Where to start with Meditation
October 26, 2019 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I have gone through every treatment under the sun to treat my cognitive anxiety and racing thoughts. I am ready to give meditation a try again. I have questions

I am ready to try meditation again. There are so many apps and types that it gets overwhelming. I know that the "old" concentrating on the breath and going back to it once the mind wanders is the classic.

Is there a specific type that is best for constant cognitive anxiety? I assume that most people start small and work their way up. What is a good amount of time to start with? How many times a day? What is the minimum to get the maximum benefits? How often should I increase the time and how much each time? Is there a "standard?"

I know that there is a lot of science that shows how effective it is. I don't know how it works. I already know that my brain is a jerk (Sam Harris / Dan Harris). When I am not meditating, how does your meditation practice help? I am already conscious of what my brain is doing. How does meditation help?

Any advice or information is appreciated, especially personal experience.
posted by Alvin80 to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
My yoga and meditation teacher had me start with moving meditation. Anything where you have to keep track of what your body is doing will free your mind a little and help forestall the flood of racing thoughts that happens (to me) if one just tries to sit still.

I really like something called the Kirtan Kriya. There are lots of audio versions online; the gist is that you sit down, play the audio, sing along with it, and move your fingers by touching the thumb of each hand to the index, then middle, then ring, then pinky.

Here is a video that describes and shows how to do it. I can do this for ten minutes and it was the gateway that allowed me to develop a deeper meditation practice. It also is something you can use as a calming technique out in the world, just under your breath or in your head and doing the hand movements.
posted by stellaluna at 10:33 AM on October 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

Yeah I was going to echo active mediation, even something like coloring where you focus just on filling the colors, on the medium your using could be useful for you.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:58 AM on October 26, 2019

The "classic" can work well for anxiety except for some cases of health anxiety.

Watching thoughts float by like clouds is another good one.

If the anxiety comes with restlessness then walking meditation is good (super slowed down walking where the movement is the anchor for attention).

Yoga nidra might be worth a try also. There are many resources out there calling themselves yoga nidra but the core practice involved moving awareness to different parts of the body, never staying at any of the areas a particularly long time.

Any sort of attention training practice or a practice designed to help you notice thought vs sensation vs emotion is bound to be helpful so try any of those and find one that you like.
posted by crunchy potato at 10:59 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've tried the breath meditation for years but always have trouble sticking to it. One very effective technique I have found is concentrating on a phrase. I do it when I drive in to work now. It can be whatever phrase works for you, whether it be religious or otherwise. I find it works well because it actively keeps your mind focused instead of the old acknowledging your random thoughts and letting them drift on (not that there is anything wrong with that technique). I do want to go back to breath meditation, but I think this is a good trainer to get my mind to shut the hell up.
posted by mrbarky at 12:14 PM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I use an App called InsightTimer. It is free. The reason I like this after trying many, many others is that it offers a whole variety of options.

Along with guided meditations of varying lengths from various 'styles' (like Vipassana, mindfulness etc etc) and needs (like mediation for stress-relief, sleep etc); it offers a Timer version.

I love this. The Timer version can be silent, or have bells at certain intervals, and you can add a chant or babbling brook background noise etc etc.

The App like I said is free; but I get the premium because it offers classes.

Try it and see if this works for you. I works for me. I have been trying to meditate as a part of a program for around 5 years before I found this App. It has been a life-changer for me.
posted by indianbadger1 at 12:55 PM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Can you find a meditation group? Having the support of a teacher and others on the same path can be very helpful. You have to do the work, of course, but completely by yourself (even with writing and videos) is very, very much harder.

The goal of the sort of meditation I do is not to stop the brain from racing or wandering, but to notice that my mind is thinking. Then "Ah! Mind thinking!" and go back to the meditation form. The goal is never to Become Enlightened or Be Calm, but to learn to notice.

Good luck! I hope you find other people to share this journey with.
posted by kestralwing at 1:02 PM on October 26, 2019

Adding to my previous comment. OP was also looking for insight into my actual practice. I try to do 12-15 minutes every day. I alternate between guided Vipassana, breathing, Mindfulness and the Timer with 30 second bell. I do it as soon as I wake up, even before making coffee. I try not to do it while lying down, as I found that I go back to sleep. I sit up!

What I have found is that it has really helped me with my anxiety. My life is still shit, but I am dealing with it better. It has also allowed me to be really calm when confronted by stressful events. People have actually remarked at this. Just as an example; I ran into my ex unexpectedly after more than 10 years of no contact. I have always dreaded this happening in my mind. But when it actually happened; I found I could not only deal with it; but my heart rate did not go up at all; like I was expecting it to. We had a pretty bad end to my marriage and I was always afraid of running into her. The actuality of the event was orthogonal to my expectation. I attribute this completely to my meditation practice.
posted by indianbadger1 at 1:03 PM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I suggest you try to find a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) teacher/in-person course, or an MBSR course. MBCT was developed by researchers/psychiatrists who work with clinically depressed/anxious people. There is published research showing it is effective. This paper explains how it works with depression. It is an 8-week course about 2-3 hours of in person practice weekly, and they prescribe 30-60 minutes of meditation practice daily. The in class part is not therapy but a supportive group of people who all share what they notice as their practice progresses, very helpful for developing a meditation practice.

The book Finding Peace in a Frantic World and the free related meditations is a great accompaniment to an in-person course, and is written by one of the original MBCT teachers (Mark Williams). I really like the book and reread it all the time. I also like the Practicing Happiness Workbook by Ruth Baer.
posted by lafemma at 1:38 PM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also came in to strongly recommend an 8 week MBSR course if you can find one. Having guidance, practice over time, and the chance to think and absorb led me to a better understanding of how it was supposed to work than is easily summed up in a paragraph.

We can write about how it’s about recognising unwanted thoughts or interrupting negative pattens, but it’s a bit like driving a car - at some point you have to sit your butt on the cushion and feel it for yourself to understand how it works. You stick with it, with guidance to keep you right and build your understanding week on week, develop the muscle (mind?) memory through repetition, and find out how it interacts with your own personal brain/body/emotions etc.

Finding Peace in a Frantic World was also the book recommended by my teacher.
posted by penguin pie at 2:33 PM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Over the years I've come to suspect that much like dieting it doesn't matter what particular method you use; it's the paying attention that makes the real difference.

And I expect that just like exercise, the best meditation is the one you'll actually do.

Personally I sit and breathe, using a meditation app to chime every two minutes to help me get back on track. Twenty minutes a day seems to be my magic number.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:43 PM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

Google “meta meditation” or loving kindness meditation. Wishing others peace and security is great for anxiety.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:28 PM on October 26, 2019

You might also consider a guided psilocybin trip - google around to join a trial study.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:29 PM on October 26, 2019

I use Headspace (an app) and I like it because it is really clearly structured. They have lesson sets for particular kinds of need (anxiety, stress), and there is a beginning and end to each one, so you feel like you're progressing through something rather than just entering into a long project with no visible milestones. There are also self-gudied and open-ended options. It's really easy and well put together. Worth the cost, IMO.
posted by Miko at 7:23 AM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I couldn't get into meditation until I started doing moving meditation - specifically Qi Gong 18 movements - which I learned over about 2 months, adding one more movement at a time. Bonus - at the start it's not very long as you only know a couple of moves, so you also add meditation time alongside new movements.
posted by london explorer girl at 3:02 AM on October 28, 2019

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