Meditation is recognized by more or less every philosophical and spiritual tradition as a way to improve your health, find true and lasting inner peace, and become aware of the true self that lies beneath all your day-to-day stuff.
Everyone has the ability to meditate. So why is it that sitting by yourself trying to access all this zen stillness can seem so difficult?
For each of us the obstacles to meditation will be slightly different, but there are certain “usual suspects” that almost everyone has to tackle. Top of this list is the mistaken presumption that we should somehow, magically, be able to stop ourselves thinking.
You may have been through this scenario: you’ve sat down in cross-legged pose, closed your eyes and tried to focus on the calm blue ocean, but instead your mind insists on throwing you wave after wave of junk. The result: you get frustrated with your thoughts, disappointed for “failing” to meditate, and perhaps never try it again.
We tend to imagine that “people who meditate” have minds as calm and still as a pool in an underground cavern. Maybe with years of practice it’s possible to get there. But for most of us, the truth is that we can no more stop thoughts from coming into our minds than we can stop clouds from drifting across the sky, or our next door neighbour’s dog from barking at passing cyclists.
What we can do, however, is begin to slow those thoughts down. Even this has benefits. People who meditate report that their practice brings them a sense of well-being, clarity and peace. Often in only a short time.
If all this inspires you to try meditating here’s a few tips that may help:
1. If your body is tense, you can rely on the mind to churn out a steady stream of complaints. Short circuit those thoughts by keeping yourself comfortable and relaxed. There’s no law that says you have to be cross-legged. I learnt to meditate lying on my back in Shavasana. Another option is to sit in a chair with your feet firmly on the ground, your spine straight and your hands resting comfortably in your lap. Or if you do prefer to sit on the ground, feel free to rest your back against a wall. Keep the back straight, but keep it relaxed.
2. In yoga, it’s said that “where the breath goes, the mind follows”, so once you’re in a comfortable position, exhale and consciously watch the tension release from the body. Then practice yogic breathing. Inhaling and exhaling from the abdomen makes the breath calmer and smoother, which in turn helps to slow our thoughts down.
3. Accept the nature of the mind. You can’t stop the thoughts, but you can choose not to interact with them. Thoughts are like carpet sellers in a Turkish market: if they think you’re a prospect they’ll virtually tackle you to the ground with supposedly unmissable offers. But if you acknowledge them with a smile and walk calmly on, the offers gradually become less frequent and less insistent, and they’ll eventually figure out that hassling you is a waste of time. When you’re meditating, give your thoughts the same treatment: learn to simply watch them come and go, unfollowed, unargued with, uncommented upon.
4. Start this process slowly, and allow yourself to adapt to the practice of meditation. You don’t need to sit there for hours, grappling with the mind. A consistent practice of 5 minutes a day is infinitely better than a sporadic hour here and there. Over time you can gradually extend your meditation. In fact you’ll probably find that it naturally begins to extend itself, as you begin to – gasp – actually enjoy it.
5. Most of all remember, that learning to meditate is not about arriving at some final magical destination. The real treasure lies in the discoveries you make along the way.
Author Bio: This post continues our yoga series by guest blogger Helen Laird of Yoga in One Syllable. Helen is passionate about helping people see where yoga already exists in their lives and inspiring them to bring more yoga into it.