I can’t remember the first time I officially came across the concept of meditation. I think I originally thought of it as my favourite part of Bikram yoga. The part at the end where you lie down on the mat and do nothing:
There are lots of official schools of meditation but for me the simplest way to describe it is the act of emptying your mind to create space for thoughts that are bubbling beneath the surface. Another description I like is one by the great meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, who says meditation is ‘training our attention so that we can be more aware’. This kind of mediation is often referred to as ‘mindfulness’ (making you more mindful and aware of yourself and others).
I actually prefer to think of it mindlessness. I like the idea of actively trying to think about nothing. It sounds hard but I think it could bring a lot of calm to a modern way of life that has us rushing from the moment we jump out of bed in the morning clasping our iPhones, to the moment we collapse back into bed at night
When I started asking yoga teachers for advice on how to meditate, the response was varied. Some people advised practicing on a noisy train and others suggested taking a class. I knew I would need a group to keep me disciplined so I asked the teacher at my local yoga studio if she would volunteer her time to teach yoga and meditation in our Community Garden. It turns out there was more demand for yoga so we started offering that on a Friday, but that’s how I was able to trick myself into doing five minutes of meditation on my own in the garden every morning before work. I must confess that I didn’t stick to it for very long but long enough to get a first hand sense of how it should feel and what some of the benefits are.
Here’s how I did it:
- I set a timer for 5 minutes on my iPhone. I recommend calming frog chirping sounds to ease you back into the world at the end.
- I crossed my legs in a Buddha pose and tried not to think about the passers-by staring at me through the fence. The experts say you don’t have to be in a Lotus pose but your posture should strike a balance between alert and relaxed.
- I closed my eyes and focused on breathing in and out of my nose. Other techniques to help you focus include counting or concentrating on an object.
- As banal thoughts like doing the laundry crossed my mind, I recognized them and then dismissed them. As deeper thoughts and emotions crossed my mind, I again recognized and then dismissed them. The experts say we shouldn’t be frustrated with ourselves when we get distracted by silly thoughts or emotions. We should take note of the experience and then return to focus on our breath.
- I sometimes ended my session by telling myself things like ‘You are Beautiful’ and ‘You are Powerful’. While I’m not sure this is officially recommended by the experts I don’t think it can hurt.
What I experienced:
- Observing my thoughts go by from a distance gave me a sense of perspective
- I’d sometimes have a good idea pop into my head like a lightening bolt, probably because I’d freed up some space for it
- If something had been bothering me, I’d suddenly become aware of what it was
- If unforeseen drama erupted later that day I was less likely to be swayed by it
- I emerged feeling much more focused and in tune with what was on my mind
Other people might have different epiphanies from meditation but all practitioners agree that it brings a keener sense of focus and calm. On days that I hadn’t meditated and disaster struck I found myself wondering if my reaction to the situation would’ve been different if I had spent five minutes in the garden that morning preparing myself for the world. I’m convinced I would’ve responded with less frustration and been less personally affected. I think that while we can’t dictate what the world throws at us, we can control our reaction to it. That way we can preserve our energy for the things that are important to us.
Now that I’ve convinced myself (and hopefully you) of the benefits of regular meditation sessions, all that remains is the actual doing part. I’m not sure why I slipped out of my morning ritual but probably because, like most rewarding things, it requires a bit of effort and discipline. But as Spring is here and it’s time to de-clutter, I commit to starting my day in half lotus pose again:
I highly encourage you to give it a try. None of us can say we can’t spare five minutes a day…