How do YOU meditate?
October 5, 2017 6:48 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to start a meditation practice, and I'm curious both about how people meditate (how often, how long, guided or silent) and also about how/whether people incorporate the lessons(?) of meditation into their daily lives.

I've heard that meditation can help with moods, and I know there are books/apps that are designed specifically for that purpose, but I'm curious about how MeFites who find that meditation helps them experience that in practice. If you find yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed or angry, do you try to access the calm of meditation by, for example, doing deep breaths? Or do you find that the act of doing meditation regularly simply makes those emotions less likely to arise/take hold, without any additional action on your part? Thank you!
posted by cider to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I am terrible at meditating but here are the guidelines I use. I am not consistent enough with my practice to tell you if there are any effects.

It's Vipassana practice and the PDF tells you exactly how to do it.

Mindfulness in Plain English
posted by whitelotus at 7:01 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you -- to clarify, I'm not really looking for recommendations so much as I am looking for the experiences of the consistent meditators of AskMe.
posted by cider at 7:06 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a "works for me" meditation practitioner - I meditate during walks early morning or late at night where the volume of people is low. I focus on breathing, on good movement, and will do it both with light music or occasionally with a guided meditation.

I actually find the best place I do it is skating outdoors - I find the sound of skates hitting ice is something really easy to focus on...long strides, perfect sounds, that kind of thing. I can easily clear my mind skating outdoors, whereas other places it is much harder.

Re: breaths - it works even if you're not a meditative person. When you are overwhelmed with emotions, find a quiet area and do 10 deep breaths - your blood pressure WILL go down. I find even five mindful breaths (not huge ones) works now and allows me silently during meetings to regulate my anxiety quite substantially.
posted by notorious medium at 7:07 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh - and if you don't do it now, read up on how you can breathe using your diaphragm. Shallow breathing is something tons of people do, and the difference is massive in terms of learning to meditate and regulating using your breath. I found learning to powerlift/olympic lift hugely improved my ability to use my breath.
posted by notorious medium at 7:10 AM on October 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I do ~10 minutes on the bus in the mornings, which isn't ideal because there are so many distractions (movement, noise, smell etc). I think I'd get more benefit doing it somewhere that I'd be sitting still and quiet, but I figure I have all that time to spare, and at least I'm doing it regularly.

I usually do one or other or a combination of a body scan, counting the breath, sometimes a little self-compassion thrown in. Usually with an app (the Calm app) but sometimes just conjuring it up myself from memory.

The main way I notice it helping is in noticing embodied emotions early on. So rather than just ending up anxious or angry, I notice the first flutterings in my body, pay gentle attention to it. I think it helps me be less freaked out by strong emotions, so cuts down the spiralling being-anxious-about-being-anxious (or whatever). And if I'm really on form, I remember I can be nice to myself about the fact that I'm suffering in that moment.
posted by penguin pie at 7:13 AM on October 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've been meditating most days of the week for a couple months now. I've been using the Headspace app. I come into the office early in the morning before anyone else. After I'm done with my coffee, I sit on a couch and do it for 3 to 5 minutes. It seems to hit reset in my brain a little bit, but, mostly in general I'm more conscious of all the thoughts that are constantly whiz around my brain, most of which are usually counterproductive. Meditating seems to be helping with a mechanism to turn those thoughts off.

Recently I was on a long rafting trip in Idaho. On days when I have big rapids to row I can kind of find myself dwelling on them all morning. I'm running though possible scenarios, mostly bad ones, for rapids I haven't even seen yet. On this trip when I found myself doing that, I'd go sit on the boat and do what I do with the app and just clear my brain. It worked really well.
posted by trbrts at 7:17 AM on October 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I used meditation in varying ways depending on my needs. There are times when I feel the need for a really consistent daily meditation practice (usually very high stress times) and others when meditation is a more a tool that I pull out in specific circumstances.

I do not find that any variant of meditation practice makes anxiety/overwhelm feelings less likely to arise at all, but I do find that it can make them less likely to fully grip me, and can make it easier to simply acknowledge and move past them when they do attack, rather than berating myself for them after the fact. I see this in a couple of ways in my life:

First, in the immediate moment of a specific moment when I'm feeling a surge of anxiety, it often helps to mindfully focus on my breathing and the physical sensations of my body. Usually I can do this via a few minutes of silent focus on my breath; sometimes if it's particularly gripping, a guided body-scan meditation is more helpful since that really forces my brain out of the particular spirals it's in and into following the guidance instead.

Second, the more often I pull out those mindful-breathing and body-scan tools in fraught moments, the more likely I am to remember at other fraught times that they exist. Sometimes I don't even need to actually do them, so much as just remember that they are there and they are options for me if the panic keeps winding up, and that alone really helps. The more I use them in difficult times, the more I remember that I can use them in less difficult times, and the more that seems to help keep the less-difficult from escalating into the truly-difficult.

Right now I don't have a daily practice other than that use of specific meditation techniques on an ad-hoc basis to help me work through specific difficult moments. But when I do go through one of those periods where I feel the need for a consistent daily practice, I tend to start out with short-ish ~10-minute guided meditations, sometimes via HeadSpace app or sometimes via random YouTube videos I find. As I get more into the habit again, I will move toward longer sessions of 30 or 45 minutes, and toward less and less guidance, and more silence.

Is that the kind of thing you're looking to know? I'm happy to answer more specific questions if useful.
posted by Stacey at 7:32 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you find yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed or angry, do you try to access the calm of meditation by, for example, doing deep breaths? Or do you find that the act of doing meditation regularly simply makes those emotions less likely to arise/take hold,

Both, a bit.

But, maybe most importantly (and maybe, for me at least, more often):

There’s a “mindful” and “unmindful” response to these emotions.

Unmindful anxiety : “OMFG! I am screwed. This is going to turn out terribly!! I better fix trying to fix everything at here immediately and perfectly all at once or something terrible is going to happen!!! And how can do that when I’m freaking out like this? Okay!! Calm the fuck down and deal with this super-dangerous situation” (end up feeling less calm, due to inner voice yelling at self to calm the fuck down)

Mindful anxiety : “Whoa. My breathing is short and my muscles are tense and my mouth is dry. I am feeling really anxious. I’m also having lots of thoughts about how dangerous this situation is. Those thoughts seem really powerful, and they won’t stop coming. But I know that thoughts like those come to me when I’m anxious, and that often they’re untrue and exaggerated. This state isn’t fun, but it eventually passes”

I think the idea, at least, with mindfulness meditation, isn’t primarily to have a tool to prevent feelings like anger or anxiety (though it can help), it’s to have a tool to be able to *observe* those feelings, in in doing that, be able to get a little swept up by them.

My own experience is that, over the years, I get gradually better at that (with occasional ups and downs). I suspect meditating helps (a not super-strict 10 min a day, 5 or so days a week), but it’s of course hard to know (like – maybe it just comes from getting older).
posted by ManInSuit at 7:35 AM on October 5, 2017 [8 favorites]

I did zazen for an hour plus every day under expert guidance for a pretty long time and the benefits were really noticeable. But then my life changed and I stopped making the time.

Years later, though, I took up running and discovered something magical, which is that I can access the zazen state of mind very easily while running. I don't know if it was the earlier training that enabled this, or whether I would have naturally developed the practise of meditating while running even if I didn't know what meditation was.

But now I run regularly and get my exercise and meditation in at the same time and it is wonderful.
posted by 256 at 7:48 AM on October 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have a daily practice. My husband does too. We do 15-20 minutes every morning sometime between 6-7. Normally together, but sometimes separate. It's unguided about 75% of the time, and other times we use a guided meditation. Sometimes headspace, often a Tara Brach meditation. On the weekends, I try to do a longer sit of 45 minutes but have found if I don't do this first thing, I won't get to it at all. The 45-minute sit is almost always guided. And then a few times a week, I try to ride the subway with no distractions. Either focusing on my breath or doing a loving-kindness meditation for others on the subway.

We also go to a meditation sit once a week which has been great for helping to translate meditation from something happening on the cushion to something you can apply to daily life.

In terms of moods, I find meditation helps in a few ways. First, you are generally more aware of moods. Rather than grumping around or snapping at someone, I am aware of the mood I am feeling and that awareness prevents me from leaning into it. Secondly, I find it easier to disassociate from my moods a bit. Just because I am feeling unhappy, doesn't mean I will forever. I can try to ride the wave. Third, it has helped me feel compassionate towards myself which helps me ride that wave a little more. "Bad" feelings lead me to self-compassion which helps soothe the feelings. Loving kindness in particular has helped with this. Fourth, I have learned how to move beyond the mood into the physical feelings (mindfulness of my body) and that helps connect to the feeling in a different, more productive way.
posted by neematoad at 8:27 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll start by saying I'm not a consistent practitioner at all; I go through weeks-long phases where I meditate every day and then periods where I am quite sporadic about it. But for me, the best effect is that I've learned that sometimes, I just have to stand with sadness and worry. Not try to distract myself from them, not try to shake them off -- just let them stand with me for a while. I use the phrase "stand with me" because that's important; I know that I can feel my emotions, even the really bad ones, and I'm not going to be knocked over or destroyed. Once I do that, I realize that nothing catastrophic is going to happen to me; I'm going to feel sad and worried, and that's all, and I can handle that.
posted by holborne at 8:27 AM on October 5, 2017 [9 favorites]

I set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes and I sit quietly on the floor with my glasses off and I count to 6 breathing in and 8 breathing out. The numbers aren't important, I just try to breathe out longer than in. If I'm particularly anxious, I try to envision a white light/energy/goodness on the in-breath and picture darkness as I breathe out. After doing it a few days in a row, I add a few minutes to the timer and work up to a longer period.

During the meditation, I try to clear my mind. When thoughts come, I set them aside and return to focusing on the counting. I don't try, or look for, reaching any sort of "state". I just look at the routine as a reset. Like wiping a white board clean on a regular basis. If you don't it gets full and cluttered.

It's somewhat effective as an immediate remedy if I start to feel an anxiety attack coming on, but the real effectiveness is getting into a routine, which lowers my overall background anxiety.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:05 AM on October 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

. If you find yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed or angry, do you try to access the calm of meditation by, for example, doing deep breaths? Or do you find that the act of doing meditation regularly simply makes those emotions less likely to arise/take hold, without any additional action on your part?

I meditate every day like it was my job. Either in the morning or at night depending on what's going on, and sometimes both. I started out using Headspace and Buddhify a few other apps that sort of taught me how to do the things--body scan, breathing awareness, compassion, noting--and now I usually just play some music via the Insight Timer and work on whatever I need to work on. In answer to your questions

1. Yes, that is mostly it. Learning there is a space that isn't just trapped in your thoughts is a great thing
2. A little. I carry a lot of anger and fear with me mostly due to anxiety and a crappy childhood. Learning to be compassionate to myself (via the space afforded by meditation, being able to take myself out of the moment) can help with letting negative emotions still exist, but glide around me not really "taking hold" as you say.

It's a path not a destination, as they say, but I find regular practice and really taking it seriously (plus, let's be honest, occasional medication when needed) has totally changed my life.
posted by jessamyn at 9:28 AM on October 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a twice-daily practice: 20 minutes just after waking up, and 20 minutes after my daughter goes to bed in the evening. My method is very simple. I sit cross-legged on a yoga block with a straight back and focus on my breath, specifically the feeling of the breath entering and exiting my nostrils. When my mind wanders, I note and accept the distraction, and return to the breath. This is difficult at first but will get easier with practice. I can now experience significant intervals of time in which the background noise of thought drops out completely, and I am solely focused on my breathing and awareness of body sensations and ambient sounds without becoming distracted.

Lots of other people are mentioning the benefits of their meditation practices and I can assure you that my life has improved as a result of my meditation practice. My daily sessions are as important to me as eating and getting a full night's sleep. But, I would really caution against reading a thread full of benefits and starting your practice with a full plate of expectations. Start with a healthy dose of curiosity and a willingness to commit to a regular practice for, say, two weeks and see where it leads you.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:14 AM on October 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

I started out meditating with a fair amount of guidance -- I used the Headspace journey to develop my practice, and it was super useful. Prior to that, I'd always felt confused and like I wasn't doing it right. It was super useful to have clear instructions about what to do with my body and how to relate to what I was experiencing. I've done a bunch of their topic packs, but now that I have built up a practice, I mostly meditate without guidance. I sit first thing in the morning for 20 minutes. Sometimes, I manage to get in another 10-20 minute sit, especially on weekends. So far, I haven't gotten any special cushions or set up a special area for it; I just sit on the end of the bed.

If I'm having a very tumultuous time or have a few days in a row where I find my mind wandering more than "usual", I'll dip back into a guided meditation for a day or two, usually a recording by Tara Brach or Ruth King.

I've also started trying to add in Tonglen meditations, and for that, I'm turning to recordings for guidance, too.
posted by spindrifter at 10:23 AM on October 5, 2017

I use Headspace (recc'ed from another AskMe). It has a continuous days tracker, so I would every day, even just the go-to-sleep thing. Then this week, I forgot one night, and reset all my progress, and have been grumpy about it ever since. conclusion: I need a set time.

I have specifically done a guided meditation during the work day when I had a lot of meetings.

I find that after months I was better at letting go of negative thoughts, and not dwelling on things.
posted by JawnBigboote at 10:23 AM on October 5, 2017

Oh! And you asked about accessing the calm of meditation in moments of anger, etc. I have a different tack there: For me, meditation is about changing my relationship to the feelings I have, and accepting them for what they are without requiring anything particular from me. So, it's not so much accessing calm as accessing perspective. "Okay, I'm feeling anger. It feels like a fist in my midriff, and prickling heat in my scalp. I don't have to do anything special about this, just have the feeling." I think it probably looks like calm to someone outside of me, but the internal experience is just ... not letting the feeling drive the bus.
posted by spindrifter at 10:26 AM on October 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I started in the mid-80s doing vipassana (awareness) meditation. I can't tell you who I would be without it, but I can tell you that I notice every day things that I don't think I would have noticed without it.

I live alone (well, I live with three cats). I meditate first thing in the morning, when my mind isn't already filled with gibberish, using a meditation bench and a shawl, with three cats on and around me. I do not use guided meditations. I use a timer on my smart phone that has a nice gong sound at the end, but that's a recent innovation, for about 30 years I just used a clock. I have a clock that has a chime, which is not turned on, but when the chime is turned off, the clock has a *click* when the minute hand hits the point at which the chime would chime. So that *click* served as a timer for me for many years.

I fondly remember a guesthouse/mother-in-law I lived in from 1985 to 1990, where I had a tiny breakfast room off the kitchen, which I turned into a meditation room. These days I just have a spot I always use in my carpeted foyer.

Deep breathing can help with difficult emotions, in part because difficult emotions have a physical effect of causing shallow breathing, etc., but the meditation practice I use specifically does *not* control the breath -- I just use it as the anchor for my attention to the extent I find my attention wandering.
posted by janey47 at 10:33 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was never truly at ease with any kind of sitting meditation, but I used to practice walking meditation (via Thich Nhat Hanh). My ADHD-Inattentive type was diagnosed when I was 40, but I still need to meditate with some kind of motion syncing my breaths and calming my mind.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:44 AM on October 5, 2017

Another Headspace user here, I've recently switched from occasionally doing it to doing it every day in the morning and have been successful at doing it daily for about 2.5 months. The way its working for me right now is it gives me a heads up about what emotional place I'm in at the top of the day and gives me a chance to create some space between me and those feelings. I didn't really start noticing the benefits until about a month in but my wife says she noticed them after a week or two of me doing it. It's sort of like taking your emotional temperature at the top of the day. I also try and do it while I'm walking anywhere. So instead of spending my walks between the train and the office obsessing about whatever is upsetting me I can appreciate the sounds and the light, sometimes the smells etc. When I'm feeling especially spun up about something it's given me a couple of strategies such as focusing on a specific body feeling such as your hand on a chair arm, that gives me space to get under control before I fully go into a tail spin. It's not really about not having the feelings anymore its about changing how pressured I feel to act or respond to them.
posted by edbles at 11:40 AM on October 5, 2017

Step #1 - Take a (kundalini) Yoga class or do some yoga and breathing* at home.

Step #2 - If in class, enjoy the gong bath or mantras and just flow. If at home, use some form of guided meditation or binaural beats to help because I need the help.

Step #3 - I'm done. Go on with my day.

*IMHE, having a breathing exercise is KEY. There are western breathing techniques that include visualizations, so you don't have to yoga it. I set a timer for this part, but in class some breathing exercises go on a lot longer and those are a form of meditation on their own.


I used to hike up to a secluded spot and do 20 minutes of basic chanting (gosh, something simpke like "Ahhhh" + something - can't remember now) and then listened to uplifting talks or interviews on the way down the hill.

In general, if I don't exercise or stretch first, I can't settle down. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 12:18 PM on October 5, 2017

I don't think it helps my mood so much as it helps me not react so quickly to things that would normally put me in a bad mood. If I'm already in a bad mood, I've never tried it.. But it does help me not lose my shit if someone cuts me off in traffic, is a jerk to me, etc.

I notice if I'm not doing it daily (only 5-10 minutes) after about a couple weeks. I have always been a knee-jerk reaction type of person and it has done wonders for me.
posted by getawaysticks at 4:29 PM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use the Calm app, the guided sessions are about 10 minutes, started 142 days ago, haven’t missed a day. I wake up 30 minutes before my spouse, take the dog out, feed her, then meditate. I find it beneficial to do it pretty much first thing. Sometimes I’ll do another 10-15 minutes in the afternoon. I do try to incorporate mindfulness off the cushion as well. I’ve found it to be one of the most life-changing things I’ve ever tried. I feel calmer (ha!) and healthier, mentally and physically.
posted by outfielder at 5:17 PM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mr K and I meditate together every day. We were extremely hit-and-miss about it until we hit on a rule-that-works. For us it's "no coffee until after meditation." So we plug in the coffee pot, then meditate, then have breakfast. We also sometimes will meditate, together or separately, during the day if we start feeling shaken up by events or feelings.

For us, following Pema Chodron's teachings about meditation have been life-altering. We've downloaded some of the videos of her teaching, and watch just a bit at a time, whenever one of us feels drawn to it.

The meditation itself consists of sitting and paying attention to breathing. Counting or not, just paying attention. The key is that of course it's impossible to just sit quietly and watch the breath -- for us, anyway. Suddenly you realize "Thinking!" And that's the point, that's the practice. Over and over, to develop that attention, that noticing, in your daily life. So you start to notice that you're no longer living life in the moment, you're thinking about .....oh, lots of things, but they all get in the way of being in the moment.

Pema describes meditating as being like taking a very curious, very active toddler on a walk on a path through the woods. The kid is constantly running off the path to look at something that catches her attention. You gently pull her back on the path, knowing she'll run off it again, but you're always gently and loving, because she's so marvelous and alive, and the path is always there, and you'll get to the end eventually.
posted by kestralwing at 3:00 AM on October 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have mediated daily for over two years. At my best it was 30 minutes a day, these days I try to get at least ten minutes but rarely more than 20. I can't meditate in the morning without falling asleep, so my mediation is usually after work or before bed, but if I'm traveling or otherwise busy I'll get it where I can: bus, train, airplane, my office. I rarely do anything guided, just use insight timer with bells for measuring.

I would say that it helps in subtle ways. The first year+ I was very diligent and progressed a lot I think. The past few months I've been busier and my goal is just to maintain mindfulness as much as possible in times of stress. I do access my breath when I notice I'm upset, anxious, having racing thoughts, angry, etc. I can slow down and give some space before reacting, which I think helps me as a partner, mother, and manager.

I have dropped the practice of studying the Dharma regularly but I got a lot from both pema chodron and Tara Brach as mentioned above. I think the Dharma study is incredibly important in developing the kindness you need towards yourself to sustain the frustrations of the early months of practice, so I encourage beginners not to neglect that aspect. Meditating daily is my commitment to return to the Dharma teachings when I'm ready.

Finally I'll add that I took a semester-long one a week evening class when I first started meditating regularly which I think helped me get committed. I've also taken sessions at my local shambhala center which has weekend mini retreats that are very beginner friendly. I'm not really a club joining person but many people like having a group to help them work through the process, if I lived in DC I'd definitely attend Tara Brach's weekly teachings there.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2017

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