Mindfulness that doesn't make me want to crawl out of my skin?
May 2, 2016 2:45 PM   Subscribe

I want to be more mindful, in the sense of the general "Mindfulness" ethos. But meditation drives me out of my gourd. What can I do?

I've read a lot lately about how mindfulness meditation can help with chronic depression on par with antidepressants, and in general the idea of living a more mindful live appeals to me. (I'm the type of person who tends to get distracted and lost down internet rabbit holes, i.e., human. But maybe a little bit more distractible/slow/unfocused than most.) I go to school and work with a lot of high achievers and while I feel that I belong among them in terms of talent, I've never been great at staying on task or being goal-oriented, and hard work is not second nature to me. I'd like to kind of find a way to increase my intrinsic motivation and make my goals come true more consistently. (Or, at least, keep in touch with myself so that I can readjust them as needed.) I'm on a little bit of Zoloft and it has helped me generally calm my mind.

However, most mindfulness methods that I've tried have been fairly meditation-heavy and seemed totally ephemeral and ineffective to me. I tried the Headspace app, but could only get through a few sessions because I found them really... aggravating? Difficult to explain, but being told to just chill and think about my breath for 20 minutes drives me up a wall. Not conceptually, but almost physically-- it feels vaguely claustrophobic to me.

I've tried journaling, but it's a mixed bag... sometimes it helps me clarify, sometimes it just cements negative thoughts/discourages me from carrying out my modest ambitions. (Kind of like when you tell someone you're going to do something to keep yourself accountable-- it can sometimes backfire and make you feel like the wind was let out of your sails.

I've tried regular aerobic exercise, but I am really bad at doing it "mindfully," i.e. on a consistent daily schedule (because grad school), and currently am not doing it at all. I very much feel that I need more sleep than the average person and that I don't have enough hours in the day, so it's hard to make a big time investment, despite knowing that it might actually give me more productive hours in the long run. (Something I'm working through with myself motivation-wise.)

So at this point, I literally don't understand what mindfulness is or how to "do" it. I am not looking for hard and fast definitions, or a formula to plug into, but more like some advice in terms of... how long should one practice a method until they feel like they're getting something from it? If you have anxiety/ADHD, are you just going to have a real hell of a time trying to meditate no matter what? If you practice mindfulness or mindfulness meditation, are there parts that have been particularly helpful to you, and have you actually seen an improvement in your life due to some specific practice or routine?

I know I sound like a really annoying person who is trying to take a very nebulous/semi-spiritual experience and shove it into a little wooden box, but I'm genuinely confused about how I should approach the practice. It seems to me a bit like a chicken/egg situation. I can come up with a routine that feels mentally healthy to me-- waking up early to put the coffee on, think about my goals, savor the day-- but I'm just going to stop doing it or never do it at all without some extra boost. I feel like mindfulness is about becoming a person of intention, and right now I am 100% a person of impulse and pleasure, who will sleep the extra fifteen minutes, eat the extra piece of cake, etc. I don't know where to start. Should I "practice" meditation until I get "good" at it? Is that a good entry point for leading to bigger changes with mindfulness?

I do also feel like my mind is going 100mph, often full of panic and "how the hell am I going to get all of this done" and even when I don't *feel* the stress in my body or *feel* the anxiety, my mind is kind of a blitz. I am terrible at estimating how long things take because I get off task fairly often, and my sense of direction boils down to a 3:00AM brainwave to the effect of "well, there is too much to do, I am now officially exhausted, stop thinking about it, go to bed, and race to the finish line tomorrow." My impression is that mindfulness meditation helps you open up a little daylight in the midst of this cycle to be more intentional, do some planning, and get invested in executing. It would be helpful just to know what kind of mindfulness approaches or techniques might help with this kind of mental grooving.
posted by stoneandstar to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
What about Walking Meditation? There are lots of sources online, but this one is relatively free of woo.

I'm bad at staying in the habit of "doing" meditation (although I am keenly aware that I feel better and have less anxiety when I do do it). I can usually fit a 10-minute walk somewhere into my day, and I try to practice the basics of mindfulness as I do it -- just noticing things, basically. Being aware.

Once your brain gets into the habit of doing it on a 10-minute walk (or during daily meditation sessions), the idea is that it starts to do that thing naturally.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:55 PM on May 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

You say that 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation drives you up the wall - how about five minutes? It's a fairly lo-fi suggestion, but if you can manage smaller burst a few times a day, that might offer another way in. If you're naturally pretty agitated, 20 minutes is a long time to sit still and be with yourself. On preview: mudpuppie's suggestion is good.
posted by penguin pie at 2:59 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are alternatives to standard sitting meditation. You might want to look into walking meditation, or mindful walking and see if they work for you.

But, and I do apologize that this advice is basically just TRY MOAR HARDER, that "vaguely claustrophobic feeling"? The "being driven out of your gourd"? Learning how to deal with that is the whole damn point. Part of being mindful is recognizing that you have those feelings/thoughts, acknowledging them, and letting them move past. The long term benefit being that by doing these controlled exercises, you will be better at catching and dealing with unhelpful anxious thoughts when you encounter them in life.

That being said, 20 minutes is a *long* time to sit mindfully, if you're not used to it. If you're jumping in and trying to be mindful for 20 minute sessions, you are likely setting yourself up for failure. 5 minutes is a much more reasonable goal to start. Maybe 1 minute (30 seconds?) is all you can handle right now. That's fine.

But there is no denying that that is hard to do. Which is why giving yourself permission to only do short sessions and build up might be helpful for you.

How long should one practice a method until they feel like they're getting something from it?
I've been recommending this a lot, but the Mindful Way Workbook is an 8 week program focused around mindfulness. Maybe try their program, and give yourself 8 weeks? There's also a specific anxiety focused book from the same authors, but I am not as familiar with it. If you decide to do it, be prepared to struggle with the body scan -- give yourself permission to end it early if you have to -- but do at least try it every day as suggested for the first week.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:00 PM on May 2, 2016 [24 favorites]

I am in the same boat as you that 20 minutes of "meditation" just makes me stressed out and antsy. :) I really like moving mediations like walking a labyrinth (if there is one near to you) or things like Erin Stutland's Soul Stroll or Liz Dialto's Wild Soul Movement. I am also a big Pilates fan - Robin Long has a ton of free videos on You Tube that are 5-10 minutes, so you can fit it more easily into a busy day. (I am not affiliated with any of these, just people I like!)

I am also a big fan of "micro-journaling" - I have one of those one-line-a-day journals so I literally spend 30-60 seconds a day on it, but I have noticed a huge difference in my ability to actually remember what I did on a particular day rather than feel like I'm floating through life in a fog, if you know what I mean! And although I am not doing it at the moment, for a long time I used to write down one intention for the day each morning -- again, it would take max 30 seconds to do, which was key to me doing it...just got out of the habit, but I should start doing that again!
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:08 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recently started meditating and my teacher has me doing 2 minutes of breathing meditation at a time. 20 minutes sounds INTENSE if it already feels clasutrophobic. I think you can be gentler. Other things that have helped me: walking meditation, body check-ins, guided meditations from The Meditation Podcast.
posted by verbyournouns at 3:09 PM on May 2, 2016

One resource for shorter meditation - you could try the three minute breathing space, which is taught in a lot of beginning mindfulness courses and is mostly intended to be used as a quick check-in to be used during the course of the day. Ideally it's used in partnership with a regular, longer practice, but if this is all you can manage for now, it might give you a toe-hold.
posted by penguin pie at 3:10 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am a yoga teacher. Have been doing a practice for over 20 years.

F*ck the mindfulness aspect. And for now f*ck doing meditation. Do a physical practice of any sort. Essentially anything that gets you out of your head and into your body....cooking, drawing, running, have sex, etc. Do something that feels good to you.

If it is your cup o'tea see if there are any kirtans going on in your neck of the woods. The call/response aspect establishes a nice rythm and, at minimum, overrides the chatter in your head.
It is full-on Indian/Sanskrit and sometimes goofy. It works.

If you do go to a yoga class, don't attempt to be mindful. Just do the poses.

You are more likely to do it if you feel it physically rather than approach it cerebrally.

And everything is much easier to do if you like and vibe with the teacher.

Also, check out my friend, Mark Whitwell's work. Also Erich Schiffman's They beautifully explain and give guidance on how to approach it easily from a yoga perspective. And they are cool dudes to boot.
posted by goalyeehah at 3:11 PM on May 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think it would actually make more sense to look at mindfulness meditation as part of a wider framework of behaviors. Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy incorporate mindfulness meditation into their practices, and help process feelings and trauma in a way that is very action-focused. I did mindfulness meditation with the emphasis on releasing trauma and negative feelings from my body before I found these frameworks, and they helped cement my practice.

I feel emotions and frustrations very viscerally in my body, especially when I'm doing high intensity work, so meditation helps me hone and understand where my attention goes. It also helps me re-direct my attention and break anxiety and negative thinking cycles, by learning to pay careful attention to what is occuring in my body, and then building in time and distance so that I can make decisions for how I want to deal with with it.

A lot of anxiety, at least for me, is feeling like I need to 'make' something happen, while meditation helps give me space and time to act on something in a more thoughtful manner.
posted by yueliang at 3:20 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

As suggested above, mindfulness does not have to be "twenty minutes of sitting still." A physical activity you can focus on could be good - walking, swimming, etc. Eating one meal or snack a day without distraction from books/TV/conversation, just focusing on the experience of eating the food, can be mindfulness. A five-minute sitting meditation could be mindfulness. A different kind of sitting meditation could be mindfulness - perhaps something like a progressive relaxation meditation, where you have more of a "task" than in many other meditations, focusing in turn on specific parts of the body.

I can't speak to ADHD but I can speak to anxiety. It was very hard for me to find a place for mindfulness in my life the first time I tried it - it just didn't feel like it was doing me any good, so I stopped. Several years later, when my anxiety was actually much worse, mindfulness was an absolute godsend to me. Which is to say anxiety by itself isn't necessarily a hindering or helping factor in whether mindfulness is a good thing for you.

All of that said, it's 100% okay for mindfulness to not be a thing that is helpful for you, at this particular point in your life, or ever. If you've tried some varieties of it and it's doing nothing for you or actively feeling harmful to you, there's no need to keep at it just because it's a commonly-recommended thing.
posted by Stacey at 3:28 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

We found low evidence of no effect or insufficient evidence of any effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight. We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (ie, drugs, exercise, and other behavioral therapies).

That's an incredibly selective reading of that linked article, Violet Hour, given that the summary you're quoting from also says:

"Mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression and pain."


"Clinicians should be aware that meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress. Thus, clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program could have in addressing psychological stress."

The article isn't a one-sided endorsement for mindfulness as a magical cure for all that ails you, but nor is it the out-and-out dismissal your comment suggests. The OP has indicated that they want to give mindfulness a go and is asking for ways in.
posted by penguin pie at 3:35 PM on May 2, 2016 [16 favorites]

One of the most respected Western dharma teachers, Joseph Goldstein, says that when he began to meditate, he set his alarm for five minutes because he didn't want to overdo it.
posted by janey47 at 3:58 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am someone with a very similar suite of mental health issues who has had similar issues pursuing mindfulness. I would second all mentions of 'getting out of your body'. Physical activity is great for this (someone mentioned cooking, I can vouch for that and cook most nights).

You mentioned being frustrated with being asked to just concentrate on your body/breathing etc, these are meditative techniques being applied in pursuit of mindfulness, which is a state of being. I guess my point there is that mindfulness is something you practice and hone, how you do that doesn't have to be through meditation. I always thought of the end result of mindfulness as 'Being able to pay attention to what I'm paying attention to.' Forcing yourself to focus on anything specific is only going to change what you're thinking about while developing the ability to force your attentions in any one direction. This is also valuable for people like us, but its not mindfulness.
posted by deadwater at 3:59 PM on May 2, 2016

I would recommend taking up a musical instrument, particularly a wind instrument that requires you to control your breathing. The goal isn't to be good -- it's to focus on the experience of playing the instrument and putting sequences of notes together. It can be head-clearing.
posted by delight at 4:01 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've tried regular aerobic exercise, but I am really bad at doing it "mindfully," i.e. on a consistent daily schedule

I feel like mindfulness is about becoming a person of intention

I'm not an expert on the subject, but I don't know that mindfulness has anything to do with intent or consistency per se. I think intent and consistency are helpful in a mindfulness practice, just as they are with a swimming routine or learning to play an instrument, but they are not what mindfulness is.

My understanding is that mindfulness means paying attention to what is happening in your mind. Noticing your thoughts without judging them. Instead of having the experience of "being your thoughts" having the experience of observing your thoughts as if you are separate from them. It's the difference between "I'm so mad that my sister didn't call me back!" and "I notice I'm feeling angry that my sister didn't call me back." Here's a better definition.

My own approach involves reading a book about mediation and meditating between 5 and 10 minutes after reading. I have not been consistent, but when I do it I find it helpful.

Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 4:06 PM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have inattentive ADHD, and have done a lot of research and meditation practice. I found this book, The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals to be a helpful compilation on everything I spent hours researching on the internet.

I agree with what Stacey says. If you wanted something more practical, you could try reading Zen Habits, which I feel is made for productivity-minded people who want to do mindfulness.

"I'd like to kind of find a way to increase my intrinsic motivation and make my goals come true more consistently." You're in graduate school, right? Maybe part of mindfulness meditation is building the self-awareness for how to be true to yourself and your priorities, and how you genuinely feel in the moment of doing things. When I was busy and overloaded in undergrad, I realized that I basically set up my own conditions to use overwork as an example to not confront my fears, which then set me up for burnout, comparison, and a frenetic energy that I didn't feel at home with. The way I circumvented it was to be mindful in my everyday actions, which is a type of 'active' meditation that can be had in conjunction with my tasks.

Through this, I learned that I internalized many toxic ways of viewing myself and my goals, and began to view everything with a calm curiosity. If I were to write more, it'd probably be a multi-part essay, but I recommend starting with this article: Mindfulness in Everyday Tasks: 5 Ways Chores Can Make You Happier
posted by yueliang at 4:07 PM on May 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

I read Mindfulness in Plain English (quite possibly at the suggestion of someone on Metafilter) and for a long time before I actually tried to meditate, I just tried to slow down and breathe and pay attention to what was around me every once in a while.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:49 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

This doesn't have to be a spiritual practice if that doesn't jive with you. It's a body/mental control thing, much like learning to take a deep breath and count to ten when you're angry so you don't yell at someone.

20 minutes is not a beginner's timeframe. Try 5 minutes. Or maybe one minute. Work up slowly from there. As far as how long should you stick with it? That's a hard question to answer. It's an end to itself, and a daily maintenance thing, sort of like brushing your teeth. It's tough because the rewards are slow and subtle, especially at first. But it is absolutely a skill worth learning. There is no mastery here. It's an on-going process. Eventually you do start to enjoy it (really!).

The tricks I've found that have helped me, and I was sooooo resistant to mindfulness at first, are to give my brain something to do. I started using mantras (a simple phrase you repeat slowly either out loud or in your head) to help me focus. It worked really well for me. You can go old- school and find something in Sanskrit, or just pick a phrase in English that has meaning for you. You can also look at a mandala (that's what they're for!) if you are better able to lose yourself in an image than with words.

The other thing is that if you tell your brain to "not think", it's going to get confused. Brains are about doing things, so give it a concrete instruction, like "feel more". Focus on the feeling of your body, the position you're in, the sounds and smells around you, just expand your awareness out of your body and into the space around you. I usually transition into this once I've calmed my mind down a bit with a mantra for a while. You can start here, though, if you find it works better for you.

But yeah, sparklemotion is right -- learning to deal with the discomfort you're describing is pretty much the whole point. That's why it helps with anxiety.

Best of luck!
posted by ananci at 5:46 PM on May 2, 2016

Response by poster: To further clarify though, I think I really do just suck at it and need to stick with it a bit longer and maybe be more open to the practice, before just hating it so much. Thanks everyone!
posted by stoneandstar at 6:27 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are alternatives to traditional meditation that have the same results, like coloring books. The idea is to do something relaxing that helps clear your mind.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:54 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I really started meditation in earnest, the only thing I held myself to was doing it every day. Even to this day sometimes I only do it for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, if I know I can't possibly do more. Just do a short bit, every day. Also, FWIW, I absolutely hate guided meditation which I think is some of the headspace app's thing. I'd rather just have a timer (I use insight timer, which is a very simple app) than anything guided. I still have days where I want to get up after a few minutes, and sometimes I do, and then sit back down.
My personal recommendation is to actually if you can do some sort of meditation class to start out. It sounds like maybe some sort of externally imposed structure might help you to begin with, so if it's possible to do you might try that.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:09 PM on May 2, 2016

>I've tried regular aerobic exercise, but I am really bad at doing it "mindfully," i.e. on a consistent daily schedule

>I feel like mindfulness is about becoming a person of intention

>>I'm not an expert on the subject, but I don't know that mindfulness has anything to do with intent or consistency per se... My understanding is that mindfulness means paying attention to what is happening in your mind.

Yes, and not just about what's happening in your mind, but what's happening around you in the present moment right now. It's the ability or quality of tuning into the present, without letting your brain distract you with rumination about the past (which is where depression often gets triggered) or worries about the future (anxiety). Washing the dishes mindfully may mean that you focus on the feeling of the water on your hands, the light reflecting on the dishes, the temperature of the water versus the air, rather than "tuning out" with daydreaming or worrying. Exercising mindfully may mean you focus on how your breathing feels, on your muscular alignment, on how your muscles feel as they move, on the sounds of the people around you, rather than "tuning out" with music or tv or daydreaming or worrying.

Our brains spend so much time in the past or in the future rather than paying attention to what's happening right now. Meditation and mindfulness exercises are ways to practice bringing attention to the present moment, to balance that out.
posted by lazuli at 8:01 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like buddhify - it's an iphone app. It helps me to have someone talking during the meditation and reminding me to return to my breath etc. Might be worth it.
posted by mulkey at 8:38 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

because I found them really... aggravating?

Aggravation.....don't hide from it. What exactly aggravates you? Why does it aggravate you? What else aggravates you? How does it make you feel? What does it make you think of? What sensations do you experience?

Mindfulness is just experiencing reality as it happens and being...mindful of it. I think.
posted by museum of fire ants at 8:39 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

This 3-min. "breathing space" guided meditation by Mark Williams that penguin pie linked to is excellent. Williams was director of the Oxford Univ. Mindfulness Centre. Here's a similar 3-min. guided meditation by him, which is a video with beautiful shots of nature rather than just audio if that's easier for you.
posted by mountainpeak at 9:22 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

My local Buddhist center does work meditation. I practice it occasionally when I have a chore to do. For example, say you have to wash your car. The idea behind work meditation is that you re-direct any non car washing related thoughts back to the work in front of you. As you dip the sponge into the water, notice the temperature. Feel the texture of the sponge. Take in the scent of the washing liquid. As you run the sponge over the car's surface, look at the reflections of the surroundings on the metal/plastic. Watch the bubbles as they slide over the surface. Notice the dirt coming off the car and depositing on the sponge. Listen to the squeaky sound as the sponge rubs over the cleaner surface. You could go even deeper, by noticing how your muscles are moving when you wring out the sponge, that sort of thing. Let any other thoughts just pass through your mind while you work.

That's just a taste, obviously, but it's the sort of thing I find relaxing and very oriented in the present.
posted by xyzzy at 9:39 PM on May 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

You are overthinking it. You can not stop your brain. You especially can not stop your brain with your brain.

What mindfulness really is is simply awareness. I have had problems in the past with invasive thoughts and anxiety. The idea is to recognize when you're having those thoughts and then work to let them go. This is why people usually recommend beginning meditation as focusing on the breath. Because as soon as you realize you're ruminating on something else, you can bring your attention back to your breath.

I like to think of meditation as like holding on to a helium balloon. The minute you realize you're holding on to the balloon (balloon being thoughts about anything other than whatever you're actually doing in the moment), make a concious decision to let go of the string of that balloon and let the thought float away.

But here's the deal. ALL meditation takes a LOT of practice. You might let go of one thought and come back to your breath (or whatever) and then 30 seconds later you're holding on to another thought. So you let that one go and then you're holding onto another thought, etc. etc. etc. The idea is not to get annoyed at yourself or frustrated, but just to keep praticing letting go over and over.

The thing is, meditation/mindfulness doesn't have to be sitting on the floor with your legs crossed. You can do it while washing dishes. Or practice it in a conversation with another person, or while working on ameaningless task. When you're in a converstaon and your mind is wandering, allo yourself to come back to what they other person is saying and tryuly listen. THAT'S mindfullness.

Also, it's not possible to be mindfull 100% of the time, and recent research says it's probably not good for us to aim for that either. You also need to allow for time to let your mind wander without trying to control every thought you have. So don't be so hard on yourself if you think you're struggling with this.
posted by Brittanie at 9:10 AM on May 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

Meditation is supposed to drive you out of your gourd. Or, depending on the variety, so deep into your gourd that you see your gourd for what it is.

You say you want to increase attention span. This is how you do it.
posted by cmoj at 9:52 AM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hi. I practiced Zen meditation for over a decade under the guidance of an ordained monastic teacher, with daily 30-40 minute periods of sitting, and occasional retreats with many hours a day of sitting. Thirty minutes is entry-level sitting in my tradition.

The people who say that the driving-out-of-your-gourd aspect is a feature, not a bug? That's what I was taught as well. If it's driving you out of your gourd, the practice is to silently inquire, why? You won't have an answer. That's okay. In many ways, traditionally-practiced silent, seated meditation is about heroically doing the impossible by not doing anything. (My apologies for sounding like a fortune cookie. I know how insufferable this type of explanation is, but I don't know of a better one.)

It's an intense, difficult, extremely physical practice, even if you are just sitting there not moving. I've seen people get up off their cushions and literally run out of the room screaming. Your reaction to the practice is very normal, there's nothing wrong with you and there's no particular reason why you can't keep it up, if you want to. And I'd encourage you to just keep plugging away, under the idea that the thing that your mind is rebelling against you doing may in fact be the best thing for you. Your mind's conception of your Self is not necessarily your best friend. It's got a strong self-preservation instinct. And above commenters are right that you can't stop that mind with itself. It ain't going to happen. Your thoughts, feelings, sensation, perceptions, treat them like clouds crossing the sky in a light breeze. Acknowledge them, don't beat yourself up about them, don't ascribe any value to them, let them blow by. Do it again. And again. And again. Don't keep track of how often it happened yesterday, don't look forward to it happening less tomorrow. Focus on your breath, let the clouds roll by, feel your feelings but don't invite them in for tea and a chat, do it again.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:37 AM on May 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure if this helps, but meditation is difficult even for Buddhist monks! It is not supposed to be easy. Your mind is a muscle that you are training and just like any other muscle it takes some time and effort to develop.

It's just one of those things that takes regular practice, but you don't need to overdo it. Just a little bit each day goes a long way to improving your "mental strength" for it.

If sitting meditation doesn't do it for you, another activity that forces you to be mindful is also good. As people upthread have mentioned, physical activity works for this. A friend of mine does taichi. I myself started piano practice lately because the amount of focus and need to be there has a similar effect to meditating, because even as a life-long Buddhist, I am really bad about doing sitting meditation every day.
posted by raw sugar at 2:13 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, you're not supposed to be "good" at mindfulness. The whole striving for perfection thing is a big roadblock. You're just supposed to "be" with whatever runs through your mind.

—Try the Calm App, it's a lot better than the Headspace App, which is too thinky. The Calm app lets you just kind of be, and tells you there's no right or wrong way to do it.

—Try shorter sessions. I started at 5 minutes and now I do either 10 or 15 because I enjoy it.

—Use breathing during stressful times for tiny moments in your day. That's easy and just a tool, and not a big "practice" or ritual or anything.

Good luck!
posted by amoeba at 3:20 PM on May 3, 2016

Meditation and mindfulness' benefits, for me - as a beginner with no formal training - involves the concept of attempting to just be impartial about all the things that flit through my head for a moment so I can relax into them. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I turn to some very focused breathing and body-awareness practices (which I'll describe in a moment) and attempt to let my thoughts exit with the same plainness to me in which they came.

This works in a few ways: it makes me ego-neutral to them, because I do not pursue them down the rabbit hole, but instead let them exist and subsist in my head momentarily without trying to judge myself upon their basis, before letting them go onward; it allows me to pursue thoughts that may have been in the back of my head, and as I come through all the ones that are in my conscious state, I get to suddenly have thoughts that come to my head that I wasn't particularly aware of before I began to meditate; and finally, it just clears my head because I do not say to myself, 'do think of this,' or 'do not think of this,' but instead that 'such-and-such is fine, now let us be free of worry about it again.'

That may be the hardest part: to give yourself the nonjudgmental perspective you require to exist within this space of well-tempered, 'nothing-seeking,' evenhandedness. To not need, just for a moment. But that attitude of equality and detachment of perspective within oneself affords you a lot of mental space: in relationships, in decision-making, in daily attitudes. When you are able to do more than just forgive yourself of the silly thing you did that day, and even let it come to pass within yourself, you quite freely are moving on from it through a decision of awareness. We tend to pursue our anxieties with the alacrity that if we solve them truly we may find our peace, when quite often times this is perceptibly not the case at the end of doing that all.

I find that as far as finding relaxation, I'll do a breathing pattern along the lines of the 4-7-8 method. Full inhale to your capacity through the nose to the count of four, a hold for seven seconds, and an exhale through the mouth for about eight seconds or until gently depleted. I will do this in tandem with imagining that I am breathing into a certain location of my body, and generally will start sending focal awareness of breath from the top of my head down to the soles of my feet and back up again. This sets me in a good place to just 'maintain' for a little while, and to allow my thoughts to come as fluidly as they can to me so I may consider them with a relaxed cogency I might not afford myself otherwise.

Beyond that, you're essentially just deciding you're okay inside of the quiet of your own head, and finding out why, if not.

And, forgive me, but I would finally say that in a lot of ways you may be overreaching with regards to the presumptive benefits to meditation and mindfulness; I thought along the same lines, with trying to embody myself within some great practice that could afford me "Enlightenment," or some next-level quality of life, but really the strongest times for me with meditation have been when I really needed to find my center again, above all, after all. Just to let things go, really, and to make peace even if I didn't know what was troubling me to begin with. I don't think it's inherently going to make you a better person, but it does give you a clean slate to begin with and to build on, which is a lot more effective than you might think. Begin by removing your asymmetries of attitude and outlook from the equation. Good luck; and my best intentions to you.
posted by a good beginning at 8:59 AM on May 4, 2016

Mindfulness does not have to involve meditation, though it can. Mindfulness is simply living in the moment. At any moment throughout your day, whether it's sitting at your desk, eating a meal, driving, or brushing your teeth, just take a moment to focus on the physical sensations your body is experiencing. For example: If you're holding something in your hand, how heavy is it? Is any of your body tense? Do you feel pain? Are you cold or warm? Are you sitting up straight or slouching? Are you clenching your teeth? What sounds can you hear in your environment?

You could even try the old 5-4-3-2-1 exercise: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and then take 1 deep breath (the linkedarticle says "1 good thing about yourself" but I like the deep breath better).

I got a lot of this from Sharon Salzberg's book Real Happiness. The book is mostly focused on meditation but also talks about integrating mindfulness into daily life. It was literally prescribed to me by my GP as a medical treatment and I enjoy that it's geared toward people with a more rational, data-driven mindset as opposed to a spiritual or religious underpinning.

I've also started journaling around a very specific set of questions that push me to incorporate mindfulness. After a general writeup of what I did during the day, I try to list 3-5 things for each question. The ones I'm using are:
-What went well today?
-What am I feeling right now?
-What is on my mind?
-What am I looking forward to?

I also try to incorporate more creative activities into my daily life, even if it's just an MS Paint doodle or taking 5 minutes to free-associate. I find creativity to be very grounding.
posted by capricorn at 8:47 AM on May 5, 2016

Greetings! I'm more or less at the same place you are. I need to get better control of my thoughts and attention, but I just cannot relate to most of the stuff I read about "mindfulness." So I'll be following this thread with interest.

Thinking in terms of 20 minutes is way, way too long, as others have said. Something clicked for me a couple of months ago and now I can manage five breaths...maybe ten breaths when I'm lying down and getting ready to go to sleep.

How or why did something click for me? Well, I really need(ed) to stop freaking the f--- out about various things in my life. I said, OK, this is a form of mental discipline that people use to stop freaking out. So let me try again...and again...so that I can at least see the merits of their approach.

As with lying down in bed, start with places where you're SUPPOSED to be "doing nothing." The bed, the tub, etc. This makes me feel less hostile about it.

Listen to a few seconds of lots of different "three-minute breathing space" recordings to find one where the narrator doesn't piss you off. One narrator said, listen, the breath is your "gateway back into the present moment." That worked for me. You feel like crap--but wait! You have your breath! Your breath can make you feel less crappy!

Think of it like orgasm. Most people know what an orgasm feels like. It doesn't really matter how you get there. Some people are into X, some people are into Y, big deal. So too with the pseudo-"Eastern" trappings (of mindfulness), or the evidence-based approach, the earthy-crunchy slant, etc. All this is just window dressing and fine to ignore.
posted by 8603 at 4:25 PM on May 6, 2016

I'm coming back to say that I just finished reading The Cow in the Parking Lot: A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger on the recommendation of a MeFite, and it has some wonderful explanations on mindfulness that I was not aware of. I think it is important to not divorce mindfulness from the Buddhist teachings, for it is integral to its understanding, and in itself, are varied. In this book, I learned that the mindfulness you are talking about is actually called zazen, and made me realize how overly simplified mindfulness is taught, without the proper terminology of vocabulary that comes from specific Buddhist practices. I myself did not recognize this definition until recently, and went, "oooh. I need to learn more..." So maybe, part of overcoming that resistance is being better informed?

I feel a lot of people are very gut-reaction to the spiritual roots of mindfulness, which I feel stems more from how Western society has dealt with religion and spirituality, but I digress. It's a wonderful read and very applicable to modern living.

I highly recommend it, it's concise and has wonderful teachings and quotes, and has made me more aware that a lot of my stresses and pressures come from unacknowledged fears and anger, which gets channeled into anxiety. Good read!
posted by yueliang at 7:03 AM on May 8, 2016

So, I have a figurative allergy to new agey bullshit. There's only two ways meditation has ever worked for me, so here goes.

1. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the guy who published the research that started the modern trend in the west towards meditation; mindfulness-based-stress-reduction, or MBSR. That said, his audio tapes are like 45 minutes each, and that's hella long.

2. Headspace, an Android/IOS/desktop app. Dude named Andy is a British guy who went off and became a monk for a bit, then went back to the UK to put this one together, as he figured it's easier to teach at scale. (And he's right, I think.)

For Headspace, it's like $60/year, but that gets you many more lessons. I don't think you want those. The first ten lessons are ten minutes, and ten minutes is doable. The later lessons are hard as hell for me because they're longer (20 minutes, actually.) The ten minute blocks are hard but manageable, and get much easier on the second or third go-around.

I'd give the first ten lessons in Headspace a shot, then do them again, and possibly just keep doing them if that's what works for you. A huge part of the point is "you're practicing being bored"; it's not supposed to be all that interesting until you're good at it.
posted by talldean at 7:23 AM on May 9, 2016

Lots of great answers here. I'm a mindfulness practitioner, and a yogi, and I will say it all boils down to just being here, in the moment.

Some people get that through sports, or going out into nature (without a phone, however).

Going to the shooting range can be mindfulness practice.

Start where you are - just paying attention to what you are doing throughout the regular day. When you're eating, notice that you're eating. When you're pooping, notice that you're pooping. When you're upset, notice that too. That's what all this stuff really boils down to, in my opinion as a 10+ year practitioner.
posted by crunchy potato at 3:27 PM on May 28, 2016

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