Meditation is a word that covers many different forms of stilling the mind. It can range from sitting on top of a mountain in the lotus position in total stillness, with seemingly no thoughts in the mind, to being present whilst out walking in nature or doing mundane chores such as washing up or cleaning the house. There are many forms and many opportunities to practice and none are better than the other but I want to explore the more common sitting still method.
What is important in meditation is your intention, relatively regular practice and feeling comfortable with the process. There is little point trying to force your body into a position it is not used to, one that is uncomfortable or painful. You will not see any benefits, only frustration. Make meditation easy for yourself. It’s not meant to be the goal of a lifetime of devotion that only yogis can achieve. It is available and beneficial to everyone. Relatively regular practice means if you can spare 15-30 mins a day for your practice then great. If you miss a day or two then don’t worry. Just come back to it when you can.
Meditation is not just about calming the mind, becoming one with the universe or achieving a deeper understand of the self, it has proven health benefits for both the mind and the body and great stress reducer. You will become calmer, more focused, more relaxed and ultimately feel healthier and more engaged with life. There is also a spiritual aspect to meditation, whereby just the act alone of sitting down to meditate is saying to the universe I am here, I am with you and you are with me. I am ready and open to grow and connect with all that is. It is quite profound but in reality meditation is a little like a prayer. You are asking for help from that which you are not aware of in your normal day to day consciousness. Maybe you are connecting more to your subconscious, maybe you are connecting more to the universe, god, nature, spirit. I cannot give an answer but I know the benefits for myself are worth the small regular effort.
Some simple methods include:
– Following guided meditations on the internet
– Staring softly at a flower or plant (a small pot plant is ideal as you can use it anywhere in your home),
– Staring softly at the flame of a candle for a few minutes then closing your eyes and watching the image.
– Repeating a mantra (positive phrase) in you mind with eyes closed.
I would suggest using the mantra method as you can use it anywhere, at any time, and do not need the internet, a plant or candle. Using a mantra also seems to occupy that part of our mind that wants to be thinking, to be active. A mantra is a good way to keep it busy!
Ideally use a mantra with words that are unfamiliar to you, otherwise you may focus too much on the meaning of the words. For example, using the mantra “peace, love and happiness” sounds great but then you may end up just focusing on this and if you feel you are lacking in any of the areas then negative thoughts may come in. I suggest starting by repeating the Hindu mantra “Om” or “Om Namah Shivaya”. You can change mantra whenever you want and playing with different ones is a good way to find one that you are comfortable with and that works for you.
How to meditate with a mantra:
Find a safe, quiet or serene place to sit comfortably, with hands resting in your lap, settle yourself and take a nice breath in and when you breathe out feel your body relax even further. Move your focus around your body as you breathe, feeling your jaw loosen, forehead and eyelids soften, fingers, toes and shoulders relax, belly become more softer. If you have any aches or pains breathe into those areas and imagine them loosening and relaxing. If you wish you can do a full body scan starting from the toes and working up to the top of the head, focusing on each area as you breathe, repeating in your mind “my toes are relaxed”, “my ankles are relaxed”, “my calves are relaxed”, my knees are relaxed”, etc. Don’t forget the parts of you head. Focusing the relaxation on your cheeks, lips, tongue, jaw, eyes, nose, ears, forehead, scalp may seem to be a waste of time but try it and see 🙂
Once you feel totally relaxed begin repeating the mantra in your mind over and over at a pace that feels right for you, whilst trying to stay still physically. Initially you may want to fidget, scratch, and get more comfortable. That is fine. Have a scratch, shift your position, clear your throat, whatever. But then come back to the mantra and continue. As you progress with your practice over the days or weeks the amount of fidgeting will reduce.
It is likely, in fact certain, that your mind will drift as you meditate, away from the mantra onto many other thoughts from “why am I doing this”, “this is a waste of time”, “I should be doing …”, to “what will I have for dinner”, “what did that person say to me yesterday”, “what if someone sees me”. In fact your mind could wander onto absolutely any subject or question. That is OK. When you notice you have drifted gently bring yourself back to the mantra and begin repeating it once again. Similarly the more you practice the less your mind will drift, but often the thoughts or images that come up will have a meaning to you and be pertinent to your life at the time. Allow these thoughts to come up but then let them go. It has been said that you can be like a movie goer and allow these images to pass you by as if they were on a screen and you in a seat in the cinema watching.
You may lose yourself in the meditation, in the peaceful restful state you are in, and totally forget about the mantra. This too is fine and to my mind one of the benefits of meditation. A great way to recharge and similar to a power nap! If you wish, when you remember you are meditating, bring yourself back gently to the mantra and continue.
When you feel ready, and it may have been only a few minutes, half an hour or even longer, bring yourself out of the meditation simply by returning to your senses, stopping the mantra and slowly begin to move your body, starting by wiggling fingers and toes. When ready slowly open your eyes and take a moment to become present again wherever you are. A good stretch may be nice afterwards before you carry on with your day.
Noting down in a journal any thoughts, ideas, issues that came up in your meditation may also be useful to help you in your day to day life. Also be mindful of any signs or coincidences that happen during the rest of the day and again note them down in a journal for future referral and review.