Meditation is a powerful tool that helps us to feel more comfortable in ourselves, more calm, more in control and at peace. And yet many of us struggle to build a regular practice or find a technique that enables us to sit in stillness. As we rush around our busy days, constantly bombarded, it’s sometimes hard to think we have time to just sit and do nothing. Yet this always on, high intensity culture is causing tens of thousands of us each year to report increased levels of stress, fatigue, burnout, and an inability to slow down.
The long term benefits of meditation, on both stress and wellbeing have been widely documented. But in my experience the best evidence you can be shown is to feel its impact in yourself…
Why meditation IS for you!
So you have a regular yoga practice, but meditation isn’t your thing? That’s what I thought for so long! But did you know that in one of the key yoga philosophy texts Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the only pose mentioned is seated meditation? Our yoga practice was designed to remove physical obstacles in the body, to prepare us and enable us to sit for long periods in stillness. So can we really call ourselves Yogi’s if meditation isn’t part of our practice? Meditation is many different things to many different people. It can be found in movement as well as through stillness, through many techniques and no two individuals meditation practices are the same.
I tried many, many times as I deepened my yoga practice to start meditating. Always finding it a challenge and to be honest thinking that I wasn’t doing it right, I couldn’t do it, or it wasn’t for me. I used to get pain in my hips, my back, and get anxious trying to find this peaceful place of no thought I had heard about never being able to find it. I would force myself to sit, try to think of nothing, and instead get distracted or frustrated convinced it wasn’t for me. I found sitting completely contrary to what I had been told to expect.
But then I found a technique that reshaped my entire experience and one day something just clicked. I started to enjoy the process of sitting, finding clarity and a sense of calm and more time through my day following my practice. I started to look forward to my time in my seat. I had found the style of meditation that helped me to ease into the space and I had given myself enough time to drop practicing to move past the frustration and into the stillness the other side. One of my teachers used to talk about the calmness of meditation being behind the clouds of doubt, frustration and discomfort. You just have to wait and they will clear.
Meditation once you have built it into your routine is like brushing your teeth. What keeps you coming back is both the knowledge that it is great for your health and the fact that it feels good. So good in fact that you start to feel icky when you miss it from your day!
Tips to set up your practice
- Routine is key – Choose a time that you can meditate every day – the easiest time for most people is when they wake up. Make it a part of your ritual and set a reminder for each day.
- Sacred space – find a special space and meditate there each day, your sanctuary. It could be a corner of a bedroom, a cupboard, a space in the lounge. But make it somewhere where you can be undisturbed for the duration of your time there.
- Position – Find a comfortable position. For most of us Lotus pose as shown in meditation images isn’t an option and even if it is can you honestly say its not distracting to sit in! Pad yourself with cushions, blankets, whatever works for you but allow the spine to be straight and seat bones to be grounded – chairs are great too especially if you have knee or hip injuries.
- Timer – Now set a timer. The biggest distraction is wondering how long you have left, so use a timer so there’s no need to worry and you can give your full focus to the practice itself. I use a meditation app called Insight Timer but there are many on the market so try them and find one that resonates with you.
- It’s personal – There is no right or wrong way to meditate! Only the way that works for you. Try lots of different methods and don’t be afraid to adjust and make it’s yours. If you need help there are hundreds of free apps out there to help you (and one technique below so keep reading).
- Practice – meditation is a practice not a perfection – you will be distracted, your mind will wander, and when it does bring it back and start again without judgement. This is the meditation practice this drawing back to centre! With time you will notice you get less distracted, but whatever happens you are doing it right. You may have periods when you forget, when your practice falls away. When this happens, start bringing it back into focus. No practice is ever wasted!
My favourite technique is a mindfulness meditation technique and one of the simplest – Anapanasati or watching the breath.
Choose a part of your body where you can feel the movement and sensations of the breath. It could be a nostril, the nasal passage, the chest. Focus your attention there and watch. Observe the breaths depth its quality, its sensations. Maybe you can feel movement of the hairs on the skin as you breathe. Focus here, maybe adding a count internally to the breath if this helps, and every-time you feel the mind wandering (which it will), take your attention softly back to this place on the body and observe once again. Stay in this process until you here your timer, softly blink open your eyes and move into your day. Noting as you practice any shifts or changes in how you feel or react to challenge following your practice.
Taking the challenge!
They say it takes adults 21 days to create a new habit so here’s my challenge to you… for 21 days, try just 5 mins a day and see how you get on and how you feel. Noticing any changes in energy levels, reactions, irritation, joy and everything in-between. Make it yours, experiment find a style and a routine that works for you and gets you excited to find your seat. Now all there is to do is close the eyes and sit.
I would love to know how you get on so come and chat to me in class at More Yoga Lewisham on Mondays or Tuesdays or find me and message on social media – @yogahiveuk
by Robyn McLaren