You’ve heard about the benefits but you’re just not sure about the easiest way to get started with your own personal practice. We’ve enlisted the help of the experts to fill us in…
What are your thoughts on meditation? Despite being praised to help quieten the mind, meditation seems to frequent our consciousness more and more these days. The practice itself is nothing new – in fact, it’s ancient – but it seems to be the most universal key to uniting contemporary spirituality and unlocking mystical traditions and New Age concepts alike. It transcends religious realms, and even scientists are being kept busy discovering its latest perks. The general consensus is that it could be good for even the non-monastic among us. It’s being taught to politicians, public sector workers and school children, but have you tried it yet?
Perhaps you’ve read the headlines on how it can improve your sleep, quell your anxieties and brighten your mind but haven’t quite got round to testing the theories. Don’t delay! We know it can be difficult getting started but there is no time like the present to start living in the moment. Proceed with a ‘beginner’s mind’, as our Buddhist friends would say, and clue up on the latest tips to some common conundrums…
I’ve got too many thoughts to meditate
Of all the hundreds of thousands of thoughts we have each day, how do we reach the seemingly impossible task of hushing them up? Author of Mindfulness Meditation and Dharma teacher, Joseph Emet says it is a common misconception that we need to stop our thoughts entirely. “We cannot stop the mind, but we can change its focus from following thoughts to following the breath.
“This brings the mind and body together as it is the body that breathes. This is a change from the mind’s usual habit of following thoughts – now it is asked to follow sensations instead.”
So by distracting our mind with our breath, our thoughts automatically quieten down – aha!
I’m struggling with restlessness
For many of us, ‘watching’ our thoughts or ‘listening’ to our breath sounds unusual and is certainly easier said than done. If we get fidgety, author and spiritual teacher of The Practice, Barb Schmidt says to have a little patience. “If you feel you struggle to stay still for a certain length of time, sit for a shorter period, even if it is just a few minutes. Little by little, increase the amount of time you sit until you reach your desired length of time without feeling restless. Remember, everything we do is practice and it’s with consistency that we start seeing benefits.”
I feel a little uncomfortable
The image of meditation conjures up a perfectly-positioned yogi sat in lotus pose but if you feel the more traditional postures are too taxing, give you numb legs or physical discomfort then Barb explains it’s perfectly acceptable to experiment. “Shift your position during a session if you are uncomfortable. When you are not meditating, explore various meditation postures to find the one that is most comfortable for you.
“You may want to use a cushion for added support. I sit in a chair to meditate, with my feet flat on the floor, hands in my lap, and my back straight, with my head and neck in alignment. This is a life-long practice and being mindful of your body is key to practising every day.”
I’ve tried it but it didn’t make me feel as ‘zen’ as I’d hoped
Nirvana, bliss, enlightenment – they’re all supposed results of dedicated meditators, monks and masters and although we can only hope to have glimpses of blissful moments, Barb says to not be disheartened if you don’t feel totally zen straight away. “Going into a meditation practice with the hope to become enlightened puts an expectation on the experience and pressure on the meditator. This can be counter intuitive. If we don’t get what we want we most certainly will quit and miss out on the benefits of this life changing practice.
“My advice is to go into meditation with the simple intention to meditate; to just be. Giving up any expectations opens us up to whatever is meant to happen. This is an opportunity to listen to the whisperings of your heart, connect within to your unending source of love and strength.”