I sat on my meditation cushion and could not stop thinking: What am I going to eat for lunch today? What do I need to buy at the grocery store? Oh no, I forgot to call back the school. I never did pick up that dry cleaning. Meditation can not possibly be a beneficial exercise, I am not getting anything out of this.
I always thought it was a positive trait to be a thinker, but now I’m beginning to doubt it – I can’t turn it off.
I told my yoga teacher about my inability to stop thinking. This is not working for me- surely there is something else I can do to get the same benefits one gets when meditating.
Just come back to the breath, she told me.
Everyone has thoughts, even the most committed practitioners. Do not judge yourself or think that you are “bad” at meditating because your mind wanders and you begin to think about things – random things – things that might even make you anxious.
The key in that moment is to notice the thought, see it float by, then return to focus on the breath.
When you concentrate on the breath, and return to focus on it once your thoughts are adrift, you are training your brain to focus on one thing. You are channeling your mind to go inward even during moments of distraction from the outside world. This takes much practice. Monks have been at it for centuries. Even the most committed yogis practice returning to the breath. We all have thoughts. We all wander.
When we live in our mind, in the past or the future, we might hold onto pain or regret. We might live in fear – which inevitably affects our physical body. Focusing on the breath and living in the moment is how we begin to let go – let go of our tension and let go of whatever negativity might be occupying our thoughts. This is how we truly release the stress that can affect our physical body. When our body is stressed, our digestion suffers. We suffer.
By focusing on the breath we can learn to return to the most basic moments in everyday life. The next time you are in a stressful situation or you feel discomfort in your body, take a moment to sit. In your home, in your car, in a café. Stop and inhale deeply, expanding first in your belly, then the ribs and then the chest. Then on an exhale in the opposite direction. If you do this for several breaths and focus on what you are doing, a calm will return to you. Breathe into your digestive system and notice how it feels. Just as in meditation, it might feel odd at first. You might not see any immediate changes. But keep trying, a little every day. You will eventually feel a shift. You will feel more connected to your body and you will have the skill to calm your body and your mind in any given moment. You will be alive in the present moment – not living in your mind – able to help your body get the calm that it needs.