Something happened to me in March. I decided it was finally time to stop thinking about meditating andactually do it. Every single day.
Regular readers and fans of the 52 Exercises series will know that I’ve been suffering from depression this year and, since meditation has been used for thousands of years to improve both physical or mental health, it was finally time for me to learn to meditate.
Although I’ve dabbled mildly in meditation over the years, (I can still remember my first meditation session in Laos when a giant rat started scuttling around the temple) I’ve never pursued it seriously. By which I mean meditating every day.
At the beginning of the year I was inspired by Sandra Pawula’s post Why Not Meditate Right Now? to meditate more often, but it took me a few more months and an ever-increasing depression to commit to it regularly.
I’m no meditation guru and I never will be but here’s what I’ve learned about how to meditation over the last 10 weeks.
1. Don’t wait to learn to meditate until you’re desperate
I was well overdue for regular meditation practice because recent research at Harvard shows meditation reduces depression, stress and blood pressure while raising immunity. Most usefully for me, with my erratic mood changes and increasing anxiety:
“meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress.”
To get started I set myself a challenge of meditating for 10 minutes every day in March and, based on positive experiments in using Twitter as a motivational tool I decided to chart my progress on Google+ to show my commitment and keep me on track. What I didn’t expect was to amass a delightful group of cheerleaders who encouraged me to keep going and gave me useful tips on how to overcome some of the problems I face when meditating.
From what I’ve read about meditation recently, most people who learn to meditate face the same challenges and most of them probably give up because of them. But almost three months later I’m still going and maybe even starting to see some results because my bad mood is showing signs of lifting.
2. Don’t go it alone
What really helped me stick with it were all the people who left me encouraging comments on Google+ or shared useful links with me like What meditation really is.
What amazed me most was when I stopped trying to help other people and started sharing what I was doing and struggling with people quickly jumped in to help me. It wasn’t the position I was used to taking but it was the position I needed to take to get the help I needed.
To start with I tried various meditation poses such as lying down, sitting on a pillow and sitting on a chair to see what worked best for me. None of them worked because I’m such a fidget bottom sitting still for 10 minutes is hard for me in any position, so of course meditating was uncomfortable and required huge mental and physical effort.
3. Do use modern technology to aid your meditation
Then Susan Pivers appeared out of the Google+ blue and shared her post on meditation postures with me which gave me new ideas and showed me that it’s okay to experiment with your yoga posture. I learned that I don’t need to cross my legs completely and I can elevate my knees too.
It’s amazing to start thinking about how to sit down when you’ve been doing it mindlessly for over 40 years but if you try a few variations you’ll be able to find the posture that’s comfiest for you.
Because meditation was so hard for me I started reading more and more about it. Not just about why mediation is good for you, how it is proven to improve your sense of wellbeing, improve concentration, reduce anxiety and depression and boost your immune system but also what to actually do.
I downloaded podcasts and loved the Reawakening guided meditations by Angela Artemis and Steven Aitchison.
I tried various apps and started using the Zazen Life to time my mediation and end it with a gentle ding instead of a jarring alarm. I used My Calm Beat to slow my breathing and learnt to set my iPhone to airplane mode so text messages or phone calls don’t disturb my meditation practice.
4. Do be experimental with your meditation practice
I was kept inspired by my readers experiences with meditation and their blog posts like 4 Tips to Enhance Your Meditation by Joanne at The Bottom Line, Kama at Gracefully Natural who shared Sit and Observe The World For a While and Learn More About You and Annie Infinite’s post In the Silence You Can Hear… YOU.
If you’re new to meditation too another great read is Meditation for Beginners: 20 Practical Tips for Quieting the Mind on Zen Habits.
I started by meditating for 10 minutes a day and am aiming to hit 30 minutes a day soon. Here are some simple meditation styles I’ve tried so far:
1. Body Scan Meditation – Start with your head and work down to your arms and feet, noticing how your body feels. Just notice if you feel tense, relaxed, calm or anxious. Try to breathe softness and relaxation into areas of the body that feel tense.
2. Breath focus meditation – Sit comfortably on the floor or a chair. Tune into your breath and focus on one sensation such as the rise and fall of your chest or tummy.
3. Mantra repetition – Mentally repeating a simple word or sound such as the classic ‘Om’.
4. Guided imagery meditation – Like the ones in the Reawakening Meditations where you go to a special imaginary place to enjoy certain experiences, emotions or feelings.
5. Focus your attention on an object such as a beautiful flower, a special view or even a photo of a duck. When your mind wanders slowly guide it back to the object of focus and your breath.
5. Don’t expect meditation to meet your expectations
What I noticed most in all these meditations was how much my mind wanders and chatters on almost ceaselessly and how long it takes me to notice that I’ve lost focus on the meditation and to return that focus to the body, breath, mantra or guiding voice.
It felt like such a huge failure, it felt like meditation wasn’t working for me and I so wanted to be able to let go completely, to relax my mind totally and stay in the pure awareness of the present moment. I wanted to discover a deep stillness within me and become more self-aware.
So I read more and more including The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (Book & CD). Then I ordered more books like Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment – and Your Life which sounded like the answer to all my meditation problems.
I got frustrated, confused and fed up but I carried on meditating and even made positive progress in the end. I learnt that most of all I need to let go of my expectations, let go of my goals and hopes and just be.
It’s hard but I’m working on it every day and I’m trying to go easy on myself because at least now I’m not just thinking about meditation, I’m actually doing it. Even if it turned out to be quite different from my expectations.
Would you like to learn how to meditate and if so what’s the hardest part for you? If you’ve been meditating for a while what tips can you share with beginners like me?