“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak…’ – Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati
For a lot of my life, meditation and I have had an on-again, off-again relationship.
I would sit in silence for long periods of time to quiet my anxiety and the second I felt better, I wouldn’t meditate for months on end. Just recently, I have started attending a 6 week meditation and mindfulness course which teaches week by week the benefits of meditation, how it can change your physiology, breathing techniques and how much power our thoughts have on our mental and physical state as we age in stress and tension.
My biggest take-away so far is learning that the practice of meditation is a lot like running a marathon. It is something that requires constant practice and the use of our mental muscles. If I was to suddenly stop training for a marathon and participated in one a month later, I would struggle. Meditation is very much the same way. My sporadic patterns of practicing were not really of any benefit to me in the long run because they weren’t consistent. In recent times, I have been meditating daily and purposely setting aside time for myself to sit in silence. By meditating just ten minutes a day, we can begin to reform the physiology in the brain and prevent a Stress Activation Response in the body from occurring.
Stress Activation Responses come from our primitive hunter-gatherer days when our bodies would alert us that a threat was approaching and we could use that adrenaline to fight or flee the scene. Unfortunately, as society has developed, this flight or fight response has begun to show up in our daily lives due to the impact our thoughts are having on our bodies. Humans now perceive imaginary threats due to the attachment they place on the millions of thoughts that come and go all day long. The good news is that Stress Activation Responses are preventable and reversible. Just by being mindful of our thoughts and not getting swept along with them, we can remain in the here and now which is the ultimate aim of meditation.
Since gaining this awareness, I am amazed and saddened at how often my mind and body are not aligned. I will drive somewhere and arrive at my destination without really remembering the journey or how I even got there. This means that my body was present but my mind was elsewhere. This example is indeed the antithesis of mindfulness. Our teacher pointed out how the majority of our thoughts have absolutely nothing to do with the present moment. We are either replaying an event that has already occurred or worrying about a future event that will more often than not even come to pass. The constant practice of meditation brings us back to the here and now which is where we should always strive to be.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they cannot meditate because they can’t stop their thinking. It is actually impossible to stop your thinking and you’re not even meant to try. Last night, a group of us sat in a circle and closed our eyes. Our teacher played a piece of music and asked us to try and drown out the melodies. As we tried, we noticed the music becoming louder and louder. We began to judge ourselves and feel frustrated. When we opened our eyes, she was smiling and said quite simply ‘that piece of music is your thoughts and if you try to stop them, they will just come in louder and more persistent.’
When we meditate, we should always come from a place of non-judgement and observation. We cannot stop our thoughts but we can observe them from a distance and let them pass without attaching ourselves to them. An analogy my teacher provided was to imagine you are sitting on the side of a highway and all the cars that are continuously speeding up and down are your thoughts. Your job is not to interrupt the traffic; your job is to watch them pass and let them be. Another good method is to label them with humour and awareness. For example, whilst meditating a thought about what you need to do once your time is up may enter your head. Use that awareness and understanding to say ‘hello future thought’ and let it pass. The same goes with replaying an old conversation in your head and thinking about what you should’ve said. Just by labelling it a ‘past thought’, you have taken back the hold and power that thought could potentially have over you and let it go. Just like a child throwing a tantrum, the less attention we give it, the more it will begin to quiet itself.
Mindfulness requires non-judgement, detachment and the ability to not react to whatever pops up while we go about our daily lives. I, like so many others, am a big multi-tasker and find it useful in getting multiple things done at work and at home. The problem with multi-tasking is that we are not being mindful when performing everyday tasks. If you eat your breakfast while checking your emails, you’re not really tasting and savouring the meal. If you listen to music whilst out walking you are not really absorbing the sounds of nature all around you. Mindfulness is about focusing on one task at one time by utilising your five senses and staying fully present in the moment. This is why so many people find gardening, cooking, painting and various other creative outlets meditative because they require the utmost attention and focus. It is difficult not to multi-task especially when you live in a fast-paced world but remember that your body is always here so your mind should be as well.
There are many ways to meditate and it’s important to find a method that works best for you. Typically, it’s better to meditate sitting up so you have less chance of falling asleep. It isn’t bad or wrong if you do fall asleep but it does sever the connection to the present moment. You can meditate to music, nature sounds, guided relaxations, silence or by simply counting the breath and returning your awareness to it whenever a thought tries to lead you astray. The most beneficial and healthy form of meditative breathing comes from the diaphragm. Breathing from the belly allows the brain and body to be fully oxygenated and function efficiently with little effort. When we breathe from the upper chest we are stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and releasing stress hormones that over time can be severely damaging to our health. The easiest way to perform diaphragmatic breathing is to place your hands on the belly whilst meditating and feel it expand and contract as you inhale and exhale. The simple action of moving with our breath can keep us in the present moment; relaxing all the muscles and joints in our bodies.
It sounds cliché but life is short and we should enjoy every minute of every day feeling as relaxed and unperturbed by our thoughts as possible. Mindfulness and meditation serve to align our body and breath as does yoga. We always find time to charge our phones so we should make time to charge ourselves and just ten minutes a day can leave you feeling peaceful and present.
If you need help getting started, Mindful in May begins next week and only asks that you take those ten minutes every day to sit in silence for the entire month. You are welcome to register and have friends and family sponsor you. All proceeds go towards bringing clean water to those in need or you can partake in the challenge privately.
Click this link for more information – http://www.mindfulinmay.org/
I welcome any feedback and comments from your own meditation experiences.
Peace and Love xxoo