I may be an amateur at meditation, but I reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally think you should start a practice. When it first occurred me to write this, I thought why should I, as a dietitian, write a blog to encourage or teach anyone else to meditate? And then I realized WHY SHOULDN’T I? Emotions and eating are inseparable in this modern world, and overcoming that fact is the hardest part of my job. There are hundreds of variables influencing food choices. Food knowledge can easily be eclipsed by cravings, comfort, convenience, access, or the needs or desires of others. While I can educate you on the difference between healthful and harmful tendencies, I can’t change your emotions or how those emotions influence your food choices. I cannot convince you to feel things differently because feelings aren’t logical. I also can’t intervene when you feel anxious, depressed, or hurt and direct you to the perfect non-food solution. You must do that, and that’s how meditation will help.
Getting started with meditation is hard because you don’t necessarily understand the value of meditation until you’ve experienced it, and it might take weeks of practice before you see benefits. How do you keep going when you don’t know why you’re doing it? Many give up feeling like they’re a failure or it’s fruitless.
One clarification that helped me was learning that the goal of meditation is NOT the absence of thoughts. The goal is to cultivate awareness of your thoughts. The goal is to notice when your thoughts wander and patiently bring them back to your intended focus. It’s like babysitting your thoughts, parenting a child, or house-training a puppy. Take that same patient understanding you would have with a child or puppy and apply it to your own mind. Be kind and gentle with yourself. If you practice this formally in meditation, you’ll be able to do it informally in your daily life. The benefit is that you can observe what’s happening to you without identifying with it. You realize you are not anxious, depressed, or hurt. You are a perfect, normal human being who is experiencing valid anxiety, sadness, or pain. You are separate from the emotion, sensation, or state of being. That separation is powerful. It allows you to respond to what you’re feeling instead of reacting from it.
The difference, to me, between responding and reacting is the sense of control I experience. Responses are more considered and purposeful. Reactions are, well, reactive. Reactions just occur from me instead of being intentional. When I’m reactive, my experiences drag me through various emotions, and it’s a wild ride. I find myself seeking comfort foods as a coping mechanism. When I’m responsive, I’m calm, collected, and intentional; I don’t feel impulsive with food. I feel in control.
The more I meditate the more intentional my life becomes. I am no longer reacting to the circumstances that unfold. I am unfolding them! It creates literal and figurative space in my life by creating ease in several ways. It’s as if taking time to meditate creates more free time.
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday—
unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
Attributed to both a Zen proverb and Dr. Sukhraj Dhillon
There are countless approaches to meditation and resources for getting started, but here’s what I do:
First, I use the app Insight Timer. I like this timer because the sounds are soothing, not startling, and there is a warm-up bell, which I use to ease my anxiety about whether I actually started the timer or not. I know that sounds silly, but I often second-guess myself, which becomes a distraction. I set a warm-up timer for five seconds just to announce the timer is starting, and then adjust the ending bell for however much time I have, which is usually five to fifteen minutes. Insight Timer has other features you might enjoy too, like guided meditations.
In terms of how I meditate, I change it up based on my mood. Most commonly, I observe my breath. I focus on the rise and fall of my chest and belly or the sensation of my breath entering and exiting my nostrils. Occasionally, I imagine my breath has a color and I visualize it entering and leaving my body as I focus on the sensations of breathing at the same time. If you struggle with observing your breath, yoga can be helpful. Yoga instructors are great at reminding you to focus on your breath.
Another approach I take is focusing on one happy thought. I think of my grandfather, who I adored, leading the music at church. This memory is safe, calm, and happy for me. It instantly puts a smile on my face and in my heart. Once there, I focus on cultivating that smile in my heart. As my thoughts wander and the smile fades, I return to the happy memory and attempt, once again, to maintain it.
A technique I enjoy far more than I expected is the Water Rising Meditation described by Dr. Joe Dispenza in Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. With this technique, you visualize yourself sitting while the room or space slowly fills with water. STICK WITH ME—the thought evoked panic for me at first, but in practice, it has been quite peaceful! I focus on the sensation of warm water inching its way up the sides of my feet, over the tops of my feet, then up my legs, spilling over my lap, and so on. Eventually, I visualize myself sitting at the bottom of a room filled with water. I feel both deeply grounded and buoyant at the same time, and I don’t feel panicked because I know it’s a visualization. Maybe it isn’t right for everyone, but I enjoy it.
One final method that has served me well is focusing on a single burning candle—whether real or visualized. As my thoughts wander, I bring my eyes or my mind’s eye back to that flame.
The best method is the one you enjoy and stick with. Remember, the goal is NOT to maintain an absence of thoughts or to prevent your mind from ever wandering. The goal is to observe when your mind inevitably wanders and patiently redirect it back to your intention. It is practice for life.
If you have questions about meditation, ask us!