So, the subject of this post I think is something that a lot of people can relate to: how to begin to Balance and Calm the Mind. This is, I believe, a never-ending and constantly changing journey. For me, this Journey began with finding Yoga at Bikram Yoga Chiswick , and something that Fed says during class really stuck with me from the beginning:
“Hatha Yoga is the perfect Balance between Action and Rest:
Ha – the sun, action; and Tha – the moon, rest.”
In the early days of my practice (back in 2007, what!!?), I was there for the changes it would make to my body, through the Action, everything else was secondary. I really just cared about how I looked, not how I felt, or what was going on inside my body and mind. Over time, as I began to practice more, I began to improve my patterns of thinking and my strength of mind began to grow. However, for me, the most profound changes I have seen have all started happening within the last year. And this is because I have started Meditating. Now, the entire 90 minute Bikram Yoga class is a “moving meditation”, where the mind is kept still and clear through focusing just on the words of the teacher (at least that is the idea…it’s REALLY Hard to stay focused when someone let’s one rip, or a teacher says something weird! Laughing in yoga is the BEST! Laughter Yoga, even better; if you haven’t tried it you must…but I digress), but I didn’t take my Meditation outside the hot room until last year.
So, First Things First! What is Meditation?
For a lot of people I know “meditation” sounds scary, like something only true “hippies” do. Fortunately, the practice of Yoga opens it up to so many of us. But even for me, I wasn’t even really sure WHAT exactly Meditation really was until this time last year, and I definitely did not feel it was something I needed.Stated most simply, Meditation is the practice of deep concentration of the mind. There are generally two types of meditation:
- Focused attention (where you focus on a word/saying/breath/image)
- Mindfulness (where you try to be aware of everything you experience (thoughts and physical sensations) without Judgement. A typical meditation consists of focusing your full attention on your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind and, little by little, to let go of struggling with them.
How can Meditation help you?
I found meditation when I absolutely needed to, or rather, it found me, through a truly amazing woman called Ornella. Ornella was my bereavement counsellor for 3 months. I was going through a traumatic time and this was manifesting itself all over my body:
Every single thought and emotion you have generates an effect. Emotional tension can affect local blood circulation, so that the tissues are deprived of local blood supply, not enough to damage cells/nerves, but the body will create pain. Stomach issues are massively about your emotions. We tend to protect the front of our bodies, by hunching forwards. It is so rare to open up into the front of the body, the throat, heart, stomach, hips, that this is where negative feelings and stress can hide, but it can be so liberating to start trying to release these feelings! You can start to do this through focusing on your breath to deliver oxygen effectively around the entire body to lower stress to the body and mind. This posture is also lovely: (lay on back with legs open and arms wide, head tilted back, and BREATHE):
Meditating can positively impact both your physical body, and your mind. I can attest to this personally – if I am feeling anxious I meditate. The result for me is my heart rate calms down, my mind slows, I feel calmer, clear-headed and better able to continue my day. If you are someone who needs the science, there are studies out there that actually prove this. For example, in 1991, the Dalai Lama leader asked professor Richard Davidson whether he would like to study the effect meditation had on the brain. The neuroscientist’s study led to the ground breaking discovery that activities like meditation can in fact “train” the mind to react to situations with positive emotions.
“changes circulations in the brain that are critical for the development of emotion. [Thus,] characteristics like happiness and compassion are skills that can be trained.”
Building on his research on the connection between meditation and mental health, Davidson said he is now studying how meditation and other spiritual practices relate to physical health.
“We’ve shown that those circuits [that can be affected by meditation] are also related to parts of the body that are important for physical health,”
There is also a lot of research out there surrounding “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction”, a program that combines meditation with yoga, so that the benefits of both can be felt simultaneously. It has been shown to help make the amygdala less reactive – this is the part of the brain that stimulates our natural flight or fight response – meaning we become more emotionally stable. Practicing mindfulness, and being present, helps to break the chain of everyday thinking and help our minds to form new ways of thinking, creating habit that is so much more likely to lead to Positive Thinking and a stronger mind.
Truly Just Being is hard. Don’t underestimate that.
My bereavement counsellor Ornella helped me see that I always want to try to help people, and am very hard on myself (my Boss Ian once said in a sales meeting to us all “You lot are all getting a swear jar, apart from Katie – you are getting a Sorry jar!”) and that really is me to a T! Actually, as I write this, I am thinking of so many things that I have started to understand about myself recently; wearing my heart on my sleeve, I am highly sensitive to people and situations and for a long time I felt that was a terrible thing and something that I needed to try to change, but my amazing friend Vera, and Ornella, helped me to understand that this was OK. Yes I cry easily (SO easily!), yes I am sensitive, yes I want to help people, Yes I believe that all you need is love; but that is OK! Because it is me. Self-acceptance is so hard. It is natural to try to judge ourselves, but by training your mind, and beginning to change the patterns of thinking you can start to let go and realise there is a place inside you of quiet confidence, where you do not judge yourself and you are truly in the moment, just Being and Living Your Life. Just like my Mallorcan sheep on holiday recently!! I observed how they were content in every moment, I learnt (after research) that sheep cannot “do”, only “be” – they have no choice but to be TRULY present and they were just so content.
How did I begin my Meditation?
On Ornella’s advice, I started sitting quietly, on my own, for 15 minutes every day, and just thinking about whatever popped into my head and focus on my breath. Bringing the breath into consciousness through meditation allows you to begin to control and expand your life force, you learn to consciously breath (something most people do completely unconsciously – thank goodness for that really! You do not want to forget to breath! :-)). In a world where we are constantly required to do ten things at once, meditation and connecting with your breath brings clarity of mind and focus.This was the very beginnings of my meditation practice, and I cannot tell you how much good it began to give me in a very short space of time. It was MY TIME. Then my amazing friend Briar bought me this book, and I began learning even more………..
So, what are the Benefits of Meditation?
There are loads of reported benefits of Meditation out there – below are just some of them!
- reduced stress and anxiety
- increased creativity and intelligence
- reduced depression
- increased learning ability, moral reasoning and memory
- reduced irritability and moodiness
- feelings of vitality and rejuvenation
- increased emotional control
- increased self-esteem
- increased alertness
- improved relationships
- improved concentration
- may help lower blood pressure
- prevented, slowed or controlled pain of chronic disease
- boosted immune system
- lowered cholesterol levels
- improved airflow
- younger biological age
Learning To Let Go…..
“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and let others move forward with it.” Ray Bradbury
I learnt from my time with my counsellor, through my journey beginning to meditate, that if anything happens again in my life that really floors me to think, “what is the absolute worst that can happen, and what will that mean for me?” I am still constantly learning to let go of things, and not carry everything around with me. It helps me move beyond thinking about whether my thoughts are “good” or “bad”, to a place of quiet acceptance, where there is no conflict in my mind. I talk about positive thinking a lot, and positive psychology – that is a choice I make for myself. I don’t try to remove negative thoughts if they arise, (which they do!!) – I just recognise them, and just accept that is the way I am thinking today.BUT I definitely DO make a conscious effort and decision to start every day with a positive mantra, even something as simple as “today is going to be a good day”. It REALLY helps me, and frees my mind.
There is research out there that proves positive psychology works – happiness breeds happiness and happy, positive people create that type of thinking, and attract those types of people, around them.
Still Interested In Meditation? If so here are some tips on how to begin!
Remember – stated most simply Meditation is the practice of deep concentration of the mind. I believe to start out with focusing on something really helps – whether that be your breath, a word, something you want to achieve through your meditation like Calm, Peace, Love; a picture of something that symbolises your word.
Find somewhere comfy you won’t be disturbed, and get comfy. You don’t need to sit uncomfortably, cross-legged, to get the benefits of meditation. You can sit upright on a chair, or even lay down.
Start Small: aim for 5-10 minutes
Try to practice every day
Try for the same time each day:First thing in the morning is a nice time to practice, but if not, just try for a similar time each day
Expect that you will think! It is your minds job to think after all, ,so it would be weird if it didn’t. With time and practice any thoughts will begin to fall to the side easier.
Apps like “Headspace” are great to introduce you to it, also there are lots of guided ones out there, where someone talks you through exactly what to do. “Meditation Oasis” have some lovely ones (recommended by my lovely friend Payel!)
Or, you can try the below:
10 Minute Guided Meditation
- Set yourself up in your quiet space and set a timer for 5-10 minutes. Put your phone on do not disturb mode!!
- To begin, you will sit with your eyes open, a soft gaze in front of you. Take some big, deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Begin to feel your body relax, and go heavy, let any tension melt away
- as you exhale away your 4th or 5th breath, close your eyes softly and start breathing through your nose. This begins to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the involuntary nervous system that serves to slow the heart rate.
- You can then continue to focus on your breaths, counting each inhale and exhale up to 10, and then starting again; or focus on your word (like Love, Calm, Peace) or image.
- as and when thoughts come up, you can just let them wash over you and know that you will return to them later, for now you are in YOUR TIME.
- Keep breathing like this until your timer is up.
- When the timer goes off, open your eyes softly, bring yourself back into the space around you, have a stretch, congratulate yourself!! And notice how calm you feel 🙂
There is also a lovely poem I like to think about when I meditate sometimes, I will be recording a reading of this later tonight.
So, I will leave this here. I hope that you find this useful.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”- Buddha