By Alexandra Taylor
I doubt that there are many people who have escaped the hype around “mindfulness”, “meditation” and “mental wellbeing” the past year. But unlike other momentary buzzwords and questionable detoxes, these ideas are not just passing fashionable trends. In fact, they are based upon practices which are thousands of years old.
The benefits of meditation are no secret and can positively affect every part of your being: mind, body and soul. A regular practice can have real, physical impact such as changing brain composition, reducing inflammation and relieving bodily pain. Studies have also shown that meditation can significantly help with emotional regulation, reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression and sleep problems. On a deeper, more spiritual level, the practice of meditation encourages us to cultivate a kind and compassionate attitude towards our thoughts and body, allowing us to show ourselves to the world exactly as we are. It connects us to our inner divine wisdom and purpose.
Today the word meditation has many different meanings and connotations and as such the idea has become rather nebulous and confusing. But fundamentally, the essence of meditation is awareness. In its simplest form this is done by observing our breath, but it may be our body, an object, or a sound. When we are in this state of awareness, we are able to detach from for our thoughts and problems allowing us leading healthier and happier lives. The truth is, there is no correct way to meditate and so it is important to find the approach that works best for you. It is a personal practice which will continually evolve and challenge you on your journey through life.
When I first began my meditation practice, I used to get so frustrated by the fact that I could not seem to empty my mind of thoughts and achieve this peaceful state of ‘Zen’ I so badly desired. But meditation is not about stopping thoughts or clearing the mind. It is about learning to let go of attachment and judgement by simply observing what we experience, moment by moment. Your mind will naturally wander, so when it does just notice that it has drifted, and bring it back your point of awareness. Acknowledge whatever thoughts or emotions arise and allow it to be. The first few times you practice you may feel like you are constantly being pulled by your thoughts, but by showing up and committing to your practice you will notice that the gap between each thought lengthens and begin to really feel those moments of pure stillness.
But most of all enjoy your practice. And don’t be discouraged by what you perceive as a negative experience. Our minds are like a muscle which needs training. So be gentle with yourself and stick with it even when it feels like a challenge because trust me, the benefits are totally worth it!
Alexandra teaches Meditation every Wednesday from 20:30-21:30 at PYC.
5 Minute Meditation
If you’ve never tried meditation before, here is a really lovely and simple practice to follow. I’d recommend setting a timer for 3-5 minutes if this is your first time, but feel free to adjust this accordingly:
Set yourself up in a peaceful and comfortable environment
Create a space that feels like bliss where you know you won’t be disturbed for your practice. This offers you the peace of mind to fully surrender into your meditations without a fear of being interrupted. If you don’t have a whole room to dedicate to this then find a nice corner of a room. Keep the room tidy with only a few serenity inviting items like a pillow, rug and lamp. Use candles, incense or a diffuser and add a touch of nature to infuse balance and harmony. Let this place be your safe sanctuary whereby just walking past soothes your mind.
Find a comfortable position
You may want to sit on a cushion, bolster or block or you may prefer to be seated on a chair with your arms and legs uncrossed. Either way, engage your stomach muscles and keep your back upright, but not too tight. Allow your shoulders to slide down your back and feel the crown of your head reaching to the sky. Be comfortable in your position.
Relax your body
Bring gentle awareness to how your body feels in this moment. Noticing any areas of tension, aches, pains or discomfort. Release and let go of any areas of tightness and tension. Continue to relax your body as you feel the sensations of warmth and heaviness spread across your body. Relax.
Tune into your breath
Bring your awareness to the natural flow of your breath. The breath in, and out. There’s no need to do anything or change anything, simply observe your own rhythm of breath. Notice where into your body you are breathing. Is it your chest? Or abdomen? Is your breath slow or fast? Deep or short? Do you hold onto your breath at any moment? Bring your awareness to all the sensations of your breath. Feel your breath in and out through your nose. Follow the air in through your nose, down the nasal passage and back of the throat. Can you notice the moment the air first touches your lungs. Become aware of the rise and fall of your chest of belly. Sense where one breath ends, and another begins. The inhale. The exhale. The pauses. The breath as a whole. Be really curious about your breathing.
Be kind and compassionate
It is only natural for your mind to wander. It may drift to things you have to do, or might have done. Or it may begin to judge your current experience. Wherever you find your mind going, simply acknowledge it, and bring it back to your breath. Remain the passive observer of your thoughts and emotions, watching them come and go like clouds in the sky.
Continue for your set amount of time
Keep your attention on your breath, bringing your awareness back to the breath each time you notice that your mind has wandered.
Reawaken the body
Once your time is up, bring your awareness back to your body. Slowly and mindfully reawaken the body by wriggling some fingers and toes. Move your head from side to side and take a deep body stretch. Expand your awareness to the room around you and gently open your eyes.
Show gratitude towards yourself
Pause for a few moments taking in the experience of the practice and what may have come up for you. Take the time to smile and offer yourself some gratitude for showing up to practice and nurture your mind, body and soul.