The modern workday is often rushed and leads to overwhelming sensations and frantic maneuvers to pack as much into each one as we can. They can be stressful, and expectations do not always leave room for mindfulness. I wrote a Mindful Tuesday post a while back to express how thankful I was for hot tea and a new podcast on a particularly mindful morning. The experience had a very positive effect on my day, knowing that I had put good intentions into sharing what had helped me remain centered and focused. So much so that I’ve taken to the idea of writing Mindful Tuesday posts more regularly to move me toward more mindful practices.
As the benefit of these posts is to keep me more mindful, it felt appropriate that this post focus on meditation. Meditation in today’s terms most often refers to the practice of being mindful and centering your attention, and while there are some aspects that harken back to its Buddhist roots, it is not a religious practice unless you specifically intend for it to be.
Meditation is the practice of quieting your surroundings and then quieting your mind and body to focus your attention on yourself. It uses breathing exercises to slow your heart rate and can be guided by another person or self-guided. The objective, regardless of how you do it, is to release the thoughts that keep your mind going, to let go of any physical tension in your body, and to recenter yourself so that you are thinking more clearly and are more aware of yourself physically and mentally as well as what is going on around you.
The mindfulness or awareness that comes from meditation is the ultimate benefit. Our society has been designed to require a fast pace with little time for relaxation or self-care. Vacations are limited or even looked down on, emails and phone calls continue into the evening, commutes take up several hours a week, and we have to fit in our hobbies as well, usually stuffing our weekends so full that they don’t always have time to sit down and stop going. This fast-paced lifestyle can lead to mental clutter, thoughts of what we need to or should be doing or even planning ahead – financial stress, worry about possible situations, fatigue, to-do lists, schedules, reminders. This mental clutter fills our minds and keeps them going without us recognizing the toll it can take on our bodies.
We need to learn to quiet our minds.
My partner and I tried meditation last summer, but we didn’t implement a schedule that made it a habit. Meditating at night didn’t work for me because I fell asleep, but doing it in the mornings at that time wasn’t a possibility. We were also doing self-guided meditations where we had complete silence. For beginning meditators like us, this was a mistake. However, last week I began reintroducing meditation and mindfulness exercises – just a few minutes of breathing and becoming aware of my body, emotions, and surroundings – into my life at the recommendation of my therapist as a tool for managing anxiety. The tool she recommended helped because it offered guided meditations, but it wasn’t exactly what I needed.
That’s when I discovered the Calm app. I have heard it recommended in several podcasts but had never thought I would be able to stick with a regular meditation schedule. Thus far, I have loved every session I’ve tried and have already started making it part of my day. The app offers three primary tools, two of which I have used multiple times each day since downloading it.
Guided meditations are read by the same individual, so you become accustomed to her voice. You can select the time of a session, anywhere from five to twenty-five minutes, and focus on different aspects such as commuting (as a passenger), reducing anxiety, falling asleep, being less judgmental, and more. They also come in 7-day sets to help you through a week’s meditation. And there is a daily 10-minute meditation that comes with the subscription each day as well.
This tool offers a visual of a small circle with a dot that runs around its perimeter. When it begins the circle, a ding alerts you to breathe in, and another ding of a lower pitch indicates you should breathe out when it hits the middle mark. You can adjust the timing as well as add a section to hold the breath if you desire. The tool is very helpful for keeping your breathing in check to lower your heart rate and the app continues working when the phone is locked. So you can use the sounds to help you breathe with your eyes closed. This tool is completely free without a subscription.
This tool offers recorded readings of stories that include relaxing content. The narrators have lower voices and begin to read more slowly and more quietly as the stories go on to help individuals who struggle to fall asleep. I do not have issues falling asleep, so I haven’t used these yet. However, if these were used after a meditation, I would imagine they would help relax the body to match a quieter mind for faster sleep.
Nature sounds are available throughout the app’s tools as well. You can choose to listen only the sounds or have them play in the background during meditations.
The only catch to this app is that most of the meditations and sleep stories are not free. The subscription is a little steep for the monthly price, but the yearly subscription is a third of the price if you discover that the app adds value to your life.
I am not very far in my mindfulness practice, but I can already sense a difference in how I feel after meditating or doing a quick breathing exercise. Because the app is with me all the time, I can also focus on my breathing or listen to a meditation while at work, even though I keep working while they play in my earbuds. Focusing on the words, however, lets me recenter my attention and concentrate on what’s in front of me rather than things around me that might be bothersome or frustrating.
I’ve found a great deal of benefit from the Calm app and mindfulness practices in general, and I highly recommend the app if you are looking for ways to slow down your thoughts and focus more readily on the moment. If you are unsure, the free version includes the breathing tool as well as some meditations to see how you can integrate meditation into your schedule. All it takes is five minutes a day.
Do you practice meditation or mindfulness? Have you found any additional habits to help you center yourself or clear your mind?