Let’s be real, the holidays can be stressful. No matter how amazing the family, how delicious the food, or how beautiful the decorations, it can be a lot. The hustle, the bustle, the, albeit well-intentioned, benchmark questions—do you have a boyfriend, when will the wedding come, will there be a baby next Christmas? Aunt Gale, just let me have a cup of eggnog and eat some turkey.
Thus, the holidays are a great time to meditate. Even if it’s just for five minutes a day, the practice can ground you and center you and get you ready for all of that outside noise, the schedules, the people, the food, all of it.
I teach meditation, and typically I get the same questions in various wording from beginners. I thought I’d round up some of the most common Q&As to alleviate any concerns that might be impeding you from sitting and breathing.
Q: Do I keep my eyes open or closed?
A: Closed or take a soft gaze downward.
Q: Is it bad to have thoughts? I can’t get my mind to stop thinking.
A: If you don’t have thoughts, call me, we should study your brain. Thinking is normal. It’s the way our brains were made. That’s part of the meditation. Notice that you’re thinking and return back to your focal point. This focal point is most commonly the breath.
Q: Why does 5 minutes seem like 2 hours some days?
A: Because time is relative, and our minds are tricky little beasts. Every day feels different.
Q: Do I have to sit cross-legged?
A: No. Most Americans (sadly) can’t sit cross-legged on the floor for even 5 minutes. Sit in a way that feels comfortable for you but sit up straight with a tall (not stiff) spine. Rest your hands on your legs. Roll your shoulders down and back. Uncross your legs.
Q: Why aren’t I the Buddha?
A: I also wonder this about myself, but meditation isn’t a fix-all, it’s one tool in our toolbox for health.
Q: What if I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts?
A: You’re not the only one. 67%, and 25% of women would rather electrically shock themselves than sit in a room with their thoughts for an hour in silence.That being said, noticing our thoughts helps us get off of autopilot and gives us more control over our stress response. So, even if it’s hard, start small. Start with 60 seconds.
Q: What am I supposed to be doing?
A: The answer to this is different depending on what style of meditation you’re practicing. With mindfulness meditation (probably the most common form of mediation in the west right now) pick a focal spot. Pick one thing to focus on completely, with curious and non-judgment. It can be your left pinky toe, your breath (most common) your heart center, a sound you hear, whatever, pick that thing and focus on it. Then, every time your mind wanders, which it will (see above) just notice and return back to your focal point. Just like a pendulum. That’s all.
Above all, in the words of Nike, just do it. Just sit. Just breathe. It will help with all of Aunt (fill in your aunt’s name here)’s probing questions.
Meriden McGraw is the co-founder of Quidwell where she works to optimize the health of women. Outside of Quidwell, Meriden combines her master’s level education in mental and public health with her training in mind-body modalities to teach individuals and groups techniques for optimal wellbeing. Meriden holds various certifications in pranayama (breath techniques), positive psychology, mindfulness, and yoga. On an average day, Meriden can be found practicing yoga, drinking kombucha, dragging her husband to strength training workouts, and taking her pup for a walk.