The timing for this post couldn’t be better. We’ve both been talking about, and trying to practice, regular meditation (though sometimes we blow it!). Siobhan posted 11 tips here and today the peeps at Well+Good are suggesting different styles for different types of people and issues. What’s your practice look like? We’ll share ours in the comments.
Is this you: You really want to meditate and be less reactive in stressful situations, but you can’t sit still and empty your mind? Us, too!
It could be that you (we) just haven’t found the right meditation style, says davidji, apprentice to Deepak Chopra, and the author of The Secrets of Meditation: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace and Personal Transformation.
In his new book, the corporate executive-turned-meditation teacher covers the most frequently practiced forms of meditation. “Many types of meditation can help you manage the constant swirl of the city and our reactions to it,” he says.
So which style of meditation is right for you? Here are five—along with some practical guidance from davidji—to help you pick one that sticks.
1. You’re a People Person (Sometimes to a Fault)
Practice: Metta Meditation
For this meditation practice you’ll bring loving kindness into your heart and then shine it out to everyone. Got it? You do this by sitting for five minutes and focusing your attention on loving thoughts and feelings. Use deep inhales to fill yourself up with loving thoughts, then let that love flow through you and out of you in a long exhale. This is a nourishing meditation, and an example of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first and then putting it on someone else.
2. You Need To Get Calm RIGHT NOW!
Practice: Breathing Meditation
You know that feeling you get when doing something you love? You’re so absorbed yet your mind is super clear? This breathing meditation can help invoke that feeling.
How to do it? Stop yourself for two minutes a day and bring your attention to your breath, like you may have done in yoga class. Just follow your breath in your mind’s eye going in and out through your nose. The idea is that by staying with your breath, you’re not going to the past or future in your thoughts.
If you’re extremely busy or a beginning meditator, this method works really well because it’s quick and you can do it anywhere (hello subway). It’s also beneficial for combating stress and anxiety (hello high-pressure work meeting).
3. You’re a Foodie, or Have Food Issues
Practice: Sensory Meditation
A form of sensory meditation is mindful eating. Choose a meal—or even just a piece of chocolate—and focus on the flavors and experience of eating it, savoring every bite, and connecting to the moment, without any other distractions like television, work, or other people.
If you struggle with emotional eatingor weight concerns, or just haven’t been taking the time to notice what you’re putting in your body, this is a great tool for gaining more awareness and bringing more joy to the experience.
First things first, I too was raised by wolves. I’ll tell you all about it sometime soon, but among the many cool-but-strange things my mother did when I was a kid was practice breath of fire.
For those of you not steeped in yoga culture, breath of fire is a sequence of quick, guttural (because you used your abdomen) exhales through the nose. It sounds like a dog panting in the middle of summer, kinda fast and furious. But it’s actually very controlled. (Note to mothers: For a small child it can appear a little bit scary. You might want to explain to the kids that mommy is not hyperventilating.)
Anyways, breath of fire is a great way to energize the body, clear out toxins, clear the mind, or in a moment of rage or frustration especially—calm the eff down. Siobhan and I, when we were younger and had jerkier bosses, each had a secret place at our offices where we would go to do this.
Alas, it is still a part of my at-home yoga practice. But these days, I’ve been more focused on another type of breathing: alternate nostril breathing. This is a much slower practice that involves, as the name implies, inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other, then inhaling through that one—retaining the breath in between—and exhaling through the other. There’s a nifty hand position explained in this video (though she doesn’t demo the retention). The slower you can get it, the more calming it feels. It depends on the day, but I usually breath in on a 4-second count, retain for 12, and exhale for 8 or so.
It is a very powerful practice, and I believe its effects are both immediate and lasting throughout the day. As I told you guys a few weeks ago, I’ve been experiencing signs of imbalance lately that I believe are related to years of sustained stress. In my quest to set my body and mind straight, I came across an incredible book called Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life. Its author Dr. Claudia Welch, is an Ayurvedic doctor and practitioner of Chinese Medicine. She’s also a great writer.
This book has changed my life, and you’ll be hearing more about it. I aspoke to Dr. Welch on the phone for a long time this weekend, and will be featuring an interview with her on the site soon.
It was her writings that reminded me just how effective simple alternate nostril breathing can be on health. In the book it’s one of her key prescriptions for women experiencing any kind of hormonal-slash-life imbalance, and since I’ve been doing it daily I’ve noticed real changes.
Alternate nostril breathing seems to instantly quiet the monkey brain, and lull me into a more meditative state. It’s said to balance the male and female forces in the body, as well as the left and right brain. On a less esoteric note: It also clears my sinuses and helps me breathe better too. :) Do you have a breathing practice?
Oh nuts, mine too.
I was on a roll there for a while. For starters, I was going to yoga a lot, and all my favorite teachers build it into the practice. Since I really enjoy meditating with other people, this was a nice motivator. Also, I found a “quiet room” at my job—a dimly lit alcove the size of a small walk-in closet that I imagine was created for nursing moms maybe, but which a few of us use regularly for midday downtime. I got into the habit of sneaking in there without my phone or any other distractions for about 20 minutes every day. That felt great! But then I sprained my ankle while bobbing and weaving in traffic to get a cab, and then I was away from work for a bit, and the routines I’d built into my day sort of went out the window.
It happens, but since it takes a toll on how good I feel, I’d like to get back on track—and I’d encourage you guys to join me.
Because if there’s one thing I have learned over the years about a meditation practice it’s that it’s always there to go back to. No sense kicking yourself when you quit. Just start where you are.* Wake up tomorrow and do it, and then wake up the next day and do it again.
Last week, I was in that place pictured up top—Big Sur. At a place like Esalen, the hippie enclave we stayed at for a few days, it’s frankly very easy to sit for 20 minutes or longer, daily. There’s a meditation hut with windows that actually open overlooking the ocean, for one, and for two, there’s no cell reception there. (That second thing is key.) Third, it’s among the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and beauty, especially the kind you find in nature, has that magical ability to just help you drop your shoulders and quiet the chatter in your head. Less easy is meditating after a stressful day at work in a city where strangers bark at each other and there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic even at, like, 2pm on a Tuesday.
But that’s sort of the point. Meditating every day is not easy, per se, but as with any good habit, the more you do it, the easier it gets—especially if you’re getting a “reward,” as Alexandra explained the other week. With meditation, the reward is subtle. As we said in our 11 Easy Ways to Meditate piece, you probably won’t see blue flashing lights or meet God for the first time in your sitting practice. But the sweet, incremental changes that come with looking inside and sitting still are really something else. Aren’t they?
So I’m going to get back in the habit.
Who’s in? And if you are still on track? Well, shoot. God bless. Now please share some motivating words with the rest of the class—especially those of you who took our meditation challenge a while back and then stuck with it. (Did anyone?! Don’t fib.)
* Also, read this book. It’s so good.
When my insomnia hit the other night, I did everything wrong.
I’d managed to work myself up about something before bed, but because I have the stamina of a toddler when I’m upset, I tired myself out quickly and crashed hard around 11:30pm. Then, at 4:30am, my brain went on like a light. There I was, in that strange time when “tonight” becomes “tomorrow” and the last thing in the world you should be doing is witnessing it. (Unless of course you’re doing something really fun—which I wasn’t. I was lying there with looping thoughts, the lights on, a search window open on my laptop, and Twitter fired up on my phone…)
We have written plenty about sleep hygiene here. We polled you once to find out how much you sleep (a lot!); we asked you guys to share your bedtime rituals with us (they were great!); we’ve explored how sleep can help your looks (duh); and we’ve covered ayurvedic principles about sleep before, as well.
But isn’t it funny (dumb) that no matter how much you know about the Right Thing To Do for your wellbeing, it’s often exactly when you need that advice the most that it escapes you?
With that in mind, here’s a primer, filled with things you already know, on the best and worst things to do when you can’t sleep. Obviously this advice is highly subjective. Where appropriate, we’ve mentioned some actual science to back us up. And, as always, we want your tips in the comments.
1. Tweeting, emailing, checking your stocks, approving comments on your blog etc. Research shows that light-emitting devices can suppress the production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin—which means when you wake up to check your cell, or simply have it on blinking at you from the bedside table, you’re sending signals to your brain that it isn’t time to chill out. Turn them off, use airplane mode, or put them on the other side of the room. When you wake up, try your best not to check them.
2. Watching scary TV shows. I can’t watch scary things at night anymore without getting nightmares and waking up a lot. Granted I’m on the sensitive side (cough), but there is good research that shows how disruptive this can be. It can spike stress hormones in the body and put you in an excited state (not the good kind) that doesn’t bode well for rest. Some people can watch anything before bed and fall asleep, but if you wake up in the middle of the night and decide to flip on the tube, maybe don’t try to catch up on a season’s worth of Boardwalk Empire?
3. Turning on the light. This actually can be a good thing (see below), but in general, if you wake up and have to pee or you stand a chance of falling back asleep fairly quickly, don’t turn on the lights or lift up your black-out blinds. (You all have black-out blinds, right? If not, you should! They’re super cheap at Ikea and make a world of difference.) For the same reasons you want to avoid electronics, you also want to avoid turning on the lights: It tells your brain that it’s time to be awake by suppressing sleep hormones. Pas bon.
4. Drinking booze. We’ve all seen the research about nightcaps actually disrupting sleep, and here’s why: It robs you of REM and the other, deeper stages of sleep—which are the ones that make you feel most rested. A glass or two of wine can make you feel nice and relaxed, and that can be sleep-promoting, but drinking too close to bedtime (not to mention in the middle of the night) should probably be avoided.
5. Just lying there freaking out. If you’re past the point of no return—meaning you can just tell you won’t be falling back asleep any time soon—do something else. You can go ahead and break rule number 3 here. Get up and do something, anything, until you feel sleepy again.
1. A cup of herbal tea or some aromatherapy. Many herbs—chamomile, lavender, valerian root—have been shown in research (and by wise grandmothers) to make you sleepy. Similarly, jasmine has a sedative effect when inhaled, as do Hope Gillerman’s Sleep Remedy and Essence of Vali’s. Just be sure to do your research and/or check with your doctor before you start dosing yourself. Nature makes some very powerful plants
2. Reading something you’ve read before. This works wonders for me. A yogi and a nerdy scholar at heart, I have been rereading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for years now. Here’s why it works: When you read things you are already familiar with, it doesn’t stimulate your mind with new information the way an exciting novel or a piece of nonfiction would. In fact, it has the opposite effect of comforting you with information you already possess, and, well, kind of boring you.
3. Meditate. A tough sell at 4am, I know, but it helps quiet the mind and ready you for more sleep. Our tips are here—and the compassion meditation is an especially nice one to do because it puts your focus on people you love. You could also try listening to recordings of meditations by Pema Chodron (or someone else, but man is she good). You can break rule number 1, above, for this one, obviously.
4. Do some yoga. Nothing too vigorous, but some poses have been shown to promote sleepiness. There’s a nice list over here.
5. Wake up your buddy and chat and/or have sex. This requires a forgiving and generous significant other, but if you have one, and you know they won’t mind hearing what’s on your mind and helping you simmer down, this can be very helpful. As for sex, just bear in mind that for some people, sex is sleep inducing (for example, every single man who ever walked the earth*) and for others it’s sleep inhibiting.
6. Pretend it’s already tomorrow. If you’re really stuck, try pretending it’s not 4am but 8am and it’s time to get ready for work or school. Take a shower, brush your teeth, drink some water—but be sure to skip the coffee. It sounds nuts but this has worked for me! At some point, when you’re going through the motions, something in your mind will click and you’ll think: “This is totally insane. I should be asleep right now.” And then maybe, just maybe, you will be.
Your turn! What are your tips: What’s the best—and worst—things one can do when one can’t sleep?
* I kid! Sort of.
Sorry for the radio silence everyone, but we’ve both been in serious nesting mode this sort-of holiday week. We hope you’ve been enjoying your time too, with friends and family or whoever else has tickled your fancy.
Are we getting excited for 2012 yet, or what?! No matter what one believes about this upcoming year—and there’s no shortage of theories—we think that 2012 will be full of movement. Elections, revolutions, new kinds of awareness… There does seem to be a shift underway, one that this natural beauty thing is all about.
While progress is slow, trust in big structures of all kinds has been on the wane, and we’re seeing people moving their money back to the little guys: whether they went to a credit union, started frequenting farmers’ markets, or are now supporting some of the small beauty and wellness companies (and the women who run them) we’ve talked about here.
As so much of our lives have moved online, it’s as though there’s also a pull back to our physical communities and knowing the people behind what we consume. We like that trend.
And then there are our personal goals! The decisions we all make for ourselves that also ripple out to the world.
We all have ways in which we want to improve, and new year or not, there’s nothing wrong with setting some intentions. We want to hear where you plan to effectuate change in your life this year. Here’s where we’d like to grow…
—I’m going to listen more and react less.
—I’m going to keep working on having healthier energetic boundaries, so that I don’t feel drained unknowingly.
—I’m going to make a bigger effort to connect with people. I was a bit of a recluse in 2011 but now I’m ready to come out and play!
—I’m going to develop a gratitude practice.
—I’m going to balance my hormones! (OK, not entirely within my control but intention helps, right?)
—I’m going to take more timeouts.
—I’m going to take concrete steps to creating the present I want to live.
—I’m going to pencil in at least two proper vacations and then actually take them.
—I’m going to drag myself from my warm bed and meditate whether I feel like it or not.
—I’m going to take a ballet class.
—I’m going to trust myself.
—I’m going to invite stressy feelings over for tea and let them hang out until they’re ready to leave on their own, instead of chasing them out the door with a broom.
—I’m also going to take concrete steps to create the life I want.
—But I’m still going to have a ball.
—Just read Siobhan’s! Amen to having a ball, S. I’m in.
OK you guys, you’re up.