Many of my students say meditation is not for them. “My mind is just too active, I can’t do it," is a common refrain.
I used to feel the same way.
But here’s the thing: the biggest myth about meditation is that you are aiming to still the mind. You’re not. The brain is designed to think and you cannot stop it from doing so. The aim of meditation is to strengthen your attention.
When we meditate, its not about sitting still and attempting to clear the mind and zen out. Instead, what we do is sit, focus on a constant such as the breath and whenever thoughts come, which they will, we acknowledge them and gently move them away and go back to focusing on the breath. Then new thoughts flood in, and we do the same thing again and again and again.
In time you will start to strengthen your attention muscle with this practice, and in so doing will begin to reap the benefits to your everyday life: including stress reduction, pain relief, increased focus and better quality of sleep.
Meditation helps you to gain control over your thoughts. The more you’re able to let go of the mundane thoughts and memories that pop in your head during meditation: “What’ll we have for lunch?” “Remember that time we went to that beach?” the more you will realise you’re separate from your thoughts. This becomes helpful when you’re feeling anxious or stressed because you’ll become better at observing those unhelpful thoughts and emotions and allow them to trail off and evaporate, rather than letting them overwhelm you. You start to realise thoughts are just thoughts and you become the boss of your brain – and that’s pretty empowering stuff!
From a yoga perspective, meditation is one of the limbs in Patanjali’s eight-limbed path to spiritual enlightenment. In fact, Patanjali says, “Yogas citta vrtti nirodha” which means the whole point of yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
The nerdy writer in me thinks the clue to all this is in the semantics. We don’t say yoga is having a still mind. It’s the cessation of the fluctuations. It’s an action, so the work, the practice of training the brain to be aware of our thoughts, is the yoga.
And its the same with meditation. It's a practice.
My advice is to go slowly. When you want to run a marathon, you don’t immediately head off on a 20-mile training run. Start small. Sit for one minute focusing on your inhale and exhale. You could do this anywhere - even on the loo! Then build up to two minutes and eventually five. Five minutes a day is plenty and we can all find five minutes in our day somewhere, somehow, to sit with ourselves without distractions.
The trick is to make a healthy habit of it by incorporating it into something you already do ritualistically. Perhaps your first cup of coffee in the morning. Sit with it, take a sip, close your eyes and really focus on the taste of the coffee in your mouth. Mindfully drinking your coffee is a form of meditation. Mindfully noticing the warm water in your shower is a form of meditation. Mindfully sipping a chilled Chablis on a hot summer’s evening is a form of meditation (kidding…although not really). Any time you’re training your awareness muscle is meditation.
Most practitioners advise doing it first thing in the morning as it will set you up for the day, but if you have young kids who get up at the crack of dawn this isn’t always possible. If it’s hard to find those five minutes at the start of the day, you could do it at lunchtime or before you go to bed at night.
The biggest hurdle to a meditation practice is actually doing it. It’s like going for a run. Just do it! The more you do it, the easier it will be. And you’ll soon feel better for it.
A SIMPLE BREATHING MEDITATION
Lie on your back and place one hand on your chest and one on your belly.
1 Begin to inhale and exhale deeply through the nose.
2 On each inhale, fill your belly up with your breath. Expand your belly with air like a balloon.
3 On each exhale, expel all the air out from your belly through your nose. Draw your belly button back towards your spine to make sure that your belly is empty of air.
4 Repeat this deep belly breathing for about five breaths. This is part one.
5 On the next inhale, fill the belly up with air. Then when the belly is full, draw in a little more breath and let that air expand into the rib cage causing the ribs to widen apart.
6 On the exhale, let the air go first from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together, and then from the belly, drawing the belly button back towards the spine.
7 Repeat this deep breathing into the belly and rib cage for about five breaths. This is part two.
8 On the next inhale, fill the belly and rib cage up with air. Then sip in just a little more air and let it fill the upper chest, all the way up to the collarbone, causing the area around your heart space to expand and rise.
9 On the exhale, let the breath go first from the upper chest, allowing the heart centre to sink back down, then from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together. Finally, let the air go from the belly, drawing the belly button back towards the spine.
10 Continue at your own pace, eventually coming to let the three parts of the breath happen smoothly without pausing.
11 Continue for about 10 breaths, keeping your mind focused on the different parts of your body as you breathe.
If you find it hard to concentrate and don't feel like paying to subscribe to an app try this FREE FIVE-MINUTE GUIDED MEDITATION