There is possibly no end to the benefits of a meditation practice and the variety of teachers and styles to choose from
To meditate is to focus one’s mind on an image or a mantra, or focus on nothingness. The point of meditation is to disengage from, and ideally tame, the tendency to think, plan, talk in one’s head—collectively, what’s known as monkey mind.
There is possibly no end to the benefits of a meditation practice and the variety of teachers and styles to choose from. While it is a wonderful sign that so many people are reaping the benefits of meditation and wanting to share them with others, it can be overwhelming when you are first delving into your own meditation practice.
Meditation can also be difficult. It is about connecting with your mind and noticing where your thoughts go without attachment to them, as well as learning to quiet your mind instead of letting it run wild. That may sound easy, but the reality is another story.
So, with that said, are the benefits ascribed to meditation true?
After having my own daily meditation routine for going on 10 years, I can say yes. By sitting with your mind on a consistent basis, I have noticed a variety of benefits. I have seen a decrease in anger and an increase in being able to pause in the middle of hard encounters, take a breath and manage my responses with more grace. But that didn’t happen overnight or even in the first few months.
The Meditative Process
In the beginning, just by allowing yourself a few minutes each day to sit and focus on your breath or listen to a guided meditation, you will start to slow down the chattering mind and connect to your breath, which enables you to relax and let go of anxiety. As time goes on, you will be able to stop the flow of any negative self-talk or stressful mental talk and take deep breaths in the moment.
From there, you’ll go deeper into training your mind from the flow of negativity, fear and self-doubt by recognizing the habitual patterns of the thoughts that come up when you sit in a quiet space.
As a result, you may even feel more peaceful with yourself and others by recognizing the inner workings of your mind, as well as finding a space of quiet and tranquility that you can return to whenever you need to.
You may be thinking, “All of this is great, but how does it relate to me as a massage therapist?”
In my experience as a yoga instructor, meditation is a necessary part of my own self-care routine as I am of benefit to others all day long in my work. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I love teaching yoga and providing a relaxing respite for others to go to, as well as a time for them to pause and contemplate things in their lives.
However, after teaching yoga for a few years, I realized that I couldn’t teach what I didn’t have in my own life. An empty vessel can’t fill others. I needed my own space to relax, slow down and connect to my body, breath and mind outside of yoga. Meditation provided that much-needed release.
It’s the same for massage therapists. As someone who spends their day providing relief and relaxation to others, you need to have a space of relaxation, self-reflection and letting go as well.
If you’re ready to give it a try, here are three steps I’d like to share from my experience:
1. Don’t start down this path with the hope of trying to fix anything
There are so many programs and people selling meditation under the guise of fixing ourselves. Feeling low on energy? Meditate! Can’t manage your daily tasks? Meditate! Have anxiety? Meditate! Have anger issues? Meditate!
Yes, meditation helps in all of those areas and it is fine to start a meditation practice with the interest of helping to manage those areas. However, if you’re starting meditation with the intent to fix anything, you will set yourself up for a lot of frustration and the increased chance of failure.
As I mentioned earlier, meditation is harder than it looks because it requires sitting with our minds and all that comes up in the moment. When beginning to meditate, it is normal for the mind to be scattered because we spend so much of our lives fixating on one thing after another and our brains are used to running in that pattern—so when we finally slow down, our minds continue to purge one thought after another.
So, what do you do with this? Set a timer to sit for 5 to 10 minutes and do that. Just sit, focus on your breath, acknowledge each thought as it arises and let it go without attachment.
2. Explore different styles of meditation to find the right fit
Once you’ve taken some time to sit with your mind, focus on your breath, and simply be more aware, determine if you are happy with doing that, or if you want to pursue other types of meditation. Sitting with your mind and breath is a form of breath awareness meditation, but if you aren’t feeling happy with that or you want to try other options, do so, as there are many to choose from.
Mantra is one option. Mantra meditation involves focusing your mind on a word or sentence that resonates with you. You can speak the mantra out loud or think it in your mind. Mantras can be something you have created, such as “Love” or “I am where I need to be,” or they can be from the traditional yogic Sanskrit, such as “om mani padme hum.” While this mantra doesn’t have a formal translation to English, it is used to invoke the capacity for compassion for self and others, as it relates to the Buddha of compassion.
Body-scan and visualization is another meditation option. In this style of meditation, you sit in a comfortable position and start to scan your body from one end to the other and visualize how each area feels. You can visualize the actual body part, a color, the flow of breath in that space—anything that inspires you.
As you come into each space in your body, invite calm and tranquility to that area before moving to the next.
Mindfulness meditation is another option and can be done anywhere, as all it requires is pausing and tuning in to the present moment. Whether you are in your car, at work or school, or waiting in line at a store, by calmly noticing your surroundings and how your body and mind are reacting to those surroundings you are being mindful and present to the moment.
3. Start small to create a lifelong habit
If meditating for 10 minutes a day is too much, don’t set yourself up for failure. Start with a goal of one to five minutes. What matters the most is developing the habit.
According to Sharon Lipinski, the self-proclaimed “habit superhero” and author of 365 Ways to Live Generously: Simple Habits for a Life That’s Good for You and for Others, the latest research from a study done at University College London states that habits take an average of 66 days to develop. With that in mind, it’s best to start with a realistic goal that you will stick with instead of going to an extreme, losing steam and stopping altogether.
As a massage therapist, it’s important you have a self-care routine, and a regular meditation practice is a good place to focus. Taking care of yourself is of prime importance to prevent burnout when taking care of others and providing a refuge for them.
To reap the full benefits of a meditation practice, remember to not start down this path with a goal of fixing yourself, take the time to find the style of meditation that is best for you, and set a realistic goal for how long you can sit on a daily basis.
Gradually, you will start to notice the benefits and be able to draw from them not only while meditating, but also when driving in your car, waiting in line at the store and working with your clients.
About the Author:
Michelle Finerty took her first step onto a yoga mat in 1999 and has never looked back. She became a yoga teacher in Vinyasa (flow) Power Yoga with CorePower in 2007.