For a lot of us meditation is something that we know we probably should be doing...but let’s be honest it ends up in the category of ‘too hard’. This blog is all about taking away barriers that may be stopping you from taking up a meditation practice. We will also let you know some of the benefits of regular meditation.
Why Should We Meditate?
Before we address the ‘too hard’ thought, let’s establish why meditation is good for us. There is cold, hard science to prove the benefits. A series of studies by Professor Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School found meditation could help to lower blood pressure by making the body less responsive to stress hormones. It also reduces symptoms of PMS, eases chronic pain and fights insomnia. He also found that long-term practitioners of relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation had far more active ''disease-fighting genes''. Benson believes this research is pivotal because it shows how a person's state of mind affects the body on a physical and genetic level. But exactly how does meditation have such powerful physical benefits? Research shows that stress is linked the fight-flight response, meaning it activates the sympathetic nervous system. In this survival mode, the heart rate rises and blood pressure increases. The stress-hormones adrenalin and cortisol are also released. All this causes the body to abandon non-essential functions such as immunity and digestion. In contrast, the state of relaxation is linked to higher levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and the growth hormone which repairs cells and tissue. When you are relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system switches on, allowing the heart rate to slow and blood to flow freely to the body's tissues. This results in more nutrients and oxygen in the body which leads to better digestion, memory and immunity. If that is not enough to tempt you to meditate, it may actually make you even smarter. Studies have found that regular meditation practitioners have larger brains with more grey matter than those of people who never meditated!
Now back to the ‘too hard’ issue...
But...Meditation IS Hard Right? Wrong!
One reason why meditation may seem impossible is the belief that you must stop your thoughts or empty your mind completely. We are here to tell you that stopping thoughts is, well, impossible! Stopping the mind from thinking is just like trying to stop the sun from rising; it is just not going to happen. You may not be able to stop or control your thoughts, but you can decide how much attention to give them. It is through meditation we can find the quiet that already exists in the space between our thoughts. As Deepak Chopra says "this space between the thoughts is the window, is the corridor, is the vortex to the infinite mind". Other obstacles to meditation may include things like... not having the time, being overly attached to results, or thinking you are not doing it right.
Here are our 5 tips to help you start your own meditation practice.
1. Just start!
Sounds like a no-brainer right? In truth there is no great time to get started meditating, you are always going to be busy. So just start, but start small. Start with 10 minutes a day, if that seems like an eternity, try 5! Remember that even just a few minutes of meditation is better than none. Try not to talk yourself out of meditating just because it’s a bit late or you want to sleep in. To help you start you can use an app or a timer, it’s hard to let go if you have your eye on the clock, so meditate the 21st century way. You can use a stop watch or utilise one of the many apps out there; Headspace, Insight Timer, or the Mindfulness Bell are all meditation apps to name a few. Find one that works for you.
2. Be still...or not!
Meditation can take different forms, but at its centre it's about being really present and aware. You might like to find a comfortable seat on the floor, sitting upright on pillows, or sit on a chair, you may even prefer lying down.
But what if being still isn’t for you? Well MOVE. You can:
- Do an everyday task like brushing your teeth, having your morning cup of coffee, or taking a bath or shower. Choose a task and the next time you do it, focus on it. Bring your awareness to what you are doing using all your senses.
- Go for a walk, step out of your front door and simply walk. Focus on the feeling of each foot hitting the ground. If thoughts come to you, acknowledge them and then let them drift away.
- Do something creative, when we are engaging in an interest, hobby or passion, we are in fact, doing a form of meditation. Creating allows us to focus on what is in front of us and stops us from thinking about the past or worrying about the future.
- Listen to music, it is one of the most widely used (and rarely acknowledged) forms of meditation. Close the door, turn up your favourite tunes, listen and let your mind go!
3. Try different techniques
Eyes open or closed? You choose! If you have your eyes open you may want to focus on one object like a flower or candle. You could simply focus on your breathing. You could count the length of your in and out breaths, or count the number of breaths, or focus on the feeling of the air moving through the body. You could silently (or loudly!) repeat a mantra. Don’t forget, your yoga practice can be form of moving meditation. Next time, try really feeling the sensations that you’re experiencing instead of just moving from pose to pose without awareness. You could also try visualisation by picturing yourself in your favourite place, feeling completely safe and content.
4. Be kind (to yourself).
Forget about doing it right or failing, if you are having thoughts remember it's not easy to quieten the mind in today’s world. There will be days when it's going to feel like Hell. But even if you think you have ‘done it wrong’ by thinking throughout your entire meditation, be assured, you are still receiving the benefits of your practice.
5. Be consistent and keep trying
Make one time of the day your time to meditate, whether it is in the morning or evening or doing it during an everyday task. Keep it the same each day. If this doesn’t work, try and try again (and again!).
Just like anything worth your time, meditation is something that takes practice and dedication. But we are certain that if you do take the time, you will reap the benefits physically, mentally and spiritually. If our suggestions still haven’t convinced you, a great way to start is in a group or a class. You will be with like minded people, there is also peer support plus the added bonus of making new friends!
Book into a WW meditation class today, go on, you deserve it.
Western Wellness Team
(Your friendly neighbourhood yogis)