Every week, Oprah is setting an intention exclusively for Oprah Insiders, with reflections on topics like letting go, forgiveness, coming into your own, and more. Visit the page with this week’s video on Being Fully Present every day this week for a new dose of inspiration.
Friday, April 8
You’ve probably heard quite a bit about the benefits of meditation. Everyone from Oprah to Phil Jackson to Lady Gaga have espoused the benefits—and scientists agree. In various studies and research papers, meditation has been found to have a positive effect on everything from rheumatoid arthritis to confidence to racial bias. It can truly clear out the clutter and help you focus on what’s important. It’s the very essence of living in the moment.
However, many people say they struggle to meditate—that their mind wanders or they can’t sit still for that long. Well, here’s the secret: Meditation is simply the regular practice of paying attention—to your breath, to your body, to the grass under your feet, to anything that keeps you in the now. You may never be able to stop the swirling tornado of your thoughts; that would be like trying to control the weather. But you can create a still point in the eye of the storm. So are you ready to start living in the moment? Here, three meditation techniques for anyone who thinks they “can’t meditate”—or anyone who loves it and is looking for some new inspiration!
Feel like you haven’t taken a deep breath in eons? That’s because you probably haven’t, says Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and author of Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health, who has taught everyone from Fortune 500 employees to SWAT teams how to breathe for stress release and endurance.
“We tend to breathe from our chest, which gives us access to only the very top of our lungs,” Vranich says. “We should be breathing from our belly. That’s what animals and babies do in a calm state.” Shallow breaths tell the body we’re in fight-or-flight mode, ready to run from a predator; belly breaths tell us all is well, so we are free to rest and digest. That’s why deep breathing is essential, says Vranich.
Use this recovery breath—so called because it helps you recover your equilibrium—as a form of meditation in itself or to calm the body before any other meditative practice.
- Lie on your back with nothing under your head, and put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- Inhale deeply through your mouth, watching your belly rise. Then, exhale through your mouth, pushing all of the air out in one breath and feeling your belly contract. The exhale should take the same amount of time as two inhales. With each inhale, feel yourself floating a little higher, and with each exhale, sink a little deeper, letting your whole body relax.
- Repeat this 15 to 20 times before allowing yourself to return to a more natural rhythm of breathing.
This technique can serve as a portable stress release throughout the day and can help ground you in the moment—take a deep breath or two while sitting at a traffic light or during a tense phone call. “Your breath is available to you at any time,” Vranich says. “You own it. It’s yours.”
Move Your Body
Think that meditation has to be done while sitting on a floor pillow and staying perfectly still? Think again. Movement can actually be an incredibly helpful tool in your meditation journey. Kristin Sudeikis, an internationally renowned choreographer, artistic director, and the founder of Forward__Space, points out that there is a meditative quality to be found in dance. “Challenging the notion that meditation must only mean to sit and be very still is an invigorating way to enter your moving meditation—as with anything, there is not a one-size-fits-all way to embody your connection to self and something greater than yourself,” Sudeikis says. “Consciously putting yourself in motion while being guided through simple and repetitive movements can be just as calming, transcendent, and transformative. I adore moving meditations because it alchemizes our chemistry and gives us a moment to visualize while embodying what it is we want to either let go of or bring in—or where we feel drawn to exhale gratitude.”
Not only can movement be helpful to those who have a tough time sitting still, it can provide a much-needed expansion for all. “The everyday life of cellphones, laptops, and screens can result in a shrinking back and in, rather than expanding up and out,” says Sudeikis. “One of the most clear, precise, organic, and enjoyable ways to transmute that energy is through moving meditation.”
At Forward_ _Space, Sudeikis leads classes through a moving meditation toward the end of each 50-minute dance-based sweat session. To replicate one at home, start by putting on a song that helps ground you. Sudeikis suggests: “Extraordinary Being,” by Emeli Sandé, “Samesetski,” by Sigur Rós, or “Just Like Water,” by Alicia Keys. Then, start moving. You can try pushing your arms out in front of you in a sweeping motion over and over as a way of clearing out what no longer serves you. You can also keep your knees soft and shoulders relaxed, with your hands by your side. Bring one hand in front of you and over your head, then follow with the other hand. Repeat this over and over, as if you’re peeling layers of the day off and away.
For more guidance, follow the moving meditation that Sudeikis created exclusively for Oprah Daily.
Visualization meditation can be done on the go, and it relies on an active mind. “It’s counterintuitive because in meditation we’re often taught to let thoughts enter our brains and not get attached to them,” says Shelly Tygielski, meditation guru and author of Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World. “But in visualization meditation, you’re latching onto a thought or concept or goal for an outcome you want to achieve.”
Kessonga, a meditation and mindfulness teacher at Headspace, adds: “It’s a technique where a person uses their imagination or their mind’s eye to conjure up specific images—a person, a situation, or a scenario.” In doing so, Kessonga and Tygielski promise, practitioners can find relief from stress, anxiety, and depression and realize their highest hopes and dreams.
The beauty of this type of meditation is that it can be done anywhere—at your office desk or even in line at Starbucks, Kessonga says. A favorite meditation Kessonga practices can last as long as one to three minutes while you’re waiting for your latte: Center yourself with one gentle deep breath–in through the nose, out through the mouth. As you exhale, “visualize a very warm, calming light engulfing your body, from head, to neck, to shoulders and through the entire body,” he says. Before you draw in your next breath, you’ll immediately begin to notice all the tension, stress, and anxiety built up in your body giving way to an overall feeling of well-being and positivity, he says.
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