Calming the Inner Storm: A 20-Minute Meditation for Reduced Stress
I was already up the mountain when it hit. Out of nowhere, it came rushing in—dark, gray, ominous clouds.
At first, I was hopeful that it would all blow over quickly so that I might enjoy my rendezvous longer. It was noon, and based on my earlier report, the storm wouldn’t approach until 3 pm. But alas, what was now boiling up in the sky was here to stay, and at the first flash of white, I knew I had to get down the mountain to safety.
No sense in remaining at what was close to being the highest point. No point in being stagnant. It was either stay or leave, so I retrieved my pack and descended through the thick trees, fully aware I was surrounded by fuzzy, green lightning rods. Within seconds, the friendly peaks of Boulder’s flatirons quickly transformed into an electromagnetic hotspot.
Yet during that 20-minute trek from mountain to car—I was practically sailing down the hill on tiptoe—I felt an odd sense of calm. Unusually calm, considering the fact that danger was present. Don’t get me wrong, I was afraid. But despite the fear rushing through my nervous system, I somehow managed to maintain a grounded, logical mindset without letting anxiety and “what-if” scenarios ruminate endless cycles in my head. Had I let too much emotion takeover, I’d only be suffering twice. Eventually, after a series of dips, twists, and turns down the winded path, heart racing, I fumbled for my keys to the car door. I had made it.
Looking back on the experience that mid-July day, I have my yoga and meditation to thank. These established practices, in a joint effort, had a small part to play in guiding me to safety. The rest was gambled luck.
A vigorous morning yoga routine built up my leg muscles well enough to make my swift hike down to the base of Chautauqua Park possible. As for meditation, breathing steadily and focusing on the present moment enabled me to power through the task ahead. Body and mind, working together amid chaos.
When it comes to stress management, meditation specifically, is my number one tool—even during extreme situations.
As both a physical and mental practice, meditation has a long history of use for increasing calmness and improving psychological well-being. Multiple scientific studies suggest that not only does meditation help reduce anxiety, it also enhances overall self-awareness, amongst additional countless benefits. If practiced consistently, it even holds potential for gaining new perspectives on stressful situations. At least that was the case for me, during a life-threatening lightning storm.
Given the scenario at play, I utilized my skills in the form of meditation in motion to get from Point A to Point B, all the while breathing through and enduring discomfort. This same perspective can be applied to regular everyday situations. By tapping into a meditative state, you can develop a focused, reflective mindset for handling your own inner storms, as opposed to dealing with actual physical ones (although, I suppose this practice serves a purpose for both).
I wouldn’t recommend a high-stake scenario such as mine as your first approach to meditation in testing your calmness. In fact, learn from my mistake and double-check the weather before hiking.
The following is an easy-to-implement, guided meditation for managing stress in daily activities. From dealing with busy schedules to communicating with clients, this 20-minute practice is for anyone; all-levels welcome, beginners and seasoned practitioners alike.
- FIND A COMFORTABLE SEAT:
It can by anywhere. Whether it be an office, a room in your home, or a nearby park, meditation is not limited to the yoga studio and mat. Just make sure you’re comfortably seated—kneeling, cross-legged, feet extended, whatever you choose—in your given environment, ideally with minimal distraction. For those with sensitive knees, feel free to adjust by placing blocks or rolled-up blankets underneath each knee. If you wish to heighten your sacrum for additional back support, consider sitting on a pillow or against a wall. Whatever space you decide upon, designate it as your personal haven for the next 20 minutes.
- CLOSE YOUR EYES AND FOCUS ON YOUR BREATH:
One of the biggest misconceptions in meditation is that you must free your mind from all occurring thoughts in order to get any benefit out of the practice. That task is merely impossible. Thoughts are part of the human experience; we need to think in order to expand our own cognitive awareness. It’s inevitable that thoughts will surface during meditation and that your mind will naturally wander.
The trick lies in the breath. By timing your inhalations and exhalations, your breath intake will slowly lengthen. When you actively engage your breath, overtime (and with practice), you might notice your thought patterns becoming less overactive. It is by breath that the whole meditation practice connects. When we draw attention to an established breathing pattern, our minds shifts focus from thoughts to breath. This method can be likened to stepping back and observing our thought processes as they flow downstream, rather than actively swimming through them to get to the other side.
- CHOOSE AN INTENTION FOR YOUR PRACTICE:
Meditating on an intention provides a focal point for concentration and helps establish positive thought patterns. It also gives your practice a sense of empowerment. Maybe your intention is to become more observant and less reactive, or to find inner peace of which you can return to at any moment during difficult situations. Intentions can even take the form of personal mantras. Whatever statement you resonate with, keep it in mind with each breath.
For example, if you’re new to setting intentions (or meditation in general), start with this simple, neutral mantra: I am.
With each breath, inhale the “I” and exhale the “am,” silently repeating this over and over.
- TIME YOUR BREATHING:
As you breathe, increase your breath as time goes on. Start by making each inhale to three counts, pause for two, and then exhale for three. Increase your breath count if you wish. In terms of an established breathing pattern, use the following:
Inhale (“I): One…Two…Three
Exhale (“am”): One…Two…Three
Repeat this process over and over for the duration of the 20-minute meditation. Notice if your body begins to relax with each breath. Is your mind increasing in concentration? The benefits may not come right away, but if you can somehow set aside time to practice each day (every little bit counts), you’ll be well-equipped in handling stress for the long haul. As the meditation practice mentally engrains to form a new habit, your established breathing pattern(s) will do the same. Calmly focus on being present to whatever experience lies ahead, and you have at your fingertips a guide for conquering inner storms.