• Rebecca Robinson

Meditation: How to Gain a Calmer, Clearer Mind


Challenging the Traditional Image of Meditation

Sitting cross-legged on the floor in the lotus position as you chant ‘Om’ is the traditional image that comes to mind when you think of meditation. However, meditation is far more flexible than this. It has nothing to do with rigidly following rules or being perceived in a certain way.

It is the gentle practice of focusing the mind on something, usually the breath, but it can be any object, thought or activity. The aim is to still the mind and gain clarity and mastery over our thoughts.

What is meditation?

Meditating will clear, calm and quiet your mind like nothing else. The positive effects of your practice - however short - will ripple out into the rest of your day. Meditation is the aim of achieving a deeply relaxed, calm state of awareness without intrusive thoughts. It is a type of mindfulness where you are aware of the present moment – which is the only moment there is - but with less unwanted thoughts popping into your head to distract you.

But even if thoughts do drift in, you don’t need to worry or feel that you are doing it wrong. Other thoughts very often do pop in. The mind is designed to think after all. That is its job and its purpose. Sometimes it is helpful to think of thoughts as clouds in the sky. Your mind and consciousness is the sky, and your thoughts are the clouds that drift across it. You don’t need to force your thoughts or get annoyed if thoughts keep intruding.

You cannot get meditation wrong. All you need to do is acknowledge the thought by labelling it, thanking it and watching it drift off. And then just gently draw your attention back to whatever it is that you are focusing on, such as the breath. For example, name the thought e.g worry, then quietly think, ‘X, thank you, I release you’).

Developing a Practice: Where can I meditate? How long should I meditate for?

You can meditate anytime, anywhere. It us usually easier when you are able to take some quiet time as there will be less distractions for you, but you can meditate on the bus, at your desk or even in the work toilets if you need to! It’s a hugely flexible practice and one that has been practised by millions of different people all around the world for centuries.

Its benefits are numerous, and you can even start with a 1 minute daily practice. Yes, just 1 minute! We can all find the time to do this, and it will help to develop a regular practice as it is not too overwhelming. Over time though, whenever you are ready, you can build up to 5 mins, 10 mins, 15 mins, 30 mins or more. What’s important is developing a habit of regular practice. And it takes 6 weeks to create a new habit, so just 1 minute a day for 6 weeks can help you to reap so many amazing benefits in your life.

How will meditation benefit me?

The benefits of meditation are well-known and documented, with countless studies revealing the wellbeing boost to mind, body and soul through the practice of it. Even just the simple commitment of practising something so beneficial is a great step, sending the message to your self that you are worth taking time out to care for, encouraging a healthy lifestyle.

Meditation’s main ability is to help reduce stress. Too much stress is bad for us. Meditation will relax us, and some studies have shown that it moderates our fear response by reducing the size of our amygdala (the fear response centre in the brain). It can release tension, improve heart rate and breathing, and make our brain waves calm and alert.

Physically, meditation can help people deal more positively with symptoms of conditions such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Asthma

  • Depression

  • Fatigue

  • Heart disease and High blood pressure

  • IBS

  • Insomnia

  • Pain

  • Headaches

  • Some studies even suggest that meditation can slow ageing. Stress accelerates the shortening of telomeres (the protein caps that protect the ends of chromosomes during cell division). However, some studies have shown that telomeres are longer in regular meditators - and that they suffer with less inflammation and stress too.

Emotionally and Psychologically, meditation can help you to:

  • See stressful situations more positively

  • Manage stress levels

  • Know yourself better

  • Be more mindful and live in the present, not dwelling negatively in the past or worrying about the future

  • Boost positive emotions and dial down negative ones

  • Be more imaginative and creative

  • Increase patience and acceptance

  • Concentrate and focus better

  • Be happier and more joyful! :-)

How to Meditate?

My Journey with Meditation

I first experienced meditation in a session at my secondary school and it was so relaxing and fired up my creativity so much that I knew then that it would be something I wanted more of in my life.

I had wanted to learn how to meditate since that time, but it was only many years later when my Mum became seriously ill and I became her carer that I decided to carve out some time for it in my busy life to help me cope with stress and fatigue better. And help it most certainly did.

I began my quest by looking on YouTube for meditation videos. I came across The Honest Guys. I particularly like them as they seem down to earth and accessible. Have a look through their channel and take your pick of their many meditation videos.

The first guided meditation I did was this one to help relax me before bed.

And this guided meditation to help me relax quickly at any time of day.

I then experimented some more with other guided meditations online.

I then bought books on meditation to go deeper into the practice. I recommend 'Quiet the Mind: An Illustrated Guide to How to Meditate' by Matthew Johnstone for a simple, accessible guide to meditation that completely demystifies the process.

I also rate 'The Art of Stopping Time: Practical Mindfulness for Busy People' by Pedram Shojai. A beautiful book with a short chapter to read and a simple exercise to complete each day for 100 days, which helps us to become calmer, clearer and more mindful.

I then bought CDs and tried different apps, such as Calm - the free app on my mobile phone - where I completed the fabulously soothing 7 Days of Calm course.

Going even deeper, I enrolled on a course which would take me further into the study and exercise of meditation.

I have also tried Shinrin-Yoku (the Japanese art of forest bathing) combined with walking meditations, where I have simply walked through forests and focused on my breathing and the simple act of walking. I have sometimes chosen an affirmation that resonates with me and repeated it with every breath in as I walk. For more on Shinrin-yoku, read my article published on the beautiful Creative Countryside Journal here.

I have even tried to integrate meditation in the form of focusing on my breathing whilst in cafes, on buses, sitting on benches in cities and green spaces - and even in the work loos! Any pocket of time, however small, can be used to meditate.

TOP 5 TIPS AND SUGGESTED MEDITATIONS

TIP #1:

JUST DO IT! GET OUT YOUR DIARY AND SCHEDULE A REGULAR 1 MINUTE SLOT TO MEDITATE DAILY.

I’D RECOMMEND MEDITATING IN THE MORNING TO MAKE SURE YOU ACTUALLY GET IT DONE AND START YOUR DAY POSITIVELY.

PERHAPS BEFORE YOU GET OUT OF BED OR AFTER YOU’VE BRUSHED YOUR TEETH!

TIP #2:

HAVE A LOOK ONLINE TO SEE WHAT GUIDED VISUALISATION MEDITATIONS RESONATE WITH YOU AND TRY THEM.

ALSO, TRY DOING A BODY-SCAN MEDITATION.

THIS IS A GOOD WAY TO MELT TENSION FROM THE BODY AND IS RELAXING TO DO BEFORE BED.

How To To do a Body-Scan Meditation:

Lie down or sit comfortably with your spine straight and focus on your breathing for a few breath cycles.

Use the 4-7-8 breathing technique as listed below.

Then start by mentally scanning your body for tension.

Scan from the feet right up to your head.

Take your time doing this, notice any tension then release it.

You can even tense the muscles in your body one by one and then relax them.

TIP #3:

TRY A MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION APP.

CONSIDER:

The Mindfulness App.

Headspace.

Calm.

MINDBODY.

Buddhify.

Insight Timer.

Smiling Mind.

Meditation Timer Pro

TIP #4:

TRY A 4-7-8 BREATHING MEDITATION - AND PRACTICE IT ANY TIME, ANY PLACE

How To Do a 4-7-8 Breathing Meditation:

Put one hand on your bellybutton and one on your upper chest.

Focus here on your breath and counting seconds.

Breathe in for 4 seconds, feel the belly rise, hold for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds and feel the hand on the belly fall.

This method of belly breathing will relax you and you can use it to help you drop off to sleep too. Do 5 breath cycles or however many you feel comfortable with.

If you are out in public and don’t want to obviously put your hands on your bellybutton and chest, you don’t have to.

Tip #5:

TRY A WALKING MEDITATION WITH AFFIRMATIONS

How To Do an Affirmation Meditation:

Pick a positive affirmation (I am calm; I am joyful etc).

As you breathe in, repeat it in your head.

With every breath in, you are taking in more and more of the affirmation and saturating your self with how you want to feel.

I urge you to try meditation and see its proven benefits for yourself. Meditation comes highly recommended, not just by me, but by countless thousands of very different people all around the world. As Marcus Aurelius – a Stoic Philosopher - wrote centuries ago in his work, Meditations: “You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” Meditation will give you the calm ability to observe your thoughts but not be dominated by them. And in taking ownership of our power to choose how we feel and respond, we take back power over our life and discover our ability to create our own happiness and peace.

DISCLAIMER:

THIS BLOG POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE MEDICAL ADVICE.

MEDITATION SHOULD NOT BE USED INSTEAD OF MEDICAL TREATMENT, BUT CAN BE USED AS A COMPLEMENT TO IT.

FOR MEDICAL ADVICE, PLEASE CONSULT A DOCTOR.

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