How to Meditate in a Hectic Home
By: Colleen Stinchcombe
Stressed out, at your wit’s end, trying to balance work and, if you have kids, your child’s e-learning, and that’s when it happened: You realized you were finally ready to learn how to meditate at home.The only problem, of course, is that home isn’t exactly the quietest place on earth at the moment. Now that a reported one in four Americans are sheltering-in-place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, home is more than just a home: it’s a classroom, an office, a playground, and a restaurant. But before you give up and forget the whole thing, know that there are more than a few ways to meditate at home and practice mindfulness in the midst of so much uncertainty and chaos.
“Meditation can help reduce stress, anxiety, and it can help us deal with the uncertainty,” Neda Gould, Ph.D., a psychologist and associate director at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Anxiety Disorders Clinic, and who teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, tells Woman’s Day. (Gould is currently hosting free daily 30-minute mindfulness classes on Zoom.)
Although our brains have the ability to linger in the past or stress about the future, “meditation is basically bringing your attention to the present moment,” she says. The present moment, Gould explains, is what you’re experiencing through your physical senses, instead of the feelings that are caused by any lingering existential dread.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness can take time, to be sure, but the benefits make this investment in your mental health and overall wellbeing more than worth it. Here’s how to meditate at home, starting now.
Start with guided meditation.
Although meditation may bring to mind a solitary moment of humming on a mountain or a completely silent retreat devoid of any communication devices, it really is OK to start your meditation journey with a little audio guidance. “It’s really hard to know what to do during a meditation practice when you start. There’s a lot of judgment,” Gould says. Guided meditation practices give you structure and a kind, compassionate voice that can help you when your mind inevitably wanders.
Try an app.
Mediation apps can be a great way to start a meditation practice, Josephine Atluri, a certified meditation teacher, tells Woman’s Day. Headspace, Unplug, and Insight Timer are all apps she’s personally used. “Find a voice or a program that really resonates with you,” Atluri says. And if the first app or instructor doesn’t feel right, it’s OK to try others and experiment. “It might take some time to check out different apps and different practitioners to see who really helps you get into the meditation and helps you stay there.”
It’s typical for people who grow physically restless to assume they won’t be able to sit still long enough to practice meditation on a consistent basis. But growing pains are 100% part of the process — meditators aren’t genetically predisposed to have calm minds anymore than a novice or first-time meditator. So getting some physical movement ahead of time and prior to meditating can help you take the edge off. “Stretching or yoga or going for a brisk walk before you sit down for the meditations can be helpful,” Gould says.
Get creative with where you meditate.
If you don’t live alone, it might be difficult to find a quiet space to meditate where you won’t be interrupted. So get creative. Alturi, who has five children, has been meditating a lot in her bathroom. “It’s somewhere where no one will be able to find me,” she says. She’s also meditated in her car and a closet for a quick escape in the past. Find a space that works for you.
Give yourself some grace.
“People can be so harsh on themselves when they’re trying [meditation for the first time], because they feel like they’re supposed to be emptying their mind completely,” Atluri says. But your brain is bound to wander. Practicing mindfulness and meditation isn’t about shutting your brain off completely, but about letting the thoughts arrive, then pass, so you can return to your anchor.
When meditating, Atluri likes to imagine putting a thought on a leaf and then gently pushing the leaf into water, letting it drift away. You can find a similar image that helps you gently release thoughts so that you can go back to your breath, mantra, or other anchoring practice.
Experiment with different “anchors.”
An anchor is a tool you’re using to direct your focus so you can keep coming back to neutral when your mind wanders. The breath is one of the most common anchors, Gould says, since it’s always with you. You can focus on the breath as it naturally is while you’re sitting, or count your breath using different techniques. For example, the 4-7-8 breath, where you inhale for four counts, hold for seven, and exhale for eight counts.
Any of your senses can be an anchor, Gould explains. You can meditate by noticing all the sounds in your environment, scan through your body to notice different sensations, or even hold a soft gaze at an object. “Feel free to be creative and find one that works for you,” Gould says.
Know that meditation doesn’t always equal relaxation.
If you get up from meditation and don’t feel instantly zen, that’s typical. “In the short term, sometimes the meditation practice may not feel comfortable and you may not feel relaxed afterward,” Gould says. In meditation, we’re turning toward our experiences instead of away from them — and sometimes that’s stressful.
However, over time and with practice, the cumulative effects of meditation usually results in more peace. There’s evidence that regular meditators also experience reduced fatigue, better concentration, less stress, and fewer symptoms of stress and anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It’s OK to keep it short.
As a meditation teacher, Atluri practices at morning, at night, and in 20 minute increments. But if 20 minutes is more time than you have available, that’s OK. “You can achieve the same benefits of meditation a couple of minutes every day,” Atluri says. The techniques you learn in meditation, whether it’s breathing or focusing, can be useful in bringing you back to the present moment in the rest of your life, too. For example, if your child throws a tantrum, counting your breaths can help you to respond thoughtfully, instead of immediately reacting in a way you could later regret.