Six simple steps to start practising meditation today
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Meditation is a tool that cannot be underestimated.
“Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
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FIRST, THE FACTS
If you are a logical person like me, statistics and science help. In 2011, Dr. Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard University found that mindfulness meditation could actually change the structure of the brain.
In just a few days of training, they found there was an improvement in concentration and attention
After eight weeks of meditation, it was found to increase learning and memory
Long-term, people who practised meditation had better-preserved brains than non-meditators at their age
People who had been meditating for an average of 20 years or more, had more grey matter volume throughout their brain
Meditation formed new connections in the brain allowing people to snap out of previous thought patterns, like mind-wandering typically associated with being less happy and worry about the future
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Yes. I am of Indian descent. But I was born in and grew up in England. I was more fish and chips for dinner than a spiritual human being, so don’t take my physical appearance as a given — “oh, another Indian person talking about the benefits of meditation”! I used to be a corporate Type A personality, and it was actually listening to business leaders that convinced me of the benefits of meditation!
I am no purist, and it did not come naturally to me — I had epic fails, and it took me over 15 years to figure it out! Now, I know how to make it as simple as possible to achieve success, and that’s what I want to share with you.
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First foray into meditation
(Yes I say “foray” because to me this felt like enemy territory!) 1996. I heard meditation is good for you, so I tried it out.
This self-criticising, self-defeating conversation with “My Brain” was my first experience with meditation. Every time I tried to meditate I couldn’t stop this persistent dialogue. I gave up. I mean, why bother?
Second foray into meditation
2005. Every leadership book I read said successful people incorporated meditation into their daily rituals. So perhaps I needed to try meditation again? …or not. After a couple of days of sitting, constantly distracted, worrying about career promotions, I stopped making time.
Third foray into meditation
2010. Stress was impacting my physical health. I put my back out for the first time in my life at 35! I needed to sort this out, but this time I would go to the professionals. An ashram in Rishikesh. (Hey! If it worked for the Beatles…!)
Being a bit of a cynic at the time, I instinctively steered clear of any ashrams that claimed I would find enlightenment in one week and found one that was run by an ex-marketer from the Netherlands and a yogi from India that promised to teach me how to create balance.
“If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.” — Ani Pema Chodron
DAY ONE. The meditation was…how do I put this? Painful.
For. Two. Hours. Straight.
When the session finally ended, I was angry and I was miserable. Over breakfast the next morning, I shared my disappointment and that if I couldn’t sit still for ten minutes, how on earth would I do it for two hours? What was I doing wrong? Was there a trick I was missing?
They smiled. They said my mind was playing tricks on me. Meditation was about sitting silently, sitting still, and quieting my mind and that’s all.
The important thing was to sit there and try. All the chatter was a signal of long-held stress, aches and pains, and sitting still would allow the mind and body to release those things.
Then came an important tip that changed my entire relationship with meditation. Acknowledgement.
If a thought came to me, I was instructed to stop fighting with it, to acknowledge it and then come back to the mantra. Don’t ignore it, don’t try to stop it, just acknowledge it and then move away from it. Okay. Right. Got it.
DAY TWO. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and started my meditation.
Woooooohooooooo! It worked.
I spent two whole hours acknowledging thoughts and letting them go. The dripping water, the growling stomach, the numb foot, the barking dog, the worry about the future, the self-criticism, it was still there, but I was able to take my focus back to the mantra every time a thought invaded my meditation space.
It wasn’t easy and my mind wandered more than once, but by the end of the two hours I felt…good!
This simple elegant solution of acknowledgement enabled me to sit through two hours without it feeling like some form of cruel punishment.
I was going to keep going.
DAY 10. Practice makes perfect.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” — Ram Dass
After one week of daily meditation, I sat perfectly still for two hours, mindful and present in my meditation. I could have screamed for joy — though that didn’t feel very ashram-like. By the tenth day at the ashram, I awoke with an overwhelming feeling of contentment and peace. Not a worry on my mind.
OVER TO YOU
You don’t need to go to an ashram to learn how to meditate. You have a unique opportunity right now, you are at home and have time on your hands. Yes, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney plus are tempting you, but just give yourself 10 minutes a day to start applying this tool in your life, and you will not regret it. I promise you.
Tips for successful sitting meditation
Get comfortable. Wear comfortable clothes, place a pillow under the sit bone if you are sitting on the floor, to create a straighter posture, and rest your hands on your knees.
Close your eyes. Obvious, but necessary to state!
Breathe calmly. A good method to induce calm is five seconds in through the nose and five seconds out of the mouth.
Keep focus. Repeat a mantra or any positive sentence to create focus. This the one my ashram used, “Om aim hrim klim chamundaye vichche”, but a basic vocal “Om” can work if really stuck.
Acknowledge each thought. You can repeat the distraction three times, e.g. “dog barking, dog barking, dog barking” or visualize touching the thought and letting it float away, but always come back to the mantra.
Don’t fidget! Acknowledge the pain, and discomfort, but do not flex the foot, or adjust or re-cross the legs. This becomes an immediate distraction from the meditation and feels like starting afresh every time, which is exhausting and discouraging.
That’s it. Practice makes perfect.
It’s not always easy. Even now there are times when sitting in silence is difficult and frustrating for me. But it is crucial to continue through the frustrating times, as that frustration is a signal that you need meditation! Consistency will pay off in the end.
CALM is a great app that you can try for free. The “Daily Calm” program guides you through 10 minutes of meditation a day. This can be a good place to start.
OR Use the Mayfly Guided Meditation, Raj leads you through a Compassion and Loving Kindness one here to give you some help and guidance.
No better time to start. Start today.
Need additional tips? Check out the article here.