med·i·ta·tion | \ ˌme-də-ˈtā-shən \
1: a discourse intended to express its author’s reflections or to guide others in contemplation
2: the act or process of meditating¹
One of the best things I think anyone living with anxiety can do for themselves is to take the time to get to know their anxiety. Stay still and really listen to the stories and often false narratives it repeats to an unsuspecting mind. Go quiet and find out where it burrows into one’s body.
Meditation is an excellent tool for discovering all this and more.
I began the practice of meditation about 20 years ago. On one of her shows, Oprah was talking about her meditation routine and it sounded like something I should try, so, sitting in a quiet room, I mimicked her moves, focused on my breath, and repeated her mantra, “Oh God, my heart is open to you. Come sit in my heart”. After a week or so, I found myself feeling calmer and more focused. Steady. Something I didn’t often feel. I liked it.
After Oprah, I bought books and read up on the different traditions. Tried mantras in Aramaic, Sanskrit, plain old English, or none at all. I have had phases where I sit upright with my back straight, feet firmly planted on the floor; phases where I’m perched on my meditation pillow with my legs crossed; phases where I just lie in bed practicing belly breaths.
They’ve all worked to varying degrees, so I’m not much for preaching one way of doing it. You do you.
Physiologically, there is also some interesting data from the field of Meditation.
Our brain is a complex organ, and deep inside it is the amygdala, the part of our brain that controls our senses, memories, decisions and moods. Kind of like a thermostat. Anxiety affects our emotional response to situations by putting undue force on the amygdala. Eventually, the constant anxiety actually reshapes the structural and neural pathways of our brain so that our amygdala, our thermostat, can no longer regulate itself. This process is called neuroplasticity, and its why we end up with disproportionate and irrational responses to situations.
Luckily, meditation can do the same thing. Research shows that there is a correlation between meditation and “structural changes in the areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing.” ² This is good news for those of us who spend a good part of our life feeling tense.
Meditation brings you to a place within yourself that is quiet, or it can, if you practice it enough. Some people say that it is here that you can connect with God. The author and podcaster Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed, calls it the Knowing. I like to think that it is here that I connect with the deeper, realer me. The me that has my best interests at heart. And it is in this deeper place that I get ideas and guidance. It is here that I find my path.
Am I a consistent meditator? I wish I was. I read once that when life is good, we should meditate for 10 minutes every day, and when life get hard, we should meditate for 20. Usually, when life gets stressful, all my good practices go out the window, and I flail around instead, just like everyone else. But eventually I remember what I have to do to get back on track, and awhile after that I actually do it. I never said I was perfect.
So, if you’re a worrier like me, do yourself a favour and try some meditation. Sit still for a while and listen to the fictitious stories your mind is telling you. Scan your body, and find out where you are holding tension, and make an effort to let it go. Download an App, like Headspace or Calm and try their meditations. Or just lie in bed and breathe deeply, following your breath from your nose to your belly and back again. Do this a few times and you will notice a difference immediately, I swear.
There is only one rule, as far as I’m concerned, that you have to follow if you want to be a successful meditator. Stay awake. There is a fine line between going deep within yourself and dozing off completely. Try not to do the latter. Or if you must, then have a nap and try again later when you’re not so tired.
And since we are halfway through the alphabet and you’re still with me, I want to tell you that I think you are marvelous (another M word). Yay you, for reading about a subject that can really suck. You are a rock star. Go look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are a beautiful human being. Really, right now. Go. I’ll wait here.