By Ray Williams
The daily news about COVID-19 can be relentless. Couple that with isolation, financial worries, new family or home-schooling responsibilities, college-aged children making an unexpected return home and, in the worst-case scenario, the illness itself, and you have a recipe for tremendous levels of stress. There’s so much uncertainty. Most of us have experienced a complete disruption to our daily routines. We’re sheltered at home and possibly dealing with the loss of a loved one or a job.
And while it feels as though the virus crisis is a local issue, because that’s where we notice its impact, it’s global.Many of the problems we are now facing are global in nature, such as the warming planet, economic inequality, and now a contagious virus. The coronavirus is pointing out just how interdependent we are, with disrupted supply chains slowing down manufacturing and international travel spreading the virus. Globalization is a fact – the only choice is whether we will work together to solve our problems. The choice is between reacting with fear or responding with kindness.
Nationalists are seizing upon the coronavirus to find scapegoats and blame “others” usually ethnic groups and immigrants, but others are working across borders to solve the problem. A new global collaboration is taking place, despite the U.S.’s leaders deciding to take a more nationalist go-it-alone approach.
In the last few weeks, with the corona virus all around the world, there is more uncertainty as to what we’ll be doing in the next few months, weeks, or even days, than many of us can remember experiencing in a very long time.
Common reactions to COVID-19
- Concern about protecting oneself from the virus because they are at higher risk of serious illness.
- Concern that regular medical care or community services may be disrupted due to facility closures or reductions in services and public transport closure.
- Feeling socially isolated,especially if they live alone or are in a community setting that is not allowing visitors because of the outbreak.
- Guilt if loved ones help them with activities of daily living.
- Increased levels of distress if they:
- Have mental health concerns before the outbreak, such as depression.
- Live in lower-income households or have language barriers.
- Experience stigma because of age, race or ethnicity, disability, or perceived likelihood of spreading COVID-19.
In the face of this uncertainty, do you find yourself scouring the internet for answers to all the questions running through your mind? Are you playing out all the what-if scenarios that your mind creatively supplies in large quantities in the hope that if something terrible actually happens, you’ll be better prepared? Do you find that much of your time and energy is devoted to either figuring out answers to questions that don’t have answers or trying not to think about the scary possibilities, all unsuccessfully?
If the answer to any of that is yes, rest assured, you are not alone. Uncertainty is one of the most difficult human experiences. Uncertainty means not having control over what might happen to us. We don’t do so well when we don’t have a sense of control – we may feel more anxious and more depressed and be more susceptible to pain and physical illnesses. Because a sense of control is so vital to our health and well-being, our minds go to great lengths to gain a sense of control in the face of uncertainty.
The actions that you may have found yourself engaging in recently – searching the internet for answers, playing out what-if scenarios, repeatedly worrying about what might happen in the future – are all an attempt by your mind to gain a sense of control. If you cannot have actual control, your mind attempts to make you feel as if you have control. If you think of enough what-if scenarios, and if you can find enough answers, maybe you’ll feel better.
Of course, none of this actually gives you more control. Uncertainty is inevitable. Futile attempts to get rid of it take up a lot of your time and energy. As a result, you feel anxious and drained, and in no more control of uncertainty than before.
The result of all this is escalating stress and fear.
Ongoing stress can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. It’s a lot to take in, so it’s not surprising that many people are feeling anxious and stressed.
Mindfulness Strategies and Habits as A Way of Dealing With Stress and Fear
Fortunately, there are mindfulness strategies that you can use to manage stress during these scary and uncertain times.
But first, what exactly is mindfulness? Being mindful involves the nonjudgmental awareness of the sensations, thoughts and emotions of the present moment. As mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it : “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” It allows you to choose a more appropriate response to what is happening around you rather than acting automatically or without thinking. “It’s taking a break from the continual mind chatter and continual partial attention we give to most things in our lives. It’s not a clearing of the mind, but a focusing of the mind on something,” with a focus on breath being a common theme.
Consider incorporating one or more of the following mindfulness practices into your daily routine.
Most people think of yoga, tai chi or qigong when they think of mindful movement – and these are all fantastic options. But walking, running, cycling and rowing can also be mindful if you remove distractions, both internal and external, and focus on the repetition ofthe movement, your breathing pattern and the way your body feels as it moves through space.
Breathing exercises are sometimes performed in combination with meditation, but they can also be performed on their own. As few as 10 mindful breaths can relax the mind and body and allow you to refocus. There are a number of techniques you can explore, including diaphragmatic breathing and pursed-lip breathing, but here is a simple way to start: Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Breathe slowly and be aware of how the air moves in and out of your body, inflating and deflating with each breath.
Preparing a healthy meal is a great way to have quality family time while doing something that is good for you. And once you sit down to eat, take the time to savor the mealwhile thinking about the taste, texture, smell and look of your food – as well as the health and nutrition it provides.
Artistic expression – no matter your chosen medium – can be very freeing and supportive of your mental health. So, pick up a pen, paintbrush, guitar or your dancing shoes and lose yourself in the artistic expression.
There’s been a lot of medical research into meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, that has shown it can actually impact physical health by reducing blood pressure and cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone the body produces when under stress. Cortisol is helpful when you’re trying to flee a predator, as it helps your body fight or flee. But our bodies don’t really know the difference between when we’re experiencing a physical threat or a mental threat or worry, and it reacts the same in all those situations by producing cortisol.
Therefore, the body is flooded with cortisol when we respond to emotional stress or anxiety, and too much cortisol can lead to health problems. The more we worry and the more we fret, the more cortisol we produce, and that can lead to all sorts of problems including high blood pressure,difficulty sleeping and weight gain. Meditation can help reduce this excess production of cortisol and provide other mental and physical health benefits.
There are many types of meditation practices, but if you’re new to meditation or just want a way to relax during these stressful times, keep it simple.
Find or create a distraction-free zone and sit or lie down – whatever is most comfortable – for 10 or 15 minutes of quiet time or prayer. Try to disregard thoughts as they arise and instead focus on your breathing. Another type of meditationinvolves contracting and relaxing your muscles, starting at your toes and moving through each muscle group until you reach the muscles of your face and head. Finally, there are countless phone apps and YouTube videos with guided meditation, which can be a great place to start.
Meditating for Mindfulness: Basic Tips
- Strive for just a few minutes.Some people get overwhelmed by the concept of meditation, thinking that it needs to be something they must engage in for long periods of time to derive a benefit. But, in fact, there’s good research that shows just 5 minutes per day can reduce blood pressure. A little meditation can go a long way.
- Try for consistency.Especially when first starting out, try to get into a daily (or even twice daily) habit of meditating. Try for two sessions each day: one first thing in the morning and the other in the evening or before bedtime. Figure out the time that’s best for you and make it happen. As you get deeper into your practice, try to build up to about 20 minutes each day of meditation.
- Make it a habit.Think of it as a daily self-care habit, much like brushing your teeth. You wouldn’t go a day without brushing your teeth, at least once and probably twice. So why would you skip a day of meditation.
- Keep at it.Getting comfortable with meditation takes some time. Meditation is a journey, and like any other habit you have to do it for 21 days to make it a habit. Create a reminder to practice every day, and it’ll eventually become just part of your everyday routine.
- Look to guided meditation.Though you can meditate anytime, anywhere, with just a little bit of quiet attention to breath, often it’s helpful to use a guided meditation to jump-start your practice. Many different providers are offering free access to guided meditations.
- Try a moving meditation.Though the term meditation often conjures up images of yogis sitting for hours in the lotus position, meditation can actually involve plenty of movementor exercise. Yoga, tai chi, even just a simple walk in the woods can all help you foster more mindfulness and a type of meditation.
- Find a quiet corner.The widespread stay-at-home orders can make it challenging to find a perfect time and place for solitary contemplation, but ideally, beginning meditators should find 3 to 10 minutes in a quiet place to sit with eyes closed, either on the floor or on a comfortable chair. Absolute solitude is not needed. In fact, occasional sounds and smells can help beginners learn to tolerate minor distractions while remaining focused.
- Get comfortable.Sit in a comfortable position. Make sure you’re in comfortable clothes that allow you to breathe freely. Put all of your focus on your breathing and try to stay in that space, focusing only on what’s happening right here, right now – the smells, the sounds in the room.
- Don’t worry about stuff.You don’t need a lot of stuff to meditate. You don’t have to surround yourself with crystals or incense or twist yourself like a pretzel. It’s about just taking a quiet few moments to yourself to focus on your breath.
- Write down thoughts.If you’re trying to meditate and certain thoughts pop up that seem important, go ahead and write them down. Don’t fight it. Just write it down, then take a deep breath. Refocus on your breathing. You’ll get better at letting thoughts come and go while meditating.
How Mindfulness Can Help You Deal with Fear
If we’re not mindful of our fear, it will overwhelm us and that’s rarely a good thing. When we face something threatening such as a fast-moving virus, it’s normal to be afraid. This sort of thing is like catnip for our brains, which are hardwired to scan for danger. Reading blaring headlines or watching alarming news about the coronavirus plays into our nature, and not in a good way.
Mindfulness gives us the ability to accept painful thoughts and feelings in a balanced way. In particular, it is, for most of us, a healthier way to deal with both the stress and fear surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Mindfulness offers a way to turn toward our anxiety and fear so we don’t become overwhelmed by it.
We can bring mindfulness into the fray to settle our nerves. And we can notice whether binging TV news invites a wise response to forgo a family reunion in a corona virus hot spot.
Whenever fear arises—whether triggered by a mysterious virus or not—we can stop and investigate it. We can learn to see it not as a monolithic feeling, but as a fleeting experience with movable parts—sensations, thoughts, images and so on.
In doing so, we can become intimate with the patterns of our personal brand of fear. We can notice where somatic angst shows up in our body. We can listen to the speed and content of our mental chatter. We can watch images appear in the theater of our mind and more clearly see the story that’s projected.
When fear is mindfully broken down in this way, it becomes workable. It can even wisely inform our next steps. Feeling into the discomfort of uncertainty can birth new perspectives, and having the mental flexibility to consider another option creates an island of safety in the midst of uncertainty.
Draw the Line Between Preparedness and Panic.
When we are stressed or anxious, our thinking brains go offline, and we go into survival mode. Intellectual information doesn’t stick because we’re busy running away from the danger. Only when our brains perceive safety does our thinking part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) come back online. That’s when we can rationally plan for the future.
For example, when we are home, calmly writing a grocery list, our prefrontal cortex helps us to make a reasonable list. But when we get to the grocery store and see everyone running around in a panic state, we suddenly join in. The scientific term for this is “social contagion,” which is basically the spread of emotion from person to person.
So what do we do about this phenomenon? Noticing that we are panicking is a good first step. Similar to taking your foot off the gas when your car is going out of control, mindfulness helps us ground ourselves in the present moment, which helps our minds stop racing off into the future with worry or catastrophic thinking.
Grounding is a powerful yet simple strategy to help you manage and detach from fear, anxiety, and pain. The goal is to shift attention away from negative feelings toward the external world. Grounding is particularly powerful because it can be applied to any situation where you are caught in emotional pain (e.g. triggered) and can be done anytime, anywhere, by oneself, without anyone noticing it.
Grounding is not a “relaxation technique” and in fact, is a more effective tool for victims of trauma. Some victims with PTSDactually become more anxious when they are guided through conventional relaxation techniques (e.g. “close your eyes, focus on your breathing”). Closing their eyes can lead to dissociation for some victims and focusing on breathing, and even the word “relax,” may be triggers that remind them of sexual abuse.
Most people report that they feel more “present” after practicing grounding. In fact, many are surprised to realize that they are “out of their body” (dissociated) more often than they realize. Practice grounding whenever you are extremely anxious, when you are having flashbacks or traumatic memories, and whenever you feel you are dissociated.
Learn how to stop your fears, many of which feel quite real, from snowballing (“I’m going to lose my job,” “My grandmother is going to die.”) Mindfulness practices such as the mindfulness exercise offered above can help you stop your fears from snowballing and to build good “mental immunity” to stress, anxiety, and panic.
Learn to “anchor” yourself when you begin to obsess or panic. It is easy to focus if you are simply noticing what comes and goes. Problems arise, however, when you unconsciously resist discomfort, judge your discomfort or allow your mind to begin obsessing or fantasizing. When this happens, you will discover that a simple exercise such as sitting still for a few minutes and allowing your thoughts to come and go can become uncomfortable or even unbearable.
Because it is so difficult to allow ourselves to just observe and just be—without the automatic mental functions of labeling and judging taking over—the mind needs an anchor. The most common anchor used in mindfulness practice is the breath. Paying attention to your breath is an excellent way to gather your attention and bring yourself into the present moment.
Learn how to soothe yourself.When you start to panic, obsess, or feel triggered by something in your environment, try each of the following:
- Gently stroke your arm, face, or hair
- Gently rock your body
- Give yourself a warm hug
Notice how your body feels after receiving each of these self-soothing techniques. Does it feel calmer, more relaxed? Notice which of these self-soothing techniques feels the best to you. For example, do you have more positive associations with one more than the other? Don’t allow your self-critical mind to try to talk you out of it—it is not silly or self-centered to soothe yourself—it is a loving thing to do for yourself.
Stop judging yourself for feeling anxious and fearful or for behaving in ways that seem unproductive or unhealthy. We need to take a fresh look at difficult emotions like fear and pain that can provide us with important information about what’s happening inside of us. Emotions become destructive—meaning that they cause us greater mental or physical suffering—when we either cling to them or push them away. And emotions seem to get stronger the more we fight them.
The healthier way to deal with these difficult emotions is to “hold” them in an open, aware, self-compassionate way. You can also change your relationship to your feelings by not judging an emotion or getting upset because you are feeling an emotion, telling yourself things like, “I hate feeling like this,” or “I shouldn’t feel like this,” or “I’m wrong to have this feeling.” Instead of becoming self-critical when you begin to panic, become obsessive, or fall back on old coping methods like overeating, you can work toward accepting your behavior with self-compassionate statements like:
- “It is understandable that I would feel afraid right now.”
- “It is understandable that I would go back to old habits when I’m stressed.”
The key here is to remind yourself that it is understandable, given the present situation, that you would be afraid, stressed, or panicked and that offering yourself understanding and self-compassion will help you a lot more than judging or criticizing yourself.
Being Present Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion
There are two related practices that can help us to regain a sense of calm, as well as to gain some perspective. These two practices are mindfulness and compassion. In addition to helping the average person cope with their stress and fear regarding our current pandemic, being present and self-compassion are particularly effective practices for those who have experienced trauma in the past, including former victims of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse who can become “triggered” by this current crisis.
First and foremost, mindfulness involves being in the present. It has been said that the present moment is all we have. The past has already occurred and the future is yet to be. We can become so lost in our fears about tomorrow that we miss the present. In addition to learning how to pay attention in the present moment, we need to learn how to do so without evaluation or judgment. We need to use our conscious awareness and direct our attention to observe and only observe. So mindfulness entails observing what is going on in our field of awareness just as it is—right here, right now.
Acceptance is another aspect of mindfulness. Instead of trying to ignore or get rid of our emotional pain, when we respond to our pain with acceptance, change can happen naturally. Acceptance is not the same as resignation or feeling powerless or hopeless. And it is not the same as sugar-coating reality. Instead, acceptance in this context refers to making a conscious choice to experience our sensations, feelings, and thoughts just as they are. When we practice acceptance in this way, when we give up trying to control or manipulate our experience, we open the door to change.
While compassion is the ability to feel and connect with the suffering of another human being, self-compassion is the ability to feel and connect with one’s own suffering. More specifically for our purposes, self-compassion is the act of extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. If we are to be self-compassionate we need to offer ourselves the recognition, validation, and support we would offer a loved one or a dear friend who is suffering.
Kristin Neff, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, is the leading researcher in the growing field of self-compassion. In her ground-breaking book, Self-Compassion, she defines self-compassion as “being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience is part of the common human experience.”
Self-compassion encourages you to begin to treat yourself and talk to yourself with the same kindness, caring, and compassion you would show a good friend or a beloved child. Just as connecting with the suffering of others has actually been shown to comfort and even help heal others of their ailments or problems, connecting with your own suffering will do the same for you.
Combining Mindfulness With Self-Compassion
Self-compassion and mindfulness can work in tandem to help you learn to lean into your fear and anxiety and establish a new relationship with it. As Christopher Germer stated in his book, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: “While mindfulness says, ‘Feel the pain,’ self-compassion says, ‘Cherish yourself in the midst of the pain.’”
Mindfulness practice often leads to self-compassion. Mindfulness combined with self-compassion will help you to experience fear, anxiety, and pain in safe doses instead of either avoiding these feelings or allowing them to overwhelm you and your ability to focus and function. Self-compassion teaches us that instead of dealing with difficult emotions by fighting against them, we acknowledge our pain and respond to it with kindness and understanding.
As Kristin Neff so eloquently stated in her book Self Compassion:“The beauty of self-compassion is that instead of replacing negative feelings with positive ones, new positive emotions are generated by embracing the negative ones. The positive emotions of care and connectedness are felt alongside our painful feelings. When we have compassion for ourselves, sunshine and shadow are experienced simultaneously.”
Mindfulness and Controlling the “Second Arrow”
In troubled times like this, it’s also helpful to reflect on the Buddhist concept of the “second arrow.” The first arrow is the negative event that happens–such as seeing your startup’s sales drop for the quarter or losing a client–or having Covid-19 show up.The second arrow is how we deal with the first arrow. “If I get stuck in resentment, and I’m angry about it, and I don’t accept it, then I feel victimized. I want to blame people for it–and that creates a mental state of suffering, which is the second arrow.” It’s the second arrow that you can control. With mindfulness, you can learn how to let it be momentary, take it apart, look at it, and ask if it’s really productive to stay in that mental state, or are there different ways of looking at it that will help you accept what’s true, and be more effective in moving forward.
Mindfulness Exercises For Dealing with COVID-19
There are plenty of free mindfulness exercises to be explored online. The ones selected here are just a few of the many that can help to ease stress and anxiety and increase your sense of peace, calm, and contentment. Each is a live link for more detail from the website Mindfulness Exercises.
- Belly Breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) helps to initiate the body’s relaxation response. This worksheet guides us through a simple belly breathing practice that we can use at any point when stress or anxiety begins to rise.
- Body Scan Meditation. At a time when most of us are caught up in the movements of the mind, coming back to the body is a powerful practice for restoring our sense of peace and presence. Sean Fargo leads this eight-minute meditation.
- Gladdening the Mind. In these challenging and uncertain times, softly and subtly envisioning an inner smile spreading through the entire body can help us to rest and reset. This gentle meditation is guided by Tara Brach.
- Relaxing Sleep Music. Music has a profound impact on our sense of peace and calm. This track is one of the many that can help to ease any stress we might be carrying, whether before bed, during meditation, or at any other time.
- Equanimity: Finding Balance in Difficult Times.This talk by James Baraz addresses the fear and insecurity we experience during challenging times. Towards the end of the recording, he offers a heartfelt meditation to help us explore the topic on a visceral level.
- How to Feel Balanced. Another talk to increase mindfulness of what’s happening in mind, body, and the world, Sharon Salzberg explores the notion of balance. This talk encourages a compassionate and curious self-inquiry as we gain insights into how we might gently find greater balance and peace of mind.
- Mindfulness of Emotions. Becoming more curious about our emotions helps to deepen our awareness while decreasing our attachment to whatever moves within. This resource takes a closer look at a range of universal emotions, offering steps as to how we might mindfully navigate whatever is present for us.
- Loving Kindness Meditation. Last but certainly not least, our embodiment of peace is strengthened when we explore loving kindness for ourselves and everyone that inhabits this earth. Sean Fargo leads this fifteen-minute meditation to deepen our sense of compassion, kindness, and interconnectedness.
If you’d like to take your learning a step further, you might consider the online Mindfulness Mastermind program. Through the program, you’ll gain virtual access to top mindfulness teachers, plus a wealth of other resources to support your holistic well being.
Mindfulness and the Power of Emotions
Mindfulness of emotions can be challenging to navigate. They come and go with the same impermanence as waves yet often carry the same brute force as a storm at sea. We can find ourselves overwhelmed by their force, whether the emotions that come are in the form of anger, fear, sadness, disgust, anticipation, joy, or any other feeling. Our emotional landscape when heightened can be an intricate intermingling of numerous feelings and sensations that often boils down to an indescribable experience of unease and discomfort. In this melting pot of emotions, we can find ourselves unable to find clarity, peace, and stillness.
The great struggle with emotions is often not the raw emotion itself but is largely the story that accompanies it and the mood that results. Of course raw sensations can be very challenging to navigate in and of themselves, but our cognitive processing of events that led to the emotion doesn’t usually take us deep enough to nourish the root of whatever is arising. When mindfulness of emotions arise we may unconsciously decide that they are too unbearable – too powerful – to sit with and so attempt to deal with them in a variety of ways. We might:
- Talk ourselves out of it, rationalizing and justifying our experience,
- Withdraw from the outside world and from support systems,
- Distract ourselves with activity or technology, or
- Drown out and/or numb the rising sensations with food, drink, or other substances.
In some cases, we do need to withdraw from certain situations to see things more clearly, and in some moments it can be helpful to engage our mental facilities to help understand the situation at large; however, more often than not we revert to these habitual ways of being in order to suppress, avoid, or distract ourselves from the present moment. The problem with these defense mechanisms is that they do not help us to overcome the sense of suffering that accompanies the raw sensations that we experience. When we incorporate mindfulness into our emotional landscape, we start to develop a different relationship to the challenging feelings that arise.
The stories we tell ourselves about prior events leading to the feelings at hand can easily become entangled with the raw emotion itself. Even when we are not consciously aware of what is moving through us or another, there are a variety of signs that can inform us about what mindfulness of emotions are at play. Once we understand what emotions are present, we can look more closely at what they are signifying. Here are few examples of the visual signals that an emotion is present and what the underlying meaning might be
Research conducted by Finnish scientists sought to discover how bodily sensations pair with various emotions. Over 700 volunteers participated in the study that linked various basic and complex mindfulness of emotions were felt increasing and decreasing activity within various bodily regions. The result was a heat map that provides insight as to where different emotions manifest within the body. The results were congruent between West European and East Asian samples, suggesting that the link between emotions and the body is a universal phenomenon.
Understanding that emotions have a direct effect on the sensations we perceive within the body can help us to become more mindful of the intimate link between body and emotion. It provokes the question: can we become more aware of the very raw, physical manifestation associated with a rising emotion, rather than becoming consumed by the story that led to it?
Recognition of the body’s reaction and potential contribution to mindfulness of emotions can empower us to move through them mindfully as we’ll see in the next section.
Mindfulness of emotions are part of the human experience. In and of themselves they are neither good nor bad, so becoming mindful of them does not have to entail condemnation, judgment, or suppression; in fact, mindful awareness of our emotions is quite the opposite. Opening to our emotions mindfully is possible only from a place of unconditional love. It is a continual practice that offers us a new vantage point from which to relate differently to these energetic flows.
When mindfulness of emotions arise consider these four ways to open up to them mindfully.
- Turn towards the emotion. There is a common tendency to move away from difficult emotions when they arise. While this may have once served as an effective defense mechanism, we can help ourselves to move through the emotion more effectively by turning towards it. By taking a few deep breaths and gently opening ourselves to whatever is present, we are able to transition through our emotional landscape with greater understanding and acceptance. The key here is to opening from the heart and staying opento whatever arises.
- Create space by identifying the emotion(s) – without judgment. It is easy to become caught up in the story associated with the emotion – why we feel it, who is responsible, and how it could have been avoided. While there is a time and place for this inquiry, it can be useful to detach from the mindfulness of emotions when we are in the heat of them. We can practice this by becoming aware of what exactly is moving through us. Rather than saying to ourselves, “I am angry,” which often leads to, “because…” we can instead simply notice what is present. Simply witness ‘anger’, ‘grief’, ‘sadness’, or whatever is the case as though it were a separate entity. Open to this energetic presence with compassion and curiosity, noticing if the mind intervenes with judgment. Come back to an open heart.
- Feel into any bodily sensations that are present. When we become caught up in mindfulness of emotions, we can open our awareness to the entire body.What do we notice? Where do we sense increased or decreased activity? Even numbness can be observed. Feeling into the way the emotion presents itself in the body can help us to create some sort of distance in-between ourselves and the energy moving through us. As we practice creating this distance, strengthening our awareness of it, we come to realize that our emotions are just a happening that can be witnessed from a quieter, more peaceful place.
- Become aware of the impermanence of this state. Feelings, thoughts, and sensations all come and go; such is the nature of life. When mindfulness of emotions rise, we can heighten our awareness of the transitory nature of our experience. Through this opening to the flow of our emotions, we become less consumed by them. We start to loosen our grip on the beliefs we hold about them. We come to realize that we are not, in fact, our emotions; and through this realization we find strength to journey through the storm in our sails.
12 Types Of Meditation: A Breakdown Of The Major Styles
Guided meditation. In guided meditation a teacher leads you through the practice, either in person or via an app or course. This type of meditation is perfect for beginners, as the teacher’s expert guidance can help you get the most out of a new experience. How to practice: The main thing here is to find a teacher you like and connect with. You can also tailor your search based on a desired result and try guided meditations focused on sleep, stress relief, or acceptance.
Mantra meditation. In mantra meditation you focus your attention on a mantra: a word, phrase, or syllable. This is a good approach for those days when the thoughts and feelings seem completely overwhelming, as it gives your brain something else to focus on. It’s also thought to increase the vibrations associated with the mantra, helping you enter a more positive and deep state of being. How to practice: Choose a mantra that resonates with you. It may be a self-affirmation (such as “I am worthy”), or it may be a simple chant (such as “om”). Repeat that mantra over and over again for a few minutes. Each time you get distracted, don’t worry about it. Just draw your focus back once more to the mantra.
Spiritual meditation. Spiritual meditation is the mindful practice of believing in and connecting to something that is greater, vaster, and deeper than the individual self. In this meditation you are trusting that there is something bigger out there and that everything happens for a reason. How to practice: Sit in silence with the awareness on the breath and repeat affirmations focused on surrender and trust, such as: “I am conscious and aware,” “I let everything simply be as it is in this moment,” or “I live in my Creator and my Creator lives in me.”
Present-moment meditation.Present moment (or mindfulness) meditation trains us to move from thinking to sensing. Rather than dwelling on the past or dreading the future, this meditation encourages you to become aware of your immediate surroundings or experience, crucially without any judgment. It urges us not to get attached to our thoughts but rather just allow them to be. How to practice:Mindfulness meditation is something you can do almost anywhere. Bring your awareness to the physical sensations of the breath and the body: the rising and falling of the abdomen and chest or the feeling of the breath as it travels in and out the nostrils or mouth. You could also bring focus to any sounds or smells around you. Once you feel settled, bring your awareness to the thoughts and emotions, letting them come and then letting them go. Imagine each thought is like a cloud moving across a clear blue sky, always changing.
Transcendental meditation.Transcendental meditation involves sitting with your eyes closed for 20 minutes twice a day repeating a specific and personal mantra (or set of words) given to you by a Transcendental Meditation teacher. The ultimate goal is to transcend or rise above the person’s current state of being. How to practice:Find a qualified Transcendental Meditation teacher to initiate you into the meditation technique with a mantra. This mantra is decided by a complex set of factors, including the year the practitioner was born, and the year the teacher was trained. Sit twice a day for 20 minutes repeating this mantra.
Vipassana meditation.This meditation technique, also called “Insight Meditation,” involves sitting in silence, focusing on the breath and noting any and all physical or mental sensations that arise. The idea is to find “insight” into the true nature of reality (which vipassana teaches is suffering), by examining all aspects of your existence. Multiday vipassana retreats are a popular way to dive deeper into this practice. How to practice: Sit quietly and concentrate on the breath as it moves through the body. Let all emotions, sensations, thoughts, and sounds arise without getting attached to them. Label any distraction, for example, “a bird chirping” and return your focus to the breath
Metta meditation.Also known as a “loving-kindness” meditation, in this practice you bring your awareness to the people in your life (both near and far, known and unknown, liked or disliked) and direct positive energy and thoughts toward them. It’s a wonderful technique for decreasing anger and increasing understanding, positivity, and compassion. How to practice:Find a comfortable position, and with the eyes closed, bring your awareness to the chest, to the heart center. As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in warmth, compassion, and unconditional love for yourself, and as you breathe out, imagine you are directing that warmth, compassion, and unconditional love to the people around you. Start with close friends or relatives, and move out to directing it to neutral acquaintances and then those you don’t particularly like right now.
Chakra meditation.This meditation is used to keep the body’s seven chakras, or energy centers, open, aligned, and fluid. It is based on the idea that blocked or unbalanced chakras can cause negative physical or mental ailments and that by meditating on them we can bring the self back into harmony. How to practice:Become familiar with the chakras and their corresponding properties and qualities. Spend time resting your awareness on the chakras that you feel you need to bring into balance. Concentrate on the bodily location of each chakra and picture energy flowing through that area that is the color of that chakra.
Yoga meditation.Just as there are many different types of meditation, there are many styles of yoga. Some types, such as Kundalini, focus on using meditative techniques to strengthen and relax the nervous system. You can bring a meditative awareness to any yoga style or class simply by focusing on the breath and the present. How to practice:While taking any yoga posture, keep your awareness on the breath and the physical sensations in the present moment. Each time you find the mind wandering to thoughts, gently draw it back once more. The corpse pose (savasana) taken at the end of all yoga classes, is one of the best pathways for meditation.
Candle-gazing meditation.Trataka, or candle gazing, is a type of meditation in which you keep your eyes open and focused on a point or object—frequently, the flame of a lit candle. Objects such as crystals could also be used. This practice helps bring energy to the third-eye chakra and can increase concentration. How to practice:Sit comfortably with your gaze focused on a single object, such as a candle, tree, or crystal. With relaxed eyes, try your level best not to blink. Maintain focus until your eyes begin to feel uncomfortable and then close the eyes. Keep the image of the object in your mind’s eye, then open your eyes and start again
Visualization meditation.In a visualization meditation, you picture something or someone in your mind, to the exclusion of everything else. It can feel challenging but is no different really than focusing on the breath or body. Frequent visualization can help you manifest the things you want in life, by staying focused and pouring energy into them.How to practice:Closing the eyes and sitting comfortably, bring to mind someone or something you either want or have negative feelings around that you want to let go of. Keep your focus here and keep returning each time the mind wanders. Observe, too, any physical sensations that may arise (such as bodily heat in response to anger). Do not get attached; continue only to observe.
Become the observer meditation.Similar to vipassana, in this meditation you bring your awareness completely but impartially to the self and observe your thoughts, feelings, patterns, and behaviors. Through this focus, you will begin to learn more about yourself and from that awareness be able to effect any change you may need or want to see in your life. How to practice: You can do this meditation anytime, anywhere, simply by bringing the awareness inward. Observe your mind as if from the outside, becoming completely conscious of your thoughts and behaviors but remaining completely impartial and nonjudgmental. Be a witness to your experience.
Whichever meditation style you choose, doing it regularly will lead to the best results. Try a technique every day for 10 days and see how you feel at the end. And remember: You can’t meditate wrong, so don’t worry if the mind is busy. This is very normal. Meditation is not about forcing the mind into stillness but rather redirecting the focus and attention in order to give yourself a little break.
Research has shown that soldiers, EMTs and other emergency workers are able to deal with crisis situations by implementing mindfulness practices. The COVID-19 crisis provides all of us with an opportunity (although not with choice) to embrace mindfulness as a positive way through the pandemic, and make mindfulness practices a permanent feature in our lives.
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