LET'S TALK ABOUT MEDITATION
If you google ‘what are the benefits of meditation’ you will end up with an infinite scroll of articles, blogs, first hand experiences and stories of why meditation is beneficial.
So if that’s the case why don’t more people do it?
Meditation can be off putting to some who believe that it is about sitting in pure silence or to others who believe it is too spiritual or to others who think that it’s just not for them. I want you to read this blog and pretend that every time I say meditation I am saying ice cream, or walking or growing mint in your garden. And if you’re someone who is skeptical tell me that you wouldn’t eat more ice cream if it made you feel less anxious, or go for more walks if it help you gain autonomy or grow some mint if it prevented brain deterioration-because you WOULD!
So why when it’s meditation do we feel such a push against it?
So open your mind, read about the health benefits and enjoy doing a bit of meditation at the end!
STRESS, ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, YOU NAME IT
Right all of these and more are absolutely zero fun. It’s hard to find someone right now who hasn’t experienced a little bit of the above in the last 12 months. A global pandemic means that the struggle is real and we feel it in one form or another on our mental health.
The hardest thing about stress and anxiety and depression is that you can’t touch it, you can’t see it, you can’t hold it in your hand and say ‘SEE LOOK THIS IS MY ANXIETY!’
But the effect on our mind and body, the symptoms, are often very physical and tangible. Our heart rate will quicken, our breathing will become more sporadic and this will increase our blood pressure. When stress and anxiety are untreated the long term effects mean that your adrenal glands overproduce the hormone cortisol.
When we are constantly overexposure to this hormone it can affect the function of your brain, immune system, and other organs. Chronic stress can contribute to headaches, anxiety, depression, heart disease, and even premature death.
Not exactly this ‘woo woo’ can’t see it anymore. It really shocks me when I come across people who still don’t take their or other’s mental health seriously. The negative implications on our nervous system, our physical health and our organs with poor mental health can create serious problems but the good news is that meditation is an easy and accessible way to help reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation is thousands of years old and forms of meditation can be found in all religious practices. The purpose of linking the hearts and the minds of the practitioners to sources of guidance and inspiration and the divine, which will be understood differently depending on religion.
Yogic forms of meditation are non-sectarian which means that it doesn’t belong to one religion. It is about deep connection but to not one god. Meditation is about the practitioner, surfacing dysfunctional patterns in thoughts, emotions and behaviour that become obstacles to finding deep peace.
We aim to overcome the dysfunction of thoughts and behaviours to discover our true selves. Meditation was designed to help master the mind, create a path of self realisation fulfilment and liberation.
If you’ve been to one of my yoga classes you will have heard me discuss the parasympathetic nervous and the sympathetic nervous system-when we meditate we stimulate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) and allow the sympathetic (fight or flight) to quiet.
WHY SHOULD YOU MEDITATE?
Yikes, it’s a heck of a question.
Let’s be honest sitting there doing nothing can seem counterproductive, like there’s no point. This is fairly accurate as you are kinda trying to focus on doing nothing. And this is the point.
Your brain hurting yet? Stick with me guys it’s gonna make sense! You can probably all relate to being TOO BUSY. Running from work, to childcare, to managing a house, to looking after a car or pet and trying to be a good partner and look after yourself all at the same time. We can get so busy we totally forget to be.
Technology and our busy lives remove us from just being with ourselves. It all becomes very foreign. Sitting with yourself. No TV. No internet. No phone. No music. Are you bored yet?
The next time you’re waiting for the DR’s or the grocery store and you have to wait around I challenge you to try to not pick up your phone, a magazine, watch the TV and instead just sit and be. Turn the wait into not waiting but being. These two things are very different. Notice what your level of discomfort is, how much are you distracted and how drawn are you to external input? After a minute of just trying to be it is going to start being difficult and your mind will start to run around and shout at you to do something with your idle hands and eyes.
We don’t have control over our minds anymore. Our attention spans are less than that of a goldfish…do you want to carry on like this? I would like to think that I have a mental capacity GREATER than a goldfish!
Meditation will help you gain control over your mind and distractions.
There are two styles of meditation that we will look at today. The first is dharyna meditation which means single pointedness. This is a style of meditation that helps to develop and create concentration.
Here you try to limit what’s happening in your mind and you train your mind to stay with one thing. When we focus on one thing our minds look for associations. In a training I recently did on meditation with Colin Hall he put it perfectly: ‘Let’s say breakfast you might think bacon , then Kevin Bacon, then Footloose, then you might start singing kick off the Sunday shoes-footloose!’
Sound familiar? My brain definitely works like this. Sometimes I let the associations run so wild I completely forget what I was meant to be thinking or doing in the fist place. Notice this happen when you go to check something on your phone too? You pick it up to check the weather and the next thing you know you’re deep into reels or on a profile of an ex boyfriend and forget to grab your umbrella on the way out because you never checked the weather in the end.
Mind associations aren’t all bad. It is here that we build creativity, it’s your mind exploring space. But if we want to also focus on and develop concentration and we need to train the brain to do this.
How often do you read and totally forget what you were reading, or where you had just driven or what has just happened in the TV show you were just watching. We can train our brain to study better, to retain information better and to function better with dhyarna meditation.
The second style of mediation we will look at today is called vipassana or more commonly referred to as mindfulness.
This style allows the mind to be open to the now, observing and being present, observing all that arises without conflict, argument, judgement. You are observing your mind as it wanders.
Mindfulness gives you the capacity to control the mind which cultivates the skill to stay focused on the wondering and if you don’t practice this you will go along with it rather than observing it. Do you struggle to stay in the present moment? Do you dwell on the past or worry about the future? Vipassana meditation is a great tool to use to help you stay present and find contentedness in your life.
Mindfulness often works with the breath, the senses or an object to focus on. This style of mediation is less formal and can be done while moving, driving or making/drinking a tea.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
These two styles of meditation compliment each other. We use one as a prep for the other and we can blend them together into one mediation session.
These skills that we develop during these mediations become crucial for us, especially as when we are studying, learning or training. We live in this age of distraction, attention has become commodified, platforms like instagram and facebook profit the longer they keep our attention as they generate more revenue this way.
Have you watched the social dilemma? Practicing meditation will start to give you the control and autonomy you desperately wanted after you watched it.
Our brains are what companies are competing to own and manipulate. We need to learn how to take charge again and how to feel empowered in the decisions we make being ours.
Meditation is crucial for autonomy! If you always feel like you’re being distracted and your attention span is shrinking you have lost the control. You will learn how to withdraw your attention consciously, put yourself in the driver’s seat.
Cognitive flexibility is the ability to take on different concepts, ideas, change without being thrown, feeling threatened or seeing it as traumatic.
When we are young our cognitive flexibility is pretty good. As we get older we lose the ability to go with the flow and not feel threatened by change.
Take Santa Clause as a perfect example. When we are young we are told that Santa, the easter bunny, the tooth fairy and other fantasy creature and concepts are real. They are our reality. We have narratives and stories about them. And then we find out that this reality isn’t true. That in fact it has all been made up, the magic we believed is fake. For a moment our childhood magical world crumbles.
But quickly children start to reshape and put the pieces of reality back together.
They ask if they still get the presents, the chocolate, the money for their teeth and bammo they take these facts on a move on. Some faster than others but it would be pretty rare to find an adult still coming to terms with Santa Clause. They rebuild their understanding of the world using cognitive flexibility.
What happens to us if as adults we have an existential crisis like this? Where everything we know isn’t true. Things will change, people will die, sad things will happen, nothing is permanent and if we live our lives like this we are going to cause ourselves tremendous suffering.
When we meditate we build our cognitive flexibility so when there is a massive life shift you can take this new data, rationalise and move on.
When you practice you are awake to right now without judgement, noticing how things are now. You’re essentially training for trauma and drama. You’re not having an argument with reality-not asking why is this happening to me-this isn’t fair. You are taking in information freely and not attaching to it.
INTIMACY WITH YOURSELF
How often do you have your loved ones notice that you’re stressed, or tired or annoyed? They notice this before you have even understood or realised that your behaviour has changed because of this.
We are disconnected to ourselves.
We are too wrapped up with our to-do’s then taking time to feel into how we are.
When we practice mediation, specifically vipassana or mindfulness we deepen our understanding of how our own mind works. We become more connected to and familiar with how we feel in our own life.
DISTANCE FROM SELF
When we practice Dhyarna we are doing the opposite of intimacy with ourself.
This meditation gives you the capacity to turn yourself off and step away from yourself. Away from your thoughts and what’s annoying you.
It is a tool to stop or halt what you’re feeling or thinking. You can go to a more empty space without reaction, the way you’re feeling will temporarily fade and you can collect yourself.
You want to make sure you balance this with turning into yourself rather than always running away. You are learning the skills or capacity to turn on the switches (waking up to the world and your thoughts) and also switching the switches off (pre-bedtime too many thoughts). This is the opposite pole from intimacy to self and we will practice these two styles of mediation at different times.
TRY THESE MEDITATIONS NOW!
Sometimes people make up their minds that they are not the meditation type. I get it. I was one of those people for a long time AND even when I did my 200hr YTT I still felt on the fence about mediation.
BUT all I ask is if you can bracket those reasons and give meditation a try!
Can you just give me this time and allow me to try to convince you.
Below you can download x5 different meditations some dharyna and some vipassana. Think of it as a meditation buffet. Sample a little bit from all of them and then go back for seconds or thirds or the ones you liked the most!