Enhance Your Wellbeing With Meditation
Meditation is a way to transform the mind through the practice of focused attention. Over time, meditation builds awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations through consistent and focused practise.
For people recovering from trauma, combining meditation with your “safe place” can help to ground you in the present moment and begin to rebalance your nervous system. If you haven’t read my “Safe Place” blog and set up a safe place, please go back and read that first.
The many benefits of meditation, particularly for those recovering from trauma include –
- Enhancing present-moment awareness.
- Developing a sense of self and autonomy.
- Increasing self-compassion.
- Strengthening the ability to self regulate thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations.
- Reducing stress with a positive impact on mental health.
How to meditate
When you are recovering from trauma, it is essential to maintain feelings of safety and autonomy during your meditative practice. If at any time you begin to feel unsafe or ‘trapped’ you can stop and come back to it later.
- Find a position in your safe place that feels comfortable to you. Try some different positions and notice what feels right, noting that this may change over time or may be different on different days. Again, experiment and sense your preference. Some options you may like to try are sitting cross-legged on the floor or cushion, sitting on a chair or lying down with your legs up a wall (this is a favourite of mine and is very energizing!).
- You can choose to have your eyes open or closed or to alternate between the two. When I first started meditating, keeping my eyes closed felt very unsafe to me so for a while, I meditated with my eyes open. I chose to keep my gaze gently fixed on a space in front of me for example softly focusing on a plant or a candle. As I began to gain a greater sense of safety, I alternated between eyes open and eyes closed. Sometimes I sensed the need to check my environment and I was then comfortable to close my eyes again. And eventually I was happy to close my eyes during the whole meditation. This is very personal to you and will likely change over time. So just do whatever feels comfortable, and this can really help at the start of your meditation practice – just noticing what feels right for you!
- Meditate for as long as you feel safe, autonomous and positive. Trauma survivors often get used to ‘bracing’ through difficult and uncomfortable situations. Your meditative practice is not one of these moments. It’s better to start off with very short sessions, maybe just a few minutes. That’s ok. Those few comfortable moments give you something to build upon over time. Your meditative practice is about learning what works and feels right and doing less of what doesn’t work or doesn’t feel right.
Beginning your meditation
Focus on your breath.
Bringing your focus and attention to your breath is a simple and effective way of moving your attention out of the past or the future and bringing it into the present moment. You can do this by just noticing your in-breath and your out-breath. You may even like to add the words “I am breathing in” and “I am breathing out” to help you maintain your attention. You don’t need to change anything about your breathing; you can simply notice that you are breathing.
- You may like to practice taking an exaggerated breath.
- Take a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds).
- Hold your breath for 2 seconds.
- Allow a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds).
- Box breathing is also a simple and effective breathing practice.
- Breath in through your nose while counting slowly to four.
- Hold your breath inside your lungs while counting slowly to four.
- Exhale to the count of four.
- Hold for the count of four.
- Repeat as many times as you like, deepening your sense of relaxed, structured breathing.
Notice your thoughts.
Allow them to pass without trying to change or suppress them. You can use visualization to help with this process. For example, you can imagine placing each thought onto a cloud and watching it float out of view. Or you could imagine placing your thoughts on a leaf and watching them float away down a stream. Alternatively, when you notice thoughts come up you can simply say to yourself “thinking” without giving it any more attention. If at any time you notice yourself getting caught up in your thoughts or ruminating about the past or future you can bring your attention back to your breath.
Notice the sensations in your body.
This can sometimes be a difficult or uncomfortable practice for survivors of trauma, and so you can simply focus on those parts of your body that you feel comfortable with. For example, when I first began this practice, I focused only on my hands and feet. That’s what felt safe for me. Over time, I was able to add more parts of my body to my meditative practice. But slower is definitely better when it comes to your body. If at any time you feel unsafe or that you are starting to get triggered, come back to focusing your attention on your breathing.
This option was my favourite and safest option in my early days of meditating. I chose a few, short guided meditations that I really enjoyed and felt comfortable with. I still love these today. I have included a couple of my favourites below, but experiment and find what you enjoy. There are many free, guided meditations available of varying durations and themes.
Observe your environment using your senses in the present moment.
What can I see, hear, feel, smell and taste? This is a simple meditation you can include in the early stages of your recovery and is very effective for regrounding when you become triggered. For me this looked like sitting on my back deck, noticing the sun and breeze on my skin, patting my dog and watching the birds and the clouds pass by, listening to the neighbourhood sounds and drinking a cup of tea. This invariably returned me to a feeling of safety and balance.
After you have spent some time meditating, check in with yourself and notice what worked best for you. Some questions you can ask yourself are –
- What did my mind focus on?
- What emotions did I feel?
- How did my body feel?
This self-enquiry can help you to hone in on what is best for you. When you discover what works for you, do more of it. Over time, a consistent meditative practice can help you gain a much stronger sense of self, increase feelings of self compassion, strengthen your ability to self regulate and enhance your overall psychological wellbeing.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
With Love and Peace