Meditation: why you need to start. With tips to help, that actually work!
Winter is often associated with hibernation - as the cold, dreary, grey days drag on and you huddle on the couch under a blanket, hesitant to leave the house, the only new thing that might seem enticing to take up, is another series on Netflix. It is hardly surprising that feelings of loneliness or anxiety spike during the winter months too. Couple the desire to hibernate and having lived through a global pandemic for nearly 18 months and you have the perfect recipe for starting an inward-focused, mental wellbeing-promoting, life-changing practice. The practice of meditation!
Make meditation be the new thing you try this winter. It will serve you well during this time, a time when you need it most.
In his book; Think Like a Monk Jay Shetty says; "The only thing that stays with you from the moment you're born until the moment you die is your breath...When you learn to navigate and manage your breath, you can navigate any situation in life."
Meditation is a practice during which you aim to quieten the fluctuations of your mind. Focusing your attention on your breath and using breathwork is a method by which you can cultivate an awareness of your thoughts, emotions and dated or limiting beliefs aka the fluctuations of your mind. This in essence is what it takes to meditate.
The benefits of mediation are countless, and when you consider the quietening of your mind, naturally, some of these benefits would include mental clarity and an emotionally calm and stable state.
In theory, meditation sounds super simple. But let's be real, if it were that easy then we'd all be doing it right? We'd all be like monks; meditating in a cave and reaching enlightenment, bliss, samadhi, nirvana or whatever you'd like to refer to it as. We would all be calm and less influenced by our emotional state, meaning we'd be less stressed and anxious. We would be thriving in life.
Evidently, this is not the case. Never before in our existence, as humans, have we ever been more stressed out, anxious and depressed. Proving that sitting alone, in stillness, with our thoughts and quietening our minds is not as simple as it seems.
Or is it?
I believe that meditating doesn't feel like a simple idea because we are so used to being at the mercy of our ego. We live life with our monkey minds as the ruler. We are governed by our emotions, our thoughts and limiting beliefs.
We also exist in a world of metrics, where the need to do tasks right overtakes just doing the task for enjoyment. We fail to reap the benefits and enjoyment of tasks as our nature deems any task which is not outcome-based or where no perfection can be reached, redundant. Or a waste of time. Therefore, without allowing time to practise, we decide that we are no good at the task.
When I was at school I never learned anything about how my mind works. I certainly didn't know anything about my monkey mind - and would, no doubt, have been perplexed at the concept that there was a monkey in my mind?!
I had no idea that tools and techniques existed to help me navigate the inner workings of my mind to find more peace, calm, space, clarity, joy and fulfilment in life.
I believe that most of us exist in life, with the same lack of knowledge as what I had. Until I started to meditate and become aware of how I could alter my state of being this is how I'd lived for most of my life. Completely unaware - ruled by my mind, thoughts, beliefs and ego. I consistently felt stressed out and exhausted. I was burnt out. It felt like I existed without any meaning and disconnected from myself. I played the blame gain of others and my circumstances when things didn't go according to plan.
After years of what's felt like I've been scrounging up titbits of information here and there, I've slowly learned about my mind and started to understand the types of things I can do to improve my mindset, change my belief system, and find inner peace. These learnings have come from various lived experiences - roles I'd held as a salesperson and people leader. From conferences, events and keynotes I've attended. From reading self-development books and listening to podcasts. But mostly my learnings have come from the mat and my practice of yoga. Yogic philosophy teaches that the entire practice of yoga is dedicated to preparing the physical body for long periods of stillness - that being - meditation. As stated in Patanjali's Sutras, Sutra 1.2 states - "The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga."
On the creation of a daily ritual of meditation, without an attachment to whether or not I was doing it right, I started to realise the life-changing benefits.
Meditation will change your life too. It's a bold call but I believe that it is a life skill that needs to be taught in school just like reading. There is a caveat though - and that is - it takes time. But when you learn how to be the driver of your mind, that you are not your emotions, your thoughts or your beliefs that is when you start to experience true liberation.
Often though we don't get further than the "quieten your mind" bit and we give up, which is why as a teacher of meditation I want to share a practical list of "do's and don'ts" that will give you the best chance of creating a habit from this practice so that you can reap the benefits.
If you're just starting and the concept of meditation is new to you, or you meditate often, some of the below tips should resonate I hope.
- Expect your mind to stop its thoughts.
Yes, this sounds contradictory as the whole idea of meditating is to quieten the mind. However, here is the thing, you can never stop your thoughts! You just become more aware of them and become able to observe them without getting involved in them.
Know that your thoughts will race through your head and getting involved in or following each train of thought is what the monkey mind does best. A lifetime of unconsciously doing this has created a habit. To undo and unlearn a lifetime of conditioning takes more than a 10-minute meditation. Be patient and kind with your mind.
Do your very best each time to observe your thoughts without judgement and let them pass, returning to focusing your attention on your breath.
Imagine mind as a train station and each thought as a train - if you were at your normal station heading home from a day's work you wouldn't jump on every single train as it passed would you? Therefore you don't need to jump on every thought either.
- Obsess over whether you're doing it right?
You're missing the point if you're thinking this. There is no right or wrong, meditation is a practice. The practice is to give up any attachment to the desired outcome. With regular practice, we evolve and make progress.
- Get comfy.
You do not need to sit cross-legged with your thumb and forefinger touching (known as a mudra) to meditate.
But the idea is to keep your spine in alignment. Shutting down your eyes and holding the hand mudras are designed to help you feel centred and draw your attention and awareness inward.
A pillow or a yoga block prop popped under your bottom will tilt your pelvis to a position that can feel more comfortable sitting cross-legged in. However, if you'd rather sit kneeling or on a chair with your feet firmly grounded then do it. If you prefer to have your back supported, be laying down, or sitting in a swing, that's ok! I always find that I enter a meditative state when I run long distances...ok, that is probably only me!
Remember there is no right or wrong.
- Practise regularly.
The more you meditate the more you will reap the benefits, simple.
I'd be lying if I said when I started I was able to meditate daily without fail. It took me over a year of trying different things before I finally settled into a ritual that worked for me (nowadays I do practice every day for a minimum of 10-15mins - some days twice a day).
When I first started I'd try to meditate most days but some days that would be me just becoming conscious of my breath, centring myself and getting present in the moment.
By releasing our attachment to the "shoulds", the outcomes and the so-called rules we can find time to invite the practice of meditation into our lives at any moment. In cultivating the ability to become still - slowly we become more able to experience the results.
As mystic Rumi puts it - 'The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.'
Author bio: Founder of Slow Coaching Co. Nikki Tiedeman a mindfulness coach, teacher of meditation and yoga works with successful professionals and solopreneurs who are ready to quit burnout and busy. She enables them to slow down, regain balance, their connection to self and shift from 'just' surviving to thriving in life.