Navigating negative, anxious thoughts is hard. It’s hard when your mind ruminates on rigid thoughts: I should do things quickly. I should be more productive. I should never say things like that. I shouldn’t make mistakes like that. I should know better.
It’s hard when your mind is mired in dejected thinking: This is never going to work. I’ll never have a good job. Trying is pointless. Things will always be the same. I’m such a failure.
It’s hard when your mind creates catastrophes: What if something goes wrong? What if I lose my job? What if I can’t pay my mortgage? What if my spouse leaves me?
It’s hard because after a while, we start to interpret these thoughts as indisputable facts. Naturally, we assume that the thoughts swirling in our minds are correct. But often they’re not. Often they just boost our anxiety and sadness. Often they’re based on stories someone else created for us. Or they’re based on self-limiting beliefs and bad information.
The good news is that we can train our minds “to be an instrument of peace,” write authors Mary NurrieStearns, LCSW, RYT, and Rick NurrieStearns in their book Yoga Mind, Peaceful Mind: Simple Meditations for Overcoming Anxiety.
In it they share 160 meditations, affirmations and insights from yoga’s contemplative tradition. Below are five meditations from Yoga Mind, Peaceful Mind for coping healthfully with anxious, negative thoughts.
1. Witnessing your thoughts.
It’s really important to remember that you are not your thoughts. As the authors write, “You have thoughts, but the thousands of thoughts that pass through your mind are not who you are.” Instead of getting entangled with unhelpful thoughts and believing them wholeheartedly, you can witness them.
The next time your inner critic is roaring, take several deep breaths. Then slowly and repeatedly whisper these words: “I am the witness.” You also can practice this every day. You can whisper or chant the English translation or the Sanskrit words: “Aham sakshi.” You can end with: “I witness.”
2. Releasing negativity.
Think of several negative thoughts that bother you. Visualize yourself sitting on a riverbank. Put a negative thought on a leaf traveling downstream. Watch the current carry the leaf away. Sit quietly for several minutes. If another negative thought arises, place it on another leaf. Then watch this leaf float away.
“Notice the growing distance between you and those thoughts,” write the authors. Sink into the peaceful feeling of being free to move on. Finish your meditation by smiling and saying: “I am moving on.”
3. Savoring serenity.
Another way to navigate distressing thoughts is by intentionally concentrating on something pleasing. One concentration practice is called “steady gazing” or “tratak.” According to the authors, “Tratak trains your attention and soothes your mind, especially when done frequently.”
To practice this meditation, sit quietly in a place that doesn’t have a draft. Place a candle at eye level about an arm’s length away. Light your candle, and softly gaze at it for about a minute. Then close your eyes. Envision “the flame at the point between your eyebrows for another minute or so.” Repeat this one or two times. Each time try to hold the image of the flame a little longer. Finish your meditation by saying: “My mind is as serene as candlelight.”
4. Exploring a clear mind.
This is another practice for witnessing our thoughts. As the authors write, “Thoughts come and go, and your vast mind remains.” Observe your thoughts, letting them go.
Begin by focusing your attention on the point between your brows. Imagine yourself breathing into and out from your third eye. When your attention naturally drifts, whisper to yourself, “thought.” Then visualize your thought as a cloud passing by in the sky. Focus your attention, again, on your third eye. Practice this for 10 to 20 minutes. Complete your meditation by saying: “My mind is like a clear sky.”
5. Experiencing stillness.
According to the authors, “Beyond your thoughts is infinite consciousness. Give your thoughts to the universe and your mind settles.” To practice this meditation, “imagine land eroding into a river, water being evaporated by the sun, fire dispersing into air, the atmosphere dissolving into space, space being absorbed by the mind, and your mind merging into the infinite.” Sit quietly for several minutes. To conclude your practice, say: “I experience stillness and I know inner peace.”
Our minds produce many rigid, restless, pessimistic thoughts. But it’s important to remember that you are separate from these stressful thoughts. Over time, with practice, you can train yourself to observe these thoughts and let them go. Over time, you can train yourself to cultivate a more peaceful mind.