Thursday, September 17, 2020

Listen to Your Heart: a meditative practice

When discussing mindfulness, meditating is one of the first things clients and therapists alike bring up. Some of the most common advice is to focus on your breath. I often struggle with this, because breath is something you have control over. The moment I start thinking about my breath it changes. It's no longer natural, but performed. Many clients I've spoken to have reported the same, citing this as definitive proof that meditation doesn't work for them. However, meditation comes in many forms; breath is not the only point of focus your meditative practice can have.

A second style of meditation focuses on a safe or calm place or activity. This can be somewhere you've been (on vacation or at home), a favorite hobby (riding a bike, painting), or something completely imaginary. Of all the safe places friends and clients have brought up, a relatively common one is curled up with a partner, listening to their heartbeat. Many clinicians prefer clients choose a meditative place with nobody around, so that the scene still feels safe if stressors come up with that person. But it can be hard to deny the soothing nature of listening to a loved one's heartbeat, and harder still for those who are quarantined separately from their loved ones. While you may not be able to curl up with your partner, you can still listen to your heartbeat.

As I often do, I turned to good friends and trusted colleagues for their thoughts on this practice. Some liked having something steady to focus on. Others, however, found it easy to incorporate into deeper work they'd been doing. Those struggling with loneliness found it centering, and those doing inner child work found it soothing. It sounded like something worth trying. So one morning I sat down, set a timer, and closed my eyes. It took a moment or two to find my pulse, but once I did, I leaned into it. Soon, it was like my whole body was beating.

And it was kind of magical.

There is something vulnerable about noticing your own heartbeat, and this vulnerability can make the importance of tending to your own needs much clearer. I've since started using this practice as such, focusing on my heartbeat whenever I check in with myself. Noticing your heartbeat in a calm state can help you familiarize yourself with it more, and this can particularly be helpful for those who experience panic attacks and anxiety. If you know your resting heart rate well, you may get better at noticing when your heart rate starts to increase, which is often one of the earliest signs of panic. 

The feeling of focusing on your heartbeat is a prime example of what it means to just be with yourself. It makes it easier to tend to your needs, know yourself better, and help loneliness melt away. Your heartbeat is something you carry with you everywhere, making it a perfect tool for mindfulness and grounding. And with all the chaos going on in the world, we could all use a little serenity.

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