Excerpt from Wake Up Happy, Hippo Press, Jan 4, 2018
Interview by Ryan Lessard with Debra LeClair. Debra is a psychologist, life coach, meditation teacher and owner of Full Spectrum Wellness.
Can you tell us what some of the different types of meditation techniques are out there and what makes them different?
One is mindfulness and actually it’s a way of being and it’s a way of using meditation to bring yourself into the present moment, without judgment. What we’re looking at there is working through body sensation and later getting into just watching thoughts, as opposed to letting thoughts take us away, and that goes the same for feelings. Transcendental meditation is … you receive a mantra, which is a sanskrit phrase that you repeat as a way of stabilizing the mind, in order to put yourself into a meditative state. There are other meditation practices that have noticing and connecting to the breath as a foundation.
When is it a good time to meditate?
Everyone’s a little bit different in that. I would say the general recommendation is [to meditate] in the morning, usually right after you wake up because your mind is usually fresh–and it’s a good way to start the day and set the tone. I personally find mid-day a nice time to hit the refresh button with a meditation, a short one.
What if someone wants to make meditation a part of their life but often just don’t feel like it?
One thing is to not overwhelm yourself with ‘Oh, I’m gonna do 25 minutes’ or ‘I’m gonna go on a silent retreat.’ I think the idea is ‘You know what, I don’t really feel like doing it, but maybe if I just set the timer and I do it for two minutes, that’s something. Just notice my breath. Maybe I’ll just notice three breath cycles, so that I’m still training my nervous system and connecting into the practice.’
What are some of those thoughts and feelings that make it harder to meditate?
One is just being tired or sleepy. Another will be that thought of doubt like ‘Am I doing this right? Am I really getting any benefit from this? Should I be putting my time into this?’ … Others are restlessness, where you can’t stop fidgeting, you can’t stop moving around. … One thing we forget to do in this culture is to stretch our bodies or integrate some yoga. The original intention of yoga is to prepare the body for meditation, meaning that you’d have things stretched out so the body feels comfortable and more at ease when you sit for your meditation practice.
Should we avoid anything in our environment that isn’t conducive to meditation?
It’s not that you [need to] have no noise. In fact, a good mindful meditation is to pay attention to the sounds that you hear. Maybe you’re hearing the air conditioner going off or the heating kick in–you’re hearing birds or the creaks of the house. Those are all great because they bring you right into the present moment. But to have distracting noises that set your nervous system off like the beeps and buzzes on your phone can certainly be counterproductive.
Is giving your mind a break through meditation kind of a luxury these days?
I feel uncomfortable calling it a luxury. I think it’s an absolute necessity because when we have so many more demands on our mind, including all the things designed to grab our attention everywhere, we’re set up to have very short attention spans and be kind of on the edge all the time. ‘Did they call? Did they text?’ Or ‘I gotta hurry up and answer that.’ When you’ve got all that going on, there’s probably even more need to have that stillness and that quieting of mind, so that these things don’t impact you negatively.
What sort of techniques are helpful for cutting through distractions?
What could be helpful there is to a simple practice such as noticing the sensation of your feet on the ground—to really get curious about it, get connected to it. Again, this puts you in the present moment, takes you out of the past and the future where you’re worrying. If you can do that for a moment, it’s like hitting the reset button. What’s also helpful is a very practical thing, which is popping in earbuds and using an meditation app.
Do you know of any specific apps that can be helpful?
Sure, my favorite, but it’s not cheap is Headspace. I think there’s a 14-day free trial. Calm is another and there are definitely other free ones.
Is there a type of person who needs meditation the most?
Honestly, I think every human benefits from it, whether they’re already calm or not, because there’s so much more to meditation than just stress management. You increase your focus and your ability to tap into being able to creatively problem-solve or just be creative in general.