Learning how to meditate has been transformational for me. It allows you to recognise that whilst you have thoughts, you are not your thoughts. You don’t need to believe them or react to them if you don’t want to.
Have you tried meditation? How did you find it? Before I explain why to meditate, let me cover some of the most common reasons people use to not meditate.
1 ‘I can’t do it, I just have too many thoughts.’
Let me put you at ease…. We all do! It’s completely normal! We all have LOTS of thoughts, experts estimate that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s an average of 2500 – 3,300 thoughts per hour. It’s the job of the mind to give us thoughts and it’s often extremely useful!
However, just because the mind normally fires hundred of thoughts at us per minute it doesn’t mean it can’t be trained to do something different. Like any muscle, the more practice you put into it the easier and stronger it will become.
In meditation the ‘muscle’ that we are working on is focus. It doesn’t mean that the thoughts don’t come – what it means is that we don’t pay attention to them. Let those thoughts just pass by like clouds in the sky without becoming distracted by them.
Instead remain focused on your point of concentration which is often the breath (as we always have that with us!) but could also be music, the sound of a fan, a mantra, or someone’s voice.
2 ‘It’s boring’
Okay. I hear you. When I went to India and practiced yoga and meditation for the first time in such a formal setting I couldn’t believe that we ‘had’ to meditate twice a day – for an HOUR!! I would peek my eyes open after a few minutes expecting to be at least halfway through, but when I looked around the room everyone would be completely still and quiet and we were no way near done. What was I to do for the next 50 minutes !?
So yes, meditation can be tedious. And that’s actually a good thing. In a time of SO much outward distraction, getting a little bored and finding that there’s nothing else to do other than turn inward is a really really necessary practice.
My top tip for beginners would be keep your meditations shorter to begin with and gradually extend the time you sit for.
3 ‘It’s uncomfortable’
So whilst you don’t have to sit crossed-legged on the floor, I do recommend that you sit rather than lie down. This is in part so that you don’t so easily fall asleep and secondly so that your chakras are aligned.
It might be a little uncomfortable. But that’s ok. We face discomfort as part of life and it’s of great value to be able to sit in it rather than run away from it. To be clear I don’t mean screaming pain, I’m talking about a bit of muscle ache or fighting general fidgetiness.
One of meditation’s gifts is to teach us to watch rather than react.
Feel it, notice it, breathe into it, choose to re-position yourself mindfully.
OK, now we’ve discussed some of the most common problems people face with meditation let’s look at the benefits.
1 Reduces stress
Meditation practice reduces stress which lowers cortisol levels and subsequent inflammation promoting cytokines that can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking.
Our nervous system is comprised of two parts; the parasympathetic and sympathetic. Ideally, we would spend 95% of our time in the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, and only when we are in real danger (as in running away from a tiger) be in the sympathetic side of the nervous system. Of course, we are blessed to live in a time when running away from tigers is not (for the majority of us) a big threat. However, instead, we live in a time of chronic stress. Our ancient brain can not recognise the constant stimulation, bright lights, endless demands, and fast paced-ness of life as anything less than a dangerous threat. So we spend much too much time in our sympathetic nervous system. Meditation helps to calm us down and bring us back into the parasympathetic nervous system.
Like waves on the ocean, when we drop down beneath the surface we find stillness.
2 It helps you to be calmer and less reactive
How do you react when you drop a glass? Or you’re stuck in traffic jam? Or you’ve sent the wrong document to a colleague?
The yoga sutras (and yoga according to the ancient texts is 90% meditation and 10% physical detoxification) teach us that,
‘If you can control the thought forms and change them as you want, you are not bound by the outside world. You can make it a heaven or a hell according to your perception.’
When you regularly practice meditation you become an observer – ‘oh I had a thought’ ‘ow my hip is hurting today’ ‘crap I forgot to add apples to the shopping list.’
You are observing the mind – without doing anything about it. So it only follows that in real life when something happens – your husband doesn’t like your shoes, your daughter is upset you forgot her favourite toy, you break your preferred coffee cup…. Instead of immediately reacting – you observe: “Oh I broke my favourite coffee cup – I better sweep it up before one of the children steps on a piece of it.” You observe and then you choose the most efficient course of action to take. Game-changing, I promise you.
3 Helps you to be more focussed and present
Remember we talked about mediation being boring?
Remember how you do it anyway?
You’ve learnt a powerful skill. To be present and focussed, no matter what.
Whether it’s boring or not, whether you’ve heard that story 10 times or you’ve given the same instructions one hundred times, thanks to your meditation practice you will be able to focus in on anything you want.
4 Allows you to be more aware of your emotions
With the wealth of distractions in the modern day, it can be easy to walk through life holding emotions and tension that we aren’t even aware of. When we sit in stillness, with nothing to do we are forced to pay attention to our bodies, to observe our thoughts, and to feel our feelings. Our mind is useful for ideas and creativity, but it can also tell us many stories and untruths and we can subconsciously be carrying the beliefs of others. With the practice of meditation, we start to see things more clearly.
We can recognise the difference between the voice of the inner mean girl who judges us and others and our inner voice who only has our highest interest at heart.
5 Helps us to be more efficient
In the fast paced time that we live in, we often think MORE is better. Actually slowing down and reflecting allows us to be more, not less, effective. Like a computer, if you don’t clear it every so often, the hard disk gets full, it starts to slow down, and eventually it breaks down so it doesn’t work at all.
Hopefully, you’re sold on meditation …
How to make it part of your daily practice
1 Establish the habit
Do you brush your teeth? (I hope so!) It’s something we do automatically at least twice a day – so it’s a perfect place to add something on.
After you brush your teeth, I want you to commit to just 1 minute of meditation. Over time once you make the connection between brushing teeth and meditation you can begin to lengthen the time you sit for.
2 Ritualise the practice
It helps to come back to the same place each time you meditate. Make it special in any way you like. I have a corner of the bedroom where I meditate everyday. I have a small Buddha statue, some crystals, candles and essential oils to make it my ‘special’ place.
3 Aways use a timer so you’re not second guessing the time
4 Use music if you like
5 Use an app (like headspace or calm) or try my guided meditation
I hope you find the many benefits of meditation bless your life and bring you peace and happiness. With love, Miranda. X