Go Back To All Posts

How to Meditate when you have Trauma

Healing with Meditation

Healing with Meditation is key; although meditation is often used as a buzzword in today’s society. It is thrown around as wellness term, as something you should do, and yet it involves a lot of not doing at all. So what does meditating actually entail, and why can it be so powerful?

The principles of meditation are simple. Observe everything and don’t engage. Don’t engage with your thoughts, desires, or wants. Don’t spiral, just observe the thoughts and let them go.

Oftentimes, people will think that meditation’s goal is to stop all thoughts or to sit in complete silence. Yet that is not what meditation is. That is often what meditation can look like—but that is not what it has to look like.

Meditation can look very differently for different people, or even for the same person at different periods in their life.

My meditation practice began when I started suffering from panic attacks. I was suffering from 1 or more panic attacks basically every day, going to the ER multiple times in one month. During that time, I was open to anything and everything that could help me. Meditation was often recommended to me, by nurses and doctors I saw in the ER. I had used meditation in the past, occasionally when I was feeling stressed, but hadn’t used it consistently for a long time. So I decided to try it again. 

It went horribly wrong. I laid down on the floor of my apartment, focusing on the sensations of my body and on my thoughts. After 5 minutes, I was convinced that I was dying, that my breathing was going to stop.

See, why nervous system was so activated during that time, from the panic attacks, from the lack of sleep from them, from all the trauma that had built up in my body, that no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t sit with my sensations and thoughts and just observe them without judging. My body was telling me, “do something!!! you are about to die!!!! these uncomfortable sensations are a signal to you, fix yourself!”. And then meditating would actually fuel my anxiety. 

I decided to stop meditating and never try it again, or at least for the forseeable future. And that was the right decision for me at the time; my body was not ready for meditating. My nervous system was so activated that there was no way I could sit with these uncomfortable sensations. Instead, I chose other avenues to heal from my trauma: EMDR with a therapist, which helped my body feel safe and co-regulated with another person. Even SSRIs and other ways of numbing the responses / sensations of my body at the time: including taking Benadryl  (which, for me, made me a lot less anxious) every night to be able to sleep.

A year and a half later, I practice meditation everyday, each time I do it looking a little bit different. Sometimes I sit down, other times I lay down. Sometimes I have a lot of thoughts that I observe, sometimes it’s more emotions. Sometimes I am still, sometimes my body cries and releases emotions it didn’t even know were there, yet that I can now realize were weighing down my day. Sometimes I meditate for hours, at which point the observing the thoughts and emotions allows them to dissipate, not because they aren’t there anymore but because they feel heard, listened to; their messages seen but not fueled—and in that, they are able to release and let go.

Now, meditation has become an integral tool in my toolkit as both a way to heal from my trauma and live with it. Its effects on me have been subtle but significant. For example, if I argue with my partner, in the past my first response may have been to defend myself, my own side. Now, I am able to notice the anger welling up, rising up through my body, and the thoughts of mine seeking to defend “me”, or “my side”. I then notice my side as if it weren’t my own, and notice their side separately, and find the stillness between the thoughts and action, allowing me to move forward with intention and purpose: “what action do I want to take now that will help the situation? that will help my friend and I reconnect, rather than divide us? that will allow me to forward with empathy and love? what I am fearful of, what is driving this anger?”. And I soften my voice, my tone, expressing this process to my friend, loosening the tension and finding the understanding for each other, for both of “our” sides.

My point is, meditation may or may not be right for you right now. But it doesn’t have to look any type of way, this time you do it or the next.

Posted: 05-06-2023