How To Quiet Your Mind

How To Quiet Your Mind

When people hear that Mastermind specializes in mindfulness meditation training, the most common response we get is some variant of, “Oh, that's great, but I can’t meditate. I’ve tried, but I can’t clear my mind. My brain never shuts off.”

We give them a big, knowing smile and say, “We used to think that too. Thanks to some great meditation teachers we have learned that we ALL have busy minds! Even people who have been meditating daily for years. It’s part of being human. That’s why meditation is so important – we don’t have to shut off the thoughts and emotions; we just learn to relate to them differently.”

One of the most pervasive myths of meditation is that to “do it right,” you have to clear your mind of thoughts. This is not realistic nor even desirable. Our brain is continually thinking and processing – even in our sleep our minds are at work!

Thoughts and emotions are naturally part of the mindfulness meditation practice. The goal is not to make them go away, which would be a tiring, fruitless game of Whack-A-Mole! The goal is to relate to the thoughts and emotions differently, to welcome them as part of our practice and part of life.

We can imagine that thoughts and emotions are like clouds and weather patterns passing through a windy sky. We are the sky, and our thoughts and emotions are just the weather patterns passing through. The sky is not affected by the weather – it’s just a container. In practicing this way, we learn to observe our thoughts and emotions without attaching to them, identifying with them, or getting lost in them. Through continued meditation practice, we increase self-awareness and learn to recognize and label thoughts and emotions, and to allow them to pass without judgment or attachment. 

No matter how busy your mind is, you’re not alone, and you can find greater peace in your relationship to your thoughts and emotions through the practice of mindfulness meditation. This is the ultimate way to “quiet your mind” – to be open, receptive, and okay with anything that comes. 

If you’re curious, and want to debunk some more mindful meditation myths, here are some more of the most commonly asked questions by people embarking on the practice of mindfulness meditation:

 

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

“Mindfulness” means paying attention to the present moment on purpose and without judgment. You can practice mindfulness in an informal way by bringing your full attention to any part of your daily life such as washing the dishes, talking to a friend, or eating dinner. This informal practice is simply called “mindfulness.” You can practice mindfulness in a formal way by setting aside time to sit in a controlled environment and train your brain to keep coming back to the present moment. This formal practice is called “mindfulness meditation” or “mindful meditation.”

“Meditation” means to focus, so you could technically meditate on anything from the sound of your alarm clock in the morning to the flame of a candle to painting of a wall in your home. Meditation is an umbrella term much like “sports.” There are many different types of sports, and they all help you get good at different things. There are also many different types of meditation, and they help you train your brain in different ways. You can think of mindfulness meditation as one type of meditation, one where the focus is continually brought back to some aspect of the present moment.

 

How should I position my body for mindfulness meditation?

Sitting is the optimal meditation position because it provides the perfect balance of focus and relaxation. Try sitting cross legged with a cushion beneath your seat to raise your hips above your knees. You can also sit in a regular chair with your feet flat on the floor.

If you are feeling particularly anxious or unsettled, it can be helpful to lie down for practice to bring more ease to the central nervous system. There are also certain meditations where lying down is suggested such as in sound meditation and body scan meditation.

If you find yourself sleepy during meditation, try making yourself less comfortable – sit up instead of lying down, or move your back away from the support of the chair when seated. You can even meditate standing up if you are not able to stay awake while seated. (If you do finish a meditation and realize you slept through part of it, no worries – you definitely needed that sleep! In the future, take steps to make yourself less comfortable and more alert, especially if you are interested in the attention raining benefits of mindfulness meditation.)

 

What do I do during mindfulness meditation?

During mindfulness meditation we keep our focus in the present moment by directing our attention to anchors such as breath, body, or sensory inputs. When you’re paying attention to these anchors, your mind is inherently in the present moment rather than distracted by the future or the past. When beginning mindfulness meditation, it’s best to receive the benefits of guided practices through an app or a live teacher. The guidance will direct you toward different aspects of your present moment experience through paying attention to these anchors.

 

What will happen when I meditate?

In mindfulness meditation we become more aware of the present moment. You may notice subtleties such as the temperature, smells, sounds, or your physical body.

 

How do I know if I am doing meditation the right way?

There is no wrong way to meditate as long as you are learning how to meditate. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Mindfulness for Beginners, “If you are aware of what is happening, you are ‘doing it right,’ no matter what is happening. What’s more, it’s all right to be experiencing what you are experiencing, even if you don’t like it or it doesn’t feel very ‘meditative.’ Actually it is perfect. It is the curriculum of the present moment, of your life unfolding here and now.”

 

What progress should I expect in meditation?

One of the pillars of mindfulness practice is non-striving, or being more focused on being present for the process than on achieving certain goals. That being said, as you progress in your mindfulness practice, there are key points to look for: stillness, ease of being, the present moment, freedom from time and heightened awareness. In addition to these experiences during meditation, you may also notice lower stress levels, improved ability to focus, and overall well-being in the rest of your life.

 

What do I wear to meditate?

Meditation can be done wearing anything. It is best to be comfortable. You can always adjust your sitting posture (chair, cushion, lying down) to accommodate the outfit you are wearing.

 

Is mindfulness religious?

Mindfulness is not religious – it’s a secular, research-based form of meditation. However, one can bring their personal beliefs into their practice.

 

What is the best time of day to meditate?

The same therapeutic benefits exist regardless of time of day it is practiced. Consistency is most important. See what works best for your temperament and schedule and commit to that time daily for at least one month.

 

How long should I meditate for?

Most research is based on mindfulness interventions like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that suggest 30-45 minutes of formal practice per day. This is a good time to work towards, but positive changes have been shown in as little as 3-5 minutes of daily practice. From a neuroscience perspective, the most important factor is creating the habit, even if it’s with 1-2 minute meditations every day. Once the habit has been formed, you can slowly increase the time duration of your practice.

 

Is it better to do one long meditation or break it into two shorter meditations?

Both are great options! You may find that you are able to settle the mind and body more with a longer, uninterrupted period for practice.

 

Can I meditate lying down?

Yes! There are meditations where lying down is suggested such as in sound meditation and body scan meditation. Lying down for meditation offers greater comfort and ease for the body, and can help to calm an anxious, overactive mind. However, you may find that lying down hinders attentive meditation because it encourages a dull and sleepy mind. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, when we meditate we are trying to “fall awake” rather than fall asleep. Training our nervous system for lasting attentional improvements requires wakefulness and alertness, so we want to make sure to choose a posture that offers a balance of alertness and ease. For many people, sitting is the optimal meditation position because it provides the perfect balance of focus and relaxation. When the body is in an upright position the mind and body are more attentive, whereas when the body is lying down it can naturally want to fall asleep. You are the expert on your own mind and body, so practice in different postures and see what works best for you!

 

Can I meditate by myself?

Absolutely. This is a self-practice to know the self.

 

What if I cannot stop my thoughts during meditation?

It is okay. It is a big misconception that meditation requires stopping all thinking. Actually, our human brain is continually thinking and processing. Even in our sleep our minds are at work. Thoughts and emotions can be welcomed as part of the mindfulness meditation practice. Through continued meditation practice, we increase self-awareness and learn to recognize and label thoughts and emotions, and to allow them to pass without judgment or attachment.

 

What is the best way to learn meditation?

The best way to learn is by doing it. Meditation is something that we naturally know how to do. Each experience is very different and the more you do it, the more you will learn. Forming the discipline to sit down and actually meditate is the challenge. If you are interested and have a desire to learn, you will learn.

 

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