands move and write/type out words on the paper/screen. You might write how you’re feeling, or the thoughts that are troubling you or that are running around in your head. Use this as an emotional release for you and focus on the paper/screen and your emotions. Keep writing until your fingers stop. This is a good way to clear your mind before you start meditating.
These exercises really helped me learn how to focus. I’m the type of person that needs to do a variety of things in order for my mind to clear, or even learn, for that matter. I need to see, touch, hear, and write. Maybe one of these works for you, or maybe two work for you. Perhaps all of them work for you. Whatever it is, just keep doing it and when you feel like you’ve got the hang of one or two, or all of them. Try meditation again, whether it’s by yourself or guided meditation.
Some apps I really recommend
1. Atmosphere. This app has a variety of sounds and music to help you focus on sounds from a variety of different environments.
2. Calm. This has some background sounds like birds and water. It has a button for deep breathing that tells you when to breathe in, hold, and breathe out in case you need to see it rather than count it. They also have a “learn the basics” of meditation. It gives you seven days of meditation. Day one tells you what it’s used for and you start your first session. It’s a good guided meditation for beginners. The only thing I don’t like about this app is that you have to pay for other features and meditations, but for a beginner, those first 7 days are a good place to start.
3. Headspace. Many people really seem to like this app, including Emma Watson (if you care). It’s also a good place to start for beginners and you get “Take 10” free, which are 10 free days of meditation. It’s kind of a cute app that lets you add friends, see your progress, and has a timeline that you can view or go back to. I don’t like this app because it’s voiced by a man with a British accent. I love British accents, but I find that listening to a man makes it harder for me to concentrate and causes some anxiety. You also have to pay for more content.
4. Stop, Breath & Think. This is a cute app as well with some drawings. It asks you to check in before meditation on how you’re feeling and it gives you a list of recommendations based on how you feel. Once you finish meditating, it asks you to check in again with how you feel. You gain awards by meditating for certain amount of minutes/hours and for logging in every day. It also lets you view your progress. Some are free, but most meditations are paid. So, if you like to do different meditations every day, you might get bored with this one fast since your variety is limited as a free member.
5. Pacifica. I haven’t really played around with this one a lot, but it’s kind of neat. You log in your mood and it gives you a list of suggested activities to do: for example, I said I’m “good” so it recommended take a moment to relax, journal, set a goal for today, complete a healthy habit, and post to the community. I selected take a moment to relax and it gave me a list of meditations that I can try, a few are free, but the rest are paid. You can track your sleep, exercise, add daily habits and set daily reminders.
6. Meditation Music. The name says it all. You have 12 choices and you can set a timer for any number of minutes or hours, you can change the volume in the app, and pause it.
7. Leaf for Bellabeat. This app is used with your Bellabeat Leaf or Leaf Urban. They have a variety of meditations and breathing exercises that you can do. I don’t like the breathing exercises because the pace of breathing is WAY too quick for my tastes and I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. The meditations are okay, but I don’t use them anymore because I found an app that I prefer, which is #8. Leaf lets you track your meditations and set a meditation goal for the week. I track my meditations using this app as it allows you to choose the start time and how long you meditated for.
8. Insight Timer. This app is my FAVORITE app. I use this app every single day! During the day, at night, etc. I love this app because there are thousands of FREE meditations that you can use and bookmark. There are tons to choose from! Categories include sleep, pregnancy, music, breathe, accepting and letting go, forgiveness, healing, etc. You can search for anything you want. You can also add friends, send messages, bookmark meditations, and keeps track of your total time, averages, and when you log in. You can also get stars for completing x amount of days that you’ve used the app in a row.
Eren Wiebe is a blogger at sakuradaisuki, writer, editor, figure skater, amateur photographer, and mom to her fur baby, Piko.