I guess the first question to answer is what is meditation?
There are lots of definitions of what meditation is and one of my favourites is from mindfulness guru Jon Kabat- Zinn who describes meditation as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally”. This encompasses all the key elements of what a meditative practise sets out to achieve.
My definition of meditation is that it is a journey of discovery of ourselves and the world around us. By being still and in the moment, we can receive nourishment. Connecting with our sense of self, meditation helps to bring clarity and insight which allows us to heal and grow. Meditation helps us to let go of self-criticism and negative mind chatter and increases our capacity to love ourselves more and in doing so grows our ability to show kindness and compassion to others.
There are many types of meditation, mindfulness being the one that has exploded into our lives over the last few years. What has helped me, is to think of it as a practice, something you need to commit time to on a regular basis so that the benefits start to emerge. Think of it like doing some exercise. Your mind is a muscle and the more you exercise it the more you see and feel the benefits. Rather than improving your levels of physical fitness you are creating stillness in your mind and growing your awareness. As you create this space you are creating room for self-learning and development to happen.
You don’t need to invest hours a day to achieve this, it’s free and there is no need to invest in expensive kit. All you need is a quiet place where you can be still (or if you prefer you can meditate while you are out walking!). Just 10 minutes a day is enough time to start to build your practice and if you are struggling to find 10 minutes then all the more reason to start to meditate!
Here is a really simple practice using your breath as an anchor to start you on your journey…
You are probably already aware that you have a lot of thoughts rushing around in your head and when you start meditating you may be worried that you aren’t doing it right because you can’t stop all your thoughts and focus simply on your breath. The mind is constantly thinking, it is what it does, but it is this noticing of those thoughts and then bringing your attention back to the breath that is exactly what meditation is.
We simply pay attention to the thoughts – then let them go as we return our focus to the breath.
Be gentle with yourself and see if you can watch yourself with a bit of humour, curiosity and compassion, just allow yourself to be in the moment.
You may notice thoughts of frustration or irritability arising, you may think about what you are having for your tea later or that you have a meeting to rush to but they are just thoughts. Whatever thoughts arise simply notice them and then let them go in a kind gentle way.
Let’s get started…
Find a quiet space to sit where you will not be disturbed for 10 minutes and make sure you are warm and comfortable. The intention is not to fall asleep but to maintain an awake but relaxed state. Set a timer for 10 minutes and if it helps play some relaxing music quietly in the background.
Gently close your eyes or lower your gaze in front of you and start to focus on your breathing. Observe how the breath feels as it enters and leaves your body. When you become distracted by your thoughts, (which you will many, many times!), simply acknowledge them and bring your focus back to your breath.
If it helps start to count each in and out breath up to a count of 10 and then start to count again from 1, or, if you get distracted and lose count, simply start again.
When you finish take a moment to steady yourself. Wiggle your fingers and toes, become aware of the sounds around you and when you are ready gently open your eyes. Take a few moments to observe how you feel before you get back to your day
If you make time to do this practice for 10 minutes a day for a couple of weeks you will start to notice a difference. You may notice your head is less busy, that you fall to sleep more easily or that you feel less anxious.
There are some great apps out there to help support your journey, Headspace is a good one to start with or Insight Timer, have fun and play around to see what works best for you.