As someone who has suffered with anxiety for almost 20 years, I have come across more than my fair share of articles, books, and advice suggesting that I try meditating.
Images of Zen monks in their gorgeous robes spending hours, days, on cushions in the Himalayas came to mind. They seemed peaceful. Blissful, even. Sounded good to me.
However, I quickly found out that there’s more to meditating than sitting on a cushion. I mean, what are you supposed to do? So I read about it. Took a class at the local Buddhist center. Tried again. And again and again. Time ceased to tick on and my monkey mind became even more cluttered and chaotic.
Who knew these things were possible? And that the catalyst for them was my sitting down to meditate?!
Meditation for the Anxious Mind
It took years of failed attempts with a meditation practice to come to this conclusion: an anxious mind does not take to sitting in quietude very kindly. It just doesn’t.
Meditation, which has centuries of evidence to prove its efficacy as a transformative and deeply spiritual practice, wasn’t meeting me where I was at. And I was anxious. So, ever on the hunt for relief, I circled in on three ways that I could meditate. It didn’t look quite like the monks that I had in mind when I began down this path, but it worked for me and my anxious mind.
And, with practice, a deeper meditation practice is becoming more available to me. I think of these as the gateway to meditation for anxious minds.
1. Reframe mindfulness.
Dr. Ellen Langer has a beautiful definition of mindfulness: the simple act of noticing new things. Instead of focusing on meditation, she encourages people to just look around, bringing themselves back to the present moment over and over by the simple process of actively noticing new things around them.
This can be on your way to the grocery store, as you pet your dog, getting the mail in the evening. The most ordinary and regular things in our lives are the ones that we are bound to stop noticing.
Reframing mindfulness in this way doesn’t require any time, really—you were going to get groceries anyway. Just pay attention and quiet your mind enough to take in your surroundings. It’s a great way to become immediately present. And learning presence is part of the foundation of a practice in meditation.
2. Meditate in movement.
Although not officially meditation, there are a few movement meditations that I have found to be pretty powerful in my life. Yoga is the most important. As a student and teacher of Adamantine® yoga, I practice the same sequence every morning by myself and then again with my students.
As soon as I step on my mat, my body knows the postures and can move through it almost automatically. For me, this transforms my daily yoga practice into a moving meditation.
Walking is another form of meditative movement that works for me. When I first step out the door, my mind is busy with my to-do list and thoughts from the day. But the more I immerse myself in nature and the further I walk, the more quiet my mind becomes.
Even household tasks like folding the laundry or chopping vegetables can become somewhat meditative for me. There’s a simplicity to the movements since I’ve performed these duties countless times before. Instead of viewing them as chores, they have become part of my meditation practice.
In this way, meditation extends into my life, instead of becoming yet another checkbox on the endless list of things I want to accomplish each day.
3. Practice guided imagery and guided meditations.
For me, the thing that feels most authentically close to meditation is using guided imagery and guided meditations in my practice. Belleruth Naparstek is a favorite of mine; she is like a grandmotherly presence holding your hand as you take this practice further.
All of my guided imagery and guided meditations are loaded on my phone, so whether I need an afternoon break and plug my earbuds in for a few minutes with Belleruth, or whether I turn them on as I’m quieting down and getting into bed, I make both a daily ritual in my daily meditation practice.
Are you a jittery soul looking for peace and quiet? Do you know other ways for anxious people to practice meditation? Share your experiences and thoughts below!