Meditation might seem a fad to some, but it's thousands of years old and, in my opinion, can be very misunderstood.
Many people struggle with the purpose of meditation, and to put it succinctly, it's not not thinking! Meditation teaches us a different relationship with our thoughts, and it re-frames our identity away from our feelings, thoughts and emotions. There's also no instant benefit which can make it feel like a waste of time to many (me included a few years ago!), but the science-backed benefits are actually staggering.
Let's start with this:
1. What is it?
Liken this, for a moment, to driving in traffic. Someone cuts you up, you get angry, and in that moment you ARE anger. You're lost in it. You identify with that anger. With a meditation practice, we start to separate ourselves from our thoughts and feelings and therefore open up that extra little but of space. We might still feel anger, we can actually choose to act differently. Our true selves are happy, free, connected and peaceful, like a blue sky. The thoughts and feelings are like clouds in the sky. We can watch them pass without needing to jump into them.
Every time you sit in meditation you are effectively training yourself to be an observer of yourself. There is only awareness and distraction (distraction being the many thoughts and feelings that cross our mind in a single minute!). Every time you catch yourself in distraction (this is done with kindness and without judgement), then you bring yourself back to the moment (awareness). Our breath can be a useful anchor point to the moment.
2. What are the benefits?
Whilst I'm not going to delve into the studies here (as much as you know I love geeking out about that sort of stuff!), then science points to these as benefits of meditation: decreased stress and anxiety, lowering cortisol and stimulating the vagus nerve, increased positive feelings about yourself and others, improved sleep, decreased blood pressure, and an increase in focus, attention and decision-making. Meditation can also be used effectively to support (not substitute) pain management. Meditation actually starts to change your brain chemistry and the frequency of your brain waves; just a few weeks of practice can has a lasting positive impact for many months.
3. How do I do it?
Sit. Be aware. When thoughts or feelings creep in, then notice them, and bring yourself back to the moment. Repeat this as many times as necessary. You can be sitting or lying; you want to become deeply physicalkly relaxed whilst mentally alert and focused. There is no success or failure, you cannot be good or bad at meditation; you can only practice. No, you don't need to sit in full lotus position making funny sounds. No you don't have to do more than a minute or two, especially initially. Be patient with yourself. There's not instant gratification, you don't have to feel it's worked; trust the process. We're taught in society not to deeply value silence and restorative practices, and be aware if you bring this resistance to it - do you feel like you're wasting time?
4. Where do you recommend I start?
There are some many different types of meditation that you are bound to find one of them useful (explore until you find the one that resonates with you most, or a tool kit of different ones that you can choose to use whenever you need them). Guided meditations can be amazing to begin to understand the process. Try to avoid lying down initially - the beginner may feel sleepily very quickly! Headspace, MyLife, Insight Timer, and Calm are all popular and useful apps for guided meditations. Headspace do some brilliant beginner courses too as part of their free offerings which I really recommend. Whilst not solely meditation, I also enjoy The Tapping Solution app.
How do you like to meditate? What stories, misconceptions and resistance do you have to it? How could you raise the priority of meditation in your life and routine?