As the COVID-19 pandemic forces families to isolate at home, many parents and children are experiencing pronounced anxiety about their safety and more.
While attention and concern are necessary, panic and anxiety are not. If you’re struggling to cope with the stress, you may find meditation can help calm your mind and emotions.
Fear is our enemy. It triggers our nervous system’s fight-or-flight response, and unless we’re being chased by a Bengal tiger, it doesn’t help us. The fight-or-flight response depresses our immune system, disrupts our relationships, muddles our thinking, and leads to poor decision-making.
If anyone in your family is suffering anxiety at present, you can try the following techniques to calm nerves and settle emotions.
Note: While these techniques are fine to do with children, you might want to practice alone first.
First: Sit comfortably upright
- Start by finding a quiet space where you can sit comfortably upright without interruption.
- Either sit normally on a chair, or if you prefer, sit with your legs crossed on your bed or sofa. (If you’re sitting cross-legged, place a firm cushion or folded blanket under your seat, so your legs are somewhat lower than your tailbone.)
- Sit upright with your back straight. Not rigid and tense, but straight.
- Draw your chin and head back, so your head is balanced on your shoulders and you’re not straining to support your head.
- Draw your shoulders back and rest your hands on top of your thighs, where your legs meet your hips.
- Let your hands sit like two cups, palms facing upwards, fingers relaxed.
Next: Practice three to four calming breaths
- Close your eyes and focus your attention at the point between your eyebrows.
- Start your meditation with three to four deep breaths as follows:
- Inhale through your nose for a count of approximately four to five seconds. Imagine that you’re inflating your belly first, then your lungs.
- Hold the breath for approximately five to eight seconds. As you hold the breath, tense all of the muscles in your arms, legs, and abdomen.
- Exhale the breath for a count of approximately four to six seconds, releasing the tension in your arms, legs, and abdomen as you exhale.
- It’s not important whether you exhale through your nose or your mouth. Do what feels comfortable to you.
Body scan meditation
- After the calming breaths, let your breathing find its own natural rhythm. You might feel comfortable continuing to inhale and exhale slowly, or you might feel comfortable breathing slightly faster. Follow what your body wants to do.
- Begin your body scan by focusing your attention on the area below your belly button. What do you feel there? If there’s tension, imagine that you are breathing “into” that place and releasing the tension. Maintain your attention there for one minute.
- Next, put your attention on the region of your belly button. What do you feel there? If there’s tension, breathe into it. Maintain your attention there for one minute.
- Now put your attention on your solar plexus, at the bottom of your chest sternum. Again, if you sense tension, breathe into it and feel yourself releasing it. Notice any tension in your shoulders at the same time. Do this for one minute.
- Next, place your attention on your throat. Observe whether you feel any tightness there. Focus your breathing in that area for one minute.
- Now focus your attention at the point between your eyebrows. If it helps to maintain your attention, imagine a small light there. Breathe into that point for one minute.
- You’ve completed a basic body scan. You can stop meditating, or if you want to continue, you can do so. You can continue to focus on the point between your eyebrows, or you can revisit the other places that you already scanned. Follow what feels natural for you.
As we pass through this difficult time, you can try meditating once each day for six to seven minutes. You might prefer to meditate in the morning, afternoon, or evening—or all three.
Three tips: Don’t meditate if you are sleepy, when lying down, or if your stomach is very full. These things have a negative effect on your concentration.
If you find meditation difficult at first, don’t give up. It’s normal for your attention to wander when you first start to practice. Consider meditation like a “gym exercise” for your mind. You may need a few days of practice to feel the full benefit.
Here’s to everyone’s health. By fostering patience and calm, we will get through this difficult time.
Jim Grove has practiced pranayama meditation for 40 years. An earlier version of this story first appeared on the Fire the Coach blog.