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Meditation has been making headlines everywhere in recent years. Suffering from high blood pressure? Try meditation. Sleeping badly? Meditation. Indigestion, sleeplessness, tiredness, depression; have you tried meditation?
Reports have suggested there are benefits for people suffering from depression and anxiety. It’s even been linked to preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, but even for more common issues like “handling stressful situations” – we all have those, right? – and improving our powers of attention and memory.
It’s like a daily health check and workout for our brain.
I never had time for that. I was busy! But that didn’t stop every friend and doctor from recommending meditation to me for seemingly every condition.
Sooner or later, I was bound to try it.
And you know what? I liked it! Nothing special to start with, it was just sitting quietly for 5 or 10 minutes, either focussing on breathing or with my mind wondering – I didn’t think I was doing it right, but I enjoyed those minutes of peace. I found myself looking forward to my meditation time; I started making time for it and looking into whether in fact I was doing it right, and how I could do it better.
Today meditation is part of my daily routine and I’ve been enjoying the benefits of this ancient practice for a number of years. Anything might happen in my day to up-end my plans, but I will always make time for it, and I’m so glad. Let me tell you why.
What is meditation?
Meditation is seemingly simple. Starting with a deep breathing exercise allows you to calm and concentrate the mind. People joke about “emptying your mind”, but in reality, most meditation is about filling your mind! You want to achieve full awareness, not awareness of nothing.
In doing so you should gain perspective. The awareness of your body and of each of your thoughts and feelings, and why you think and feel them can be enlightening and liberating. It frees me from negative thoughts and thats where real physical relaxation can come from. I feel it every day with every deep breath as the tension leaves my body.
I admit that I found it unsettling at first.
Sometimes the 10 minutes passes very slowly, sometimes I feel I’ve hardly sat down! Sometimes my mind races over hundreds of thoughts and it’s a struggle to focus, and sometimes not.
Practicing every day is key. It really is like a muscle, and just like every other workout, when that muscle gets stronger it’s amazing how a workout doesn’t leave you feeling tired, it leaves you energised! This workout can increase your sense of spiritual peace and leave you with a greater sense of connection with yourself and your surroundings.
I eventually turned to meditation to help me deal with the ongoing symptoms of perimenopause. I was so often feeling tired and rundown, uncomfortable in my body and my surroundings, sometimes anxious and sometimes depressed: it was awful. The entire world – including my body! – was conspiring to make my life difficult!
I was at my wit’s end when my doctor suggested – not for the first time! – that I try meditation. I said “fine, I’ll try.”
Everything starts with a bit of research…
I don’t know about you, but I’m a researcher! When I’m starting some new habit I want to know that I’m starting it correctly, and thankfully there’s a lot of help and advice out there. The books I found to be most useful were these ones:
My Spanish readers are in for a real treat! The last author I found really helpful as I began my adventure into mindfulness and meditation was Mario Alonso Puig, who hasn’t been extensively translated into English.
Luckily, I think my favourite book of his has been translated (although it might be out of print). Reinventing Yourself – as it’s been translated; Reinventarse in the original Spanish – really centred me at a time when I felt adrift.
Each of these books gave me perspectives on my mental health that were new to me and encouraged me to think about mindfulness and self care in new ways.
So you want to skip to the basics?
OK, well from my research and now having practiced mediation on my own for several years, these are the things that I have learned, which I hope will help you too!
These are the top points you need to keep in mind to get started:
- Start by setting aside 5 to 10 minutes every day. Try to keep your meditation times regular; if you’re able to get into a rhythm, it will be easier to form a habit that you’ll stick to!
- Find a private, comfortable and quiet place, again somewhere you’ll be able to access each day, at least when you’re starting out.
- I found it really helpful to have a “meditation space” to use each day, even if it was just the same sunny corner of my bedroom. Not having to think about where you’ll meditate is simplifies everything, and giving the whole process a sense of ritual really helps me to set this time apart from the rest of my schedule.
- Don’t worry if this space isn’t completely silent. Who has a place like that every day? It’s important that there will be no distractions, so no sudden noises will really help. Luckily my room is perfect for this: there’s not too much light and the noise from outside tend to be low and constant.
- Wear comfortable clothes! It sounds obvious, but it’s important that you’re comfortable. No tight belts or pinching shoes!
- Try to eat about an hour before your meditation. This may not be so important for you, but for me, I’ve found my focus and comfort is at its best when I’ve eaten recently, but not too recently. You don’t want to spend the whole session either daydreaming about lunch or digesting it! We’re all about promoting focus!
- Now, assume the position: I like the traditional “lotus” pose – sitting on the ground with my legs crossed, back straight and hands relaxed. If that’s not comfortable for you, don’t worry! I know lots of people who prefer to meditate while sitting in a chair. That’s fine! Just make sure you’re sat forward on the chair, with your feet flat on the ground and back straight. No slouching! It’s important to keep the lungs open; remember that it’s important to be comfortable to avoid distraction, but we’re not looking to relax, we’re looking to focus!
- So, you’re ready, you’re seated, and comfortable; with your hands on your knees, close your eyes and start with a series of calm, deep breathes. Breath in to fill your lungs completely, hold only for a count of a few seconds, and then exhale slowly and with control until you completely empty your lungs.
- Try counting slow seconds in your mind. Nothing about meditation is a race. Bring all of your focus onto your breathing.
- Keep your focus on your breathing. Let the noises fade away. If you find your attention drifting, simply bring it back. There’s no right or wrong, and you’ll get better and staying in this moment.
- When you’re feeling comfortable, confident and focussed – don’t expect this will be in your first, second or even third meditation session; it will be when you’re ready – practice your focussed awareness by scanning your body, checking in with each limb, level and organ. I’ve heard some teachers describe this as being like a Xerox: imagine yourself moving down your body, line-by-line, feeling for any discomfort, any pain, any tension or concern. This is a lovely exercise for being aware and in the moment.
- As you find anything, whatever it is, see it, acknowledge it, and let it go.
- When you’re ready, find time to consider your concerns and anxieties. I find the breathing and awareness exercises really help to give space and objectivity, so that, when I come to consider my worries I’m able to view them from a calm perspective. Same as I do when scanning my body, I scan my mind, see the things that are living largest there and I can acknowledge them without fear or shame. I can release them, apologise – to myself or a person I might have misjudged – without laying any fresh accusations. This is creating a safe space within yourself! Keep the focus on yourself, in the present.
- If your mind wanders, follow it, see where and gently bring it back. Be patient and try to maintain alertness. It sounds strange, but the more comfortable and confident you become with mindfulness and meditation, the more you’ll come to appreciate your brain as another powerful organ in your body, but it’s not all of you. Your mind has moods separate to your own, and a personality all its own, and the more you learn it and interact, the better you’ll be able to work with it in facing any problems that confront you!
The beginning can seem slow. Some days you’ll feel like you’re just sitting in a room with your eyes closed, and that’s ok. Keep working at it. Follow the steps and advice here and in the books above.
And most importantly: keep at it every day!
With consistency you will achieve your goal!
MEDITATION & MINDFULNESS – A GIFT FOR PRESENT & FUTURE HEALTH!
Aside from space and practice, there are some things that can help to set the mood and establish a space and “ritual” that works best for you.
I like to use calm, soft music sometimes. Preferably instrumental or even something with nature sounds (like waterfalls!); I usually choose piano or pan pipes, but there are limitless types of music to choose from. If you think that going this route will help you, then keep in mind that it’s not about the music: you don’t want something that is going to take you attention. It needs to be something that sets a mood and then disappears into…nothing at all.
Candles and incense can really help too. A sense of ritual and mood can really help you to lay the foundation of bringing your mind into the moment. And the scents have genuine, therapeutic purposes too.
These are some of my favourites:
Wax Oils: These candles are so bright and fresh. I love the aroma of melon cucumber, and since they are oil based, the aroma is rich, deep and long lasting.
Soy Candles: These soy-based candles are very sweet and simple, and fill any space with a natural aroma. It is impossible not to breathe deeply when these candles are burning.
La Jolié: Appropriately name “Muse”, this blue lotus scented candle is made to travel with you.
I love being able to take this with me when I’m away from home. It gives me a way of connecting to my meditation habit even when I’m away from my usual surroundings, and that can often be when we need it most.
Satya Sticks: I love these incense sticks. Their variety and freshness are fantastic. Whatever mood I’m in (and the mood I want to be in!), these help me find my way there.
Irish Sensari Sticks: If you’re looking for a richer, earthier aroma, these sticks that were sent to me from Ireland and amazing! If you’re the kind of person who enjoys the smell of camp fires or bonfires, you must try these fantastic sticks!