Relax and Recharge: Beginner Meditation and Techniques for Decreasing Stress
At one time or another, we’ve all wished for more time. Really though, how many of us have asked for more than 24 hours in a day? Yep. All hands up, including mine. Prior to COVID-19 and sheltering in place, I was—to put it plainly—really busy. Running from one responsibility to the next was my comfort zone. Whether it was my achievement mentality or never saying “no,” my planner was consistently filled with to-dos, to-plans, and to-attends. Once a task was checked off the list, another had sneakily appeared, ready for my full attention.
Life’s complexity offered an escape
This perpetual state of complexity allowed me to avoid. Being busy meant I didn’t have to do any inside work or meditation. I didn’t have time to deal with my anxiety and practice mindfulness while working full-time and going to graduate school at night. Because I always said “yes” to everything, there was no more room for activities that fueled my soul. Meditation requires hitting pause, and who has time to recharge from a busy work week with an endless weekend to-do list?
But then, things changed. External factors have now placed us into a state of forced simplicity. Our planners and to-do lists are not what they once were, and we’ve had to drastically limit what we do. Many of us find ourselves wondering how the heck we are going to fill our time. The emotions that come from that can be uncomfortable.
It’s time to change our perspective
I know things are tough right now, and so much is out of our control. However, our power lies within our perspective.
We have been gifted with the most amazing come-up: time. In a world where we constantly run on empty, we’ve been given a chance to recharge, refuel, calm our minds, and practice meditation without distractions. A mentor once told me, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” So, instead of stepping into old patterns of creating schedules and “being productive,” let’s sit with the stillness. Get cozy with it. And seek out its lessons.
Below is your beginner's guide to starting your meditation practice (and no, the to-do list irony is not lost on me).
Check in with your body
When was the last time you sat in silence and paid attention to how your body was feeling? Well, now’s the time. Find a time to meditate that works for you. Whether it's in the morning, on your lunch break or at the end of the day, it helps to practice meditation at the same time each day to develop a routine. Sit in a comfortable seat or lie down, and close your eyes. Notice the physical sensations—what do you feel, hear, smell, taste? Does anything ache or feel tight in your posture? How is the breath? Is it shallow or deep?
Practicing the physical aspect of meditation helps increase our mindfulness of the present moment. We literally live inside our minds, so bringing the focus to our external selves allows us to deepen our mind-body connection.
Go inward, and sit with what comes up
Stay in your comfortable position. Allow yourself to bring your attention to the things that worry you, and try to calm them. It could be anything, and don’t hold back. Notice what areas of the body tense as you focus. Does the chest tighten? Throat close? Maybe your stomach drops, or another entirely different sensation.
So often we are told to remain positive and focus on the good, but sometimes things suck. Practicing inward reflection and mindfulness as we meditate forces us to sit with uncomfortable feelings, acknowledging their presence. It’s a necessary validation we often don’t receive from ourselves. It’s holding space to show how our bodies respond to our thoughts.
Use the breath to release tension
Now, take a deep inhale—breathing into the very spots that are tense and trying to expand them with the breath. Use the exhalation to soften those tight or constricted spots, as if you could melt away the tension like butter. Repeat this breathing as many times as you need until your entire body is calm.
Regulating our breath allows us to downregulate the sympathetic nervous system, which lets us, frankly, chill the heck out. Practicing this gives us a way to manage and calm the strong emotions that come up, whether it be fear, worry, or anxiety.
As you remain in soft stillness and meditation, imagine doing something refreshing. Something that would recharge you. Think of something that would make you feel good and hopeful. Is it making a killer cup of coffee? Hiking that trail you’ve always wanted? Writing a colleague a thank-you note? Walking around the neighborhood? Cozying up on the couch? Calling a loved one? Baking a cake? Serving others by donating? Helping local small businesses?
This is your time to figure out what fills your cup. It will be different each time you meditate, and that’s the point. With this, you can start to build a toolkit to pull from when you need to reset. It’s important to actually do the thing—without guilt or worrying about what else needs to get done.
Time is a gift, and we’ve all been given more of it to some degree. When we give ourselves the freedom to use this time to meditate and refill our cups, we can better show up for others and the world. What are you doing to recharge? Let us know by posting on your Instagram story and tagging @mindbody!