Meditation: the practice of quietening the mind in order to cultivate awareness of self. Practised worldwide, it’s meant to bring us a sense of calm and inner peace. It’s even been said to improve productivity. In 2011, Oprah Winfrey introduced meditation to her company, and all the staff soon began meditating together twice daily. In an interview with Dr Oz, she said: “And you can’t imagine what has happened in the company. People who used to have migraines, don’t. People are sleeping better. People have better relationships. People interact with other people better. It’s been fantastic.”
So we know there are all these benefits, and we know we should be meditating daily. Or maybe, twice. But what if meditation does not bring you a sense of calm, but instead makes you feel anxious? If you feel your mind is running at a million miles an hour, the thought of sitting still and getting it to be “quiet” for even one minute can seem quite overwhelming, not to mention impossible.
If you sometimes find that about meditation, don’t worry – you are not alone. It’s challenging for many people to find inner stillness on a whim, and it might seem easier to just “meditate” by distracting yourself with a Netflix binge (been there, done that!) But before you give up completely, here are some tips to get yourself from 100 to Zen.
TAKE THE PRESSURE DOWN
One of the most important things to start with is to let go of the pressure to get it “right”. Meditation is like yoga. It is a very individual practice and definitely not a one-size-fits-all. There is no right or wrong way.
We are constantly changing, evolving, and every single time we come to our chair to meditate, the one thing we can be sure of is that we are going to be different from what we were the week, the day or even the minute before. So don’t let your experiences or expectations of what your situation should or shouldn’t be like right now, in this moment, get in the way.
Every time you come to meditation practice, sit down as though you have never meditated before. Instead of needing to “do” anything in particular, release all need to do anything at all, and just allow yourself to just “be”. Remember that meditation is a time for awareness, for observation, but not for action.
“Search your heart and see. The way to do is to be.”
– Lao Tzu
STOP THINKING? YEAH RIGHT
Let’s be honest, the intense focus on completely clearing the mind just does not work. The brain is designed to think, and it will do its job! Beating yourself up for something that is natural for us, as humans, is just going to be counter-productive, and will only contribute to stress or anxiety. What if, instead of trying to stop thinking completely, we can instead change our relationship to our thoughts?
When we are meditating we are “here”, in the present moment. Every time we realise we are thinking, or we catch ourselves drifting from a present mind to a wandering one, it is then that we turn our attention back to the present moment. This act of returning to the present, is actually a part of the meditation practice itself. So why not try replacing frustration with being grateful that the thought happened, and that you can now let it go and come back to your practice.
“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.”
– Thích Nhất Hạnh
FIND A PATHWAY
Let’s touch on the elements. The five elements are: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Space/Ether.
When we are anxious, or “in our heads”, with busy minds and unable to calm the thoughts – we have a lot of the element of Air going on. We may even have too much Fire if there is stress involved and any residual anger or fear. When we have these two elements going on, and we try to immediately be still in the element of Space (the quiet mind), it is pretty much impossible. We need a pathway.
We can use the element of Water to shift what’s on repeat in our mind, to cool the Fire and lead us down to the element of Earth, where we feel grounded, steady and stable. So how do we do this? We get moving.
Now I’m not saying get up and run around, jumping and moving in a way that makes you MORE excited. What I’m talking about are slow-flowing and breath-focused movements, even imagining you are moving through water or in water. Using these to slow and calm the breath triggers the “relax” response or the parasympathetic nervous system, and can help cultivate a sense of being more grounded. From Earth, we are steady and more calm. Feeling supported and safe, we are more likely to be able to “let go”.
Plus, the added benefit is that the movement not only offers a pathway, but shifts the focus to something other than the thoughts in our head. It reconnects us to our body again so that we can feel instead of thinking. Sometimes, this shifting can be just the key we need, to make it back to the present moment.
Try this short Chair Yoga flow sequence before you meditate
“Feeling will get you closer to the truth of who you are than thinking.”
– Eckhart Tolle