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Meditating can lower your heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones. For many people, it can also provide some much-needed momentary solitude, which can improve relationships and offer an escape from an increasingly fast-paced world.
“Everything is connected in this world,” says yoga and meditation teacher Ishar Keshu. “We do this practice so we can better serve the existing relationships that we have.”
He adds: “We have different notifications on our phone buzzing all the time. We have work emails coming in, … especially now, where a lot of us are working from home, me included. It’s very hard to draw the line between work and relaxing.”
Successful meditation requires a space — in Keshu’s case, it’s a corner of his downtown Austin apartment — where you can go each day to build the habit of focusing on “internal work and being able to check in with ourselves,” says Dora Kamau, a meditation and mindfulness teacher at Headspace. Think of it as your “adult timeout,” she says.
But it doesn’t have to be a separate room; you can practice meditation in a closet or a corner of your bedroom, living room or home office — or even just in the space at the end of your bed, Kamau says.
Fatima Farmer, a certified mindfulness meditation instructor and breathwork facilitator, says she can meditate “pretty much anywhere” if she has her headphones, a playlist and an eye mask.
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Once you’ve identified a spot, you will need something to sit on, as well as a focal point. You can also consider adding soothing objects, lights, scents and sounds to enhance your practice. Here are some suggestions from Kamau, Farmer, Keshu and Ofosu Jones-Quartey, a meditation teacher and musician, and the author of the children’s book “Love Your Amazing Self,” on how to create your own meditation nook.
You don’t need a fancy seat, Keshu says. “You can actually just use one of the chairs that you have in your house, and eventually, as you practice, then maybe invest in a meditation cushion or a supporting cushion.” Sit on the edge, he says, so “your knees will create a triangular base, which will support you, so you’re not relying on a chair to support your back, and you’re training yourself to sit upright.”
Set up a focal point within sight of your seat, says Jones-Quartey. This will help center your attention on an object (a photograph, a plant, a candle) and eliminate distractions while you meditate. He suggests using a small table or bench, or recycling a cardboard box or other sturdy object in your home.
“Different scents can promote a feeling of relaxation in the body,” Keshu says. Candles and incense in sandalwood or lavender are popular choices, he says, and you can also use a candle as your focal point. “In the yoga system, this is called trataka, where you actually stare at a candle.”
Depending on where you live, though, lighting objects in your home may not be an option. “I’ve set off the fire alarm a couple of times in my apartment by lighting candles,” Keshu says.
In that case, try using a misting diffuser with a few drops of essential oils and a bit of water. Farmer suggests purchasing small bottles or roll-on essential oils, because they’re portable. (Her favorite scents are eucalyptus and lavender.)
Your meditation space should include a visual cue “to take a breath or pause to connect with gratitude,” Jones-Quartey says. “You shouldn’t look at it like an exercise bike. Even if you haven’t meditated in a while, it should still be a beautiful place.”
Jones-Quartey and Keshu both use photos of meditation teachers whom they admire. “This really inspires you, because when you look at their picture, you can say: ‘If I continue to practice meditation, I, too, will develop the same qualities, because whatever they have is a result of their meditation practice. And it’s something I can achieve myself,’” Keshu says. Photos of friends and family can also remind you that you’re not alone and that “your practice benefits other people,” he says.
Jones-Quartey incorporates African traditions in his meditation and has photos of friends who have died, as well as people whom he considers ancestors. “When I’m done with my meditation, I’ll send any of the good energy and merit that I’ve cultivated to my ancestors. I’ll reach out and ask them to continue to connect with me and guide me,” he says. He sometimes pours out libations for them, “a very Ghanaian custom of connecting with departed ancestors.”
Plants, which can lower stress levels and promote relaxation, are another option. Keshu has a snake plant in his meditation nook, because “it’s very hard to kill,” he says.
In terms of lighting, Himalayan salt lamps cast a warm glow that can be more soothing than LED and fluorescent bulbs, Keshu says. Some people believe the lamps can “emit negative ions, which purifies the air as well,” he adds.
Crystals are another popular item in meditation spaces, Keshu says. People who use them believe that “certain colors correspond with energy centers in the body, which are related to certain moods,” he says. Chakra practitioners believe that a red stone, such as jasper, can help with increasing confidence, overcoming fear and achieving stability. Yellow crystals, including calcite, are associated with vital energy and sensuality, according to Keshu.
You don’t need a completely quiet space for meditating, particularly when practicing mindfulness, Kamau says. “It’s really about finding ease and comfort in the noise and not trying to get rid of it.” So if there’s chatter in the next room, rustling leaves or car traffic, just go with it.
But if you’re looking for sounds to enhance your practice, apps such as Headspace, Insight Timer or Liberate offer guided meditations. Or you could try a calming playlist, says Farmer, who prefers lo-fi spa or meditation music.
Kamau splurged on crystal singing bowls, instruments known for releasing soothing sounds that some believe connect to energy points in the body.
Christina Sturdivant Sani is a freelance writer in Northern Virginia.
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