Is that sound the first thing that you think of when someone mentions the word ‘meditation’? Or perhaps you get an image of long hair, flowing coloured skirts and flowers? Or maybe simply a feeling of disbelief?
I was watching the BBC Wimbledon tennis coverage this summer and the camera was scanning the crowd. One of the commentators spotted a guy with his eyes closed. He immediately commented ‘oh he must be doing mindfulness’. Really? I think he was more likely just taking a nap between sets.
Mindfulness and meditation pop up everywhere these days in new books, posts on LinkedIn and even on the news. Yet people seem to have very varied ideas of what meditation (a constituent part of mindfulness) is and what it can do for you.
I’ve been meditating for about the last 3 years and sit for anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes each day. I freely admit that sometimes I forget. I’m human! I don’t bother giving myself 30 lashes when it does slip my mind – instead I just get back to my cushion the next day.
Here are the 10 reasons I keep on meditating every day (in no particular order):
I get a head start on the day: I generally meditate in the morning just before I start work. That’s the time that works best for me. I find that it gives me a feeling of space. It helps me maintain the feeling all day that I’m on top of my to do list, instead of it being on top of me!
I feel an inner serenity: things don’t get to me as much as they did. So I can focus my passion on positive action instead of wasting time and energy stressing about things that are outside of my control. I let off superficial steam, but it is just that – superficial.
I feel joy: I feel happy for absolutely no apparent reason. I smile more. I feel life is good. I’m more grateful. Do you need any other reason to meditate?
My thoughts release my stress: many people think that meditation involves clearing your mind of all thoughts. Then they berate themselves when they find that impossible. Meditation is more about learning how your mind works. Thoughts popping up can actually be the way your mind releases stress. So it’s a case of observing the thought and letting it drift away – like a cloud across the sky – then return your focus to your breathing or even a mantra.
I like making a personal investment: I feel good that I’m doing something nice for myself. We spend so much time caring for others and often so little time doing anything for ourselves.
I can release physical tension I didn’t even know existed: by calming my mind I become more aware of my body. The sensations coming from it help me feel where I have physical tension. It gives me a chance to consciously release it. For me it’s often in my jaw and I realize that I’ve had my teeth clamped together!
I sleep better: there’s no doubt about it I do sleep better. I use the technique of focusing on my breathing to help calm my spinning mind when I wake in the night, so I fall back to sleep faster.
I balance priorities more easily: we all know that feeling of a problem looming over us like Mount Everest. When I’m meditating regularly those same problems feel far more manageable. It’s much easier for me to work step by step to find a creative solution, without wasting time and energy on getting stressed about it.
Meditation feels like a gift each day, not yet another ‘thing to get done’ (yep I know I’m verging on the hippy drippy at this point, but humour me!): it took me a while to come to terms with the fact there’s no right and wrong about meditation. Some days lots of thoughts may crowd into my head while I’m trying to calm my mind. Other days I may get into almost a dreamlike state, where the final bell on a guided meditation seems to reverberate through my body when it chimes. The hardest part is always the sitting down.
Then just add to those 10 reasons all the physical benefits of meditation that you won’t be aware of consciously. It boosts your immune system, lowers blood pressure, improves brain function, decreases inflammation, helps reduce heart disease, helps manage chronic pain, increases self esteem, helps you lose weight and improves your metabolism and regulates blood sugar levels. Oh yes, and it can literally rewire your brain.
If you’re a meditation novice it’s dead easy to get started in the privacy of your own home. You don’t need to go and chant ‘ommmmmm’ with a bunch of strangers. And all it takes is sitting down to start.
As a first step you could use a recorded guided meditation that you can follow. There are the fantastic 21 day free meditation events run by Deepak Chopra along with Oprah – sign up here for the next one. Each day you get a new ‘episode’ that’s about 20 minutes long. There are also free guided meditations included with some books on Mindfulness that outline an easy short course to get started – my favorites, which both come with a CD, are Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Prof. Mark Williams and Danny Penman and Mindfulness for Creativity: adapt create and thrive in a frantic world by Danny Penman
If you’ve never tried meditating – isn’t it time to have a go?