I used to think meditation was incredibly boring. I knew it was supposed to be good for me, but it felt like such a waste of time. I always have about a hundred important things on my to do list, so I can’t afford to sit around just doing nothing, can I?
A crucial part of my daily life
Over the past year or so, I have slowly come to see meditation as a crucial part of my daily life. In fact I really look forward to it, most days at least. And I honestly believe I am beginning to see and feel the benefits. I still have plenty of issues with anxiety and rushing around too much, but I am slowly getting better at enjoying just being alive in this beautiful world. I can enjoy simply being me. So what changed?
Yoga practice and meditation
For me, practising yoga has been a way into meditation. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, given that the physical practice of yoga asanas or poses was always supposed to be preparation for meditation. But why does it work? I think anything that makes you focus on your body and breath will help to settle the mind.
In yoga we take time lovingly to see the body as having its own value and meaning. The body doesn’t exist just to serve the mind. We are more than our mind. And this understanding allows the mind to stop feeling it has to take responsibility for everything all the time. The mind gets a chance to rest.
Resting the mind
I love the idea of meditation as a rest for my mind. The poor old mind gets exhausted, trying to stay on top of all the complexities of modern life. It needs to take a break – probably even more than the body does. Sometimes when I’m meditating I imagine my brain literally relaxing inside my skull and letting out a sigh of relief. Finally she’s giving me a few minutes off!
Finding the right time and place
It has really helped me to find special places for meditation. Beautiful spaces where I feel safe and able to let go. I have a little corner in the spare bedroom where I keep candles, a special picture, pebbles, cushions, a blanket and an aromatherapy diffuser. Everything is ready for me to just settle down and enjoy being here. I’ve also set up another meditation and yoga space in an old garden shed that I reclaimed from the kids a couple of summers ago. It’s such a treat to sit out here early on summer mornings, listening to the birds.
On the train to work
I also meditate on the train into London to work. This isn’t exactly a beautiful setting, but it’s a place I can sit down and close my eyes at the same time each morning. I don’t tend to chant or “om” loudly (I’m not that weird, or brave!). I just pop in my earphones and listen to some gentle sounds or a guided meditation on my phone. It’s a great way to begin a busy day.
Using apps and online meditation guides
I find various apps and guided meditations really helpful. I like to mix it up a bit and get fresh ideas on how to settle my mind. I have enjoyed Headspace, Calm and Ekhart Yoga. All these have some free introductory content, so you can give them a try and see what works for you. There are probably other good resources out there too. I also use a simple meditation timer app, which plays gentle sounds (I like the Japanese flute music) for a chosen length of time, and then sounds a gong when it’s time to end.
Is it a religious thing?
I think a lot of people are put off meditation because of religious connotations. Either they are not followers of any faith and fear it will be too religious; or they do have a faith, and worry that meditation may somehow dilute or compromise their beliefs. My understanding is that meditation is basically non-religious, because it is not an act of worship, and you don’t have to believe in God or a higher being to do it. However it is true that most faiths promote some form of meditation, contemplation or prayer. Probably this is because learning to calm and rest the busy mind can only enhance our awareness of whatever is greater than ourselves. So, my view is that, if you’re not religious, meditation is for you, and if you do have religious faith, meditation is for you too.
Why it helps
Meditation can improve your life in lots of ways. It reduces stress by calming the mind and removing agitation. It improves memory and concentration. It increases self-awareness, acceptance of self and others, and happiness. There is also evidence that practicing meditation encourages a healthier lifestyle, improves immunity to disease, and slows the aging process. Who wouldn’t want all that?
Meditation is really very simple. It is taking a little time to sit with myself, here and now. It is observing my mind and body and accepting whatever I observe. It is liberating. It might just be life changing.
Karen is a mother of seven and a trainee yoga teacher and health visitor. She lives in Billericay, Essex. She will shortly be teaching classes in gentle yoga, meditation, pregnancy yoga and postnatal yoga in the Billericay area. For more information visit http://thecalmspace.co.uk