Written by: Jenny Smith
What is meditation?
Meditation has recently become big business. Whilst it used to be practiced just by hermits in caves and monks in monasteries it is now widely accepted as a great self help tool for anyone who wants to reduce their stress levels. Meditation and stress is good to work together as it can help alleviate the symptoms and help with your mental wellbeing.
When you first look into what meditation is, you may find a bewildering array of information leaving you unsure of where to start. There is a spectrum of meditation techniques from the gentle to the intense, and whilst the ‘gung ho bulls in china shop’ people among us may want to jump right in at the deep end, the gentle and easier to learn techniques can be as affective in the long run.
Meditation is simply the act of bringing your attention into the present moment rather than being focused on thoughts of what is ahead or times that have passed. It settles your nervous system, which is the stress-response part of the body and is often recommended for people who experience anxiety or depression and it is a great resource for any age group.
Three very simple ways of trying meditation are to set a timer for five minutes and sit with your eyes closed. First method is to place your attention on the area of your body that you can feel your breathing the most strongly, such as your nostrils or your abdomen, and use this as your anchor point. Every time your attention wanders back to your thinking return it to the sensation of your breathing. A second approach is to count your in breaths in your mind and when you reach ten start again, similarly if you find your attention has wandered and you are counting into the thirties just go back to the beginning! Thirdly you can sit with your eyes open but focused gently on an external object such as a candle or a plant. Every time your attention wanders you can bring your focus back to what you are looking at. Overtime you can slowly increase the amounts of time that you spend meditating.
Being aware of your thoughts
Most teachers advise that you meditate little and often rather than trying big chunks of time occasionally. It’s is important that you create a supportive environment in order for your meditation practice to have the best chance of developing. A quiet uncluttered room or part of a room is ideal, somewhere that you won’t be disturbed, so either once your children are in bed or let them know that you are not to be disturbed for the next ten minutes.
If you have never consciously watched your thoughts before you may be a little surprised at how busy and repetitive the mind can be! It is not a sign that you are crazy, this is just what the mind does!
As in a glass of mineral water, bubbles and thoughts do just rise up and eventually pass away. If we blow into the glass of water with a straw, we will create a big messy pile of bubbles that may overflow, this is the same with our minds. If we give just focus on our thoughts, we add fuel to them until they threaten to become overwhelming.
Learning the art of meditation
At first some people find it very difficult to stay focused on their anchor and spend most of the meditation time just returning their attention. This is ok and very normal practice at the beginning, and sometimes later as well. Meditation gives you a great opportunity to practice self acceptance, kindness and a little humour about our poor little mind just trying to do its job!
There are lots of ways you can support your meditation through books, web sites and courses. Mindfulness Meditation is extremely popular with most towns and cities running courses over six weeks. A course like this will give you a great introduction and help you discipline yourself into regular practice.
Once you have started meditating you may want to experiment with bringing the same sort of approach to some of your daily activities. Lots of people choose something they do every day as a time to practice ‘being mindful’. Teeth cleaning or washing up are favourites! Same principle but just using the activity as the anchor to focus on. Kids respond to meditation really well and it has been shown to help with exam anxiety and general stress. Why not try meditative walks to school altogether!