Three Effective Ways To Start Meditating In Quarantine
By Patrick Ryan
Personally, meditation has been hugely beneficial for my mental health during this time. Since I started practicing last summer – long before “social distancing” became a part of our common vocabulary – it’s become one of the highlights of my day: a time and space I carve out just for me to check in with how I’m feeling, and recognize any stress or worry I have about life in our strange new world.
For people such as myself whose depression and anxiety has only been heightened by the coronavirus pandemic, meditation can be a source of positivity and clarity.
“One of the biggest benefits of meditation is changing our perception that when things are challenging, they’re bad,” says Sah D’Simone, a meditation teacher and author of “5-Minute Daily Meditations: Instant Wisdom, Clarity and Calm.” “Every time we’re able to pause and breathe and recognize that we’re catastrophizing or ruminating or wanting things to be different, (your outlook) really starts to change.”
If you’ve never tried meditating, here are three easy steps to get started at home.
1. Find a meditation exercise that works for you
For meditators just starting out, a simple and easy meditation to try out is a “loving kindness meditation,” which asks us to show compassion to ourselves and others.
To begin, silently “offer wishes for your well-being – ‘May I be happy, healthy and live at ease’ – and then see if you can offer that to a stranger, a difficult person, someone you love, and then the whole world,” D’Simone says. If you’d like, include people’s first names as you send positive thoughts their way, or if you don’t know them, “you can say ‘all beings’ or ‘all people.’ Think about people in prison, people in refugee camps, people in government – people that you wouldn’t normally wish (face to face) to be happy.”
Some other basic, effective meditations we use regularly:
- Sit back and observe your mental clutter: stresses at work, frustrations with family or friends, negative feelings you have about yourself. Recognize all those thoughts and slowly breathe them out through your nostrils one by one. As you exhale, free your mind of emotions and become a blank slate.
- As silly as it may initially sound, sit completely still – back straight, head and neck aligned with your back – and imagine that you’re a piece of wood or a stone. Are you in a forest? By a creek? What do you hear and see around you? By “becoming” an inanimate object, you can quickly clear your mind and relax even just for 5 or 10 minutes. (Just don’t fall asleep – it’s easy to doze off during this one!)
- Once your head is clear and you start to feel at peace, imagine your mind is a wide open sky and all your thoughts are clouds moving across it. (Alternatively, you can think of your mind as an ocean and your thoughts as waves on a beach.) Rather than engage with any of those negative emotions, simply acknowledge that they’re there and watch them drift away like clouds or waves. By observing those feelings from a distance, the goal is “to let a thought come and go and not leave a psychological residue,” D’Simone says.
You can find many guided meditations on Spotify and YouTube to help get you started, and through teachers such as D’Simone, who offers online classes and guided meditations through his Spiritually Sassy membership program.
2. Start a routine
At most Buddhist centers, it’s traditional to sit on the floor on a round meditation pillow. (They typically run anywhere from $15 to $40 on Amazon.) But when you’re stuck at home, the most important thing is just to find a quiet space where you feel most comfortable meditating. That could mean sitting on your couch or bed, in your backyard, or in the corner of your living room on a bed pillow.
And it doesn’t need to be for very long: “Start with 5 minutes and work yourself up,” D’Simone says. “If you can just get 5 minutes of observing your thoughts and feelings and being like, ‘Oh, I can be with this feeling but not become it,’ that’s a huge thing.”
D’Simone recommends meditating shortly after you wake up in the morning before you have any coffee, “just to keep the mind a little more relaxed,” he says. “Or if first thing in the morning is busy, then take some time before bed.” Whichever time you decide to do it, the aim of meditation is to refresh yourself and not carry any negative thoughts or feelings into the new day.
3. Stick with it
One of the biggest challenges of meditation – whether you’re new to the practice or a seasoned vet – is learning to deal with distractions. Some days, you might be 10 minutes into a restful meditation that suddenly gets upended by a car alarm going off outside, anxiety about the news, or irritation that your ex didn’t like your latest Instagram post. But don’t get discouraged and throw in the towel on meditation altogether.
“The nature of the mind is to wander,” D’Simone says. “Our work in meditation is to notice when we’ve wandered, and to come back gentler and kinder and more loving each time. Every day is different: Sometimes the mind is more agitated, other days are more relaxed and there’s less chaos. The work with practice is to not try and shut off the noise, but to relate to the noise differently.”