My brain never stops. From morning to night, and often while I sleep, there are at least five things whizzing through my head. From what I need at the store to the email I forgot to send to planning a vacation to worrying about finding a summer nanny. And, it gets worse when I’m doing something just for me, like exercise – a constant running stream of things I should be doing instead. Needless to say, I struggle with “mindfulness,” or staying in the present moment.
When mindfulness and meditation first popped up as actual things regular people do, I knew it wasn’t for me. I cannot stop my brain. I cannot achieve a “Zen-like calm.” A long run or swim would be the closest to meditation I would ever get.
Then I read a book and it said something I hadn’t heard before. When you practice mindfulness, you don’t have to stop thinking.
I looked into it more.
During meditation, you focus your awareness on the present moment, while accepting and taking note of your inevitable thoughts and physical sensations (like itching). Yes, your goal is to keep focus for as long as possible – but that comes with practice. They key for me is, even when I can’t stop my brain, the attempt to be mindful – whether it’s for 2 minutes or 20 – is immensely therapeutic.
Depending on the day, a brief meditation can lower my blood pressure, put me to sleep, or show me how much there is to appreciate about life. Sometimes, the effect, or “afterglow,” is stronger than even a physical exercise or a midday nap.
Now I try, with varying degrees of success, to meditate five times per week. One minute of meditation counts. For example, with 2 minutes to spare before a stressful client meeting, I breathed deeply for one minute. It made a difference in my confidence and presence when I walked into that room.
I prefer to meditate for at least 10 minutes and up to 20. But this is simply not possible sometimes. So when I can’t squeeze in even one minute during the day, I do a quick sleep meditation before bed.
There are many different mindfulness techniques, tools, apps, books, classes, etc., out there. I’ve tried my fair share of them, but have found the Insight Timer app (free) works best for me. The app gives you access to thousands of different meditations – guided and unguided – you can filter based on length of time, the issue you want to focus on (anxiety, sleep, energy, happiness), reviews and more.
Give it a try, even – and maybe especially – if you cringe at the image of a Zen yogi on a hilltop. In our worlds, it’s more like a stressed-out mommy in a closet.