What’s all the buzz about meditation and mindfulness? Perhaps you’ve been hearing about it for years but have never got around to it or you’ve never stuck with it. During these busy, modern times it is becoming more and more important to take time out, relax and recharge on a regular basis. Meditation is more than simply breathing and being calm, it’s about getting to know one’s inner self. According to Buddhism, meditation aims to bring the mind home. So, what does this mean for us in the Western world?
Meditation is focussing your mind on something, sitting quietly with your eyes closed, and letting your thoughts and feelings come and go, to ultimately reach a higher level of consciousness. Although you can meditate in groups, and work with an experienced meditation teacher, however it is essentially a solo experience. Mindfulness is a form of meditation technique, focussing you on something in the present moment, like your breath, walking or even colouring-in.
Here’s some tips to get you started in your own meditation practice, and hopefully keep you going.
It is recommended to work with an experienced meditation teacher, to not only supplement and expand upon your own private practice, but to explore your inner thoughts, feelings, emotions and other sensations, to access your own wisdom.
1. Start – just do it
2. Choose your style
3. Find your pose
4. How long should you meditate?
5. Make peace with your thoughts
6. Gold star ratings
7. Commitment.. discipline brings freedom
8. Need proof? How do you know it’s working?
9. Distraction, tiredness & procrastination
10. Smile, don’t take yourself seriously
You gain limited benefit from reading about meditation, or intellectualising about it. You have to actually experience it.
Take back those moments from scanning social media or other unproductive time-outs, and prioritise meditation for yourself. It is a skill worth learning and practising daily. Make it a part of your life like brushing your teeth or eating nutritious food. And as they say, just do it.
There are many styles of meditation and most have been in use for thousands of years. They aim to focus your attention or awareness on something, to relax the mind and take it somewhere, to then open up to a higher level of consciousness.
The foundation of many styles is the mindful art of breathing, to help to bring the mind home. However, the many meditation techniques have varying degrees of involvement, and require different levels of discipline and commitment. Some involve sound, mantra, and some visualisation. You can research meditation styles on the internet and in books, use apps, participate in classes and practice yourself at home.
Do not spend years searching for the most amazing meditation practice like you are looking for the elusive holy grail! When people say to ‘practise meditation’ it means to keep working at it; don’t expect it to feel instantly calm and perfect, but more on that later.
Finding a good meditation teacher can take your practice from being difficult or just OK, to enlightening. There can be many questions, issues and emotions that arise during and after meditation, and it is helpful to work through these with an experienced teacher.
I have been practising spiritual meditation for over a decade with my teacher, meditating on my own, and studying meditation facilitation. The guided visualisation techniques I have learnt with my teacher easily deliver all the benefits of meditation, including but not limited to being relaxing, rejuvenating and increasing joie de vivre. The sessions encompass broad-reaching developmental, personal and spiritual progress. Taking elements from ancient Hindu and Buddhist teachings, the techniques feature metaphors that reveal unresolved emotions, align chakras, and work with guides to gain spiritual feedback.
It is worth mentioning that you don’t have to be religious to practise meditation, although meditation does form part of many religious practises.
What? You don’t have to sit cross-legged to meditate?
- Simply sit on a chair or on the floor, with your back straight. You can sit on a cushion, bolster or block to ensure your pelvis tilts slightly forward, to help with keeping your spine upright.
- Your posture should be alert but relaxed at the same time. If you have a back problem, you will obviously need to ensure your back is supported.
- Don’t lie down, otherwise you may fall asleep.
- If you are on a chair, firmly plant your feet on the floor.
- Arms resting in your lap or by your side. Palms facing up is preferable because it feels more open to the experience, but do what feels comfortable.
It depends on the individual but a good way to begin is to aim for 5 min. You can even try 1 min to begin with but over weeks and months, progressively work up to meditating for longer periods to find a time that suits you. If you don’t want to use a (gentle) alarm, simply open your eyes whilst meditating to gaze at a nearby clock and close them again. Easy.
I have a self-agreed minimum time of 10 min. This helps me to stay committed and practice daily.
Aim for quality over quantity. You can meditate for an hour but if you spend the entire time thinking about what you did or didn’t do or say yesterday and what you’ll do tomorrow, you probably haven’t had any mental or emotional time-out.
“But my mind doesn’t stop!!!!”
It is unlikely that your mind will ever empty itself of all thoughts. Actually, it may even seem like your mind is getting louder. But this is usually because you are simply aware of the thoughts, or your thoughts are no longer in the background.
With practise over time, the aim is to provide clarity and have a quieter mind. And just like in life, there will be days when it’s more challenging than others.
If you have a super busy mind when you are meditating and cannot seem to focus, it can be beneficial to simply accept and notice what your mind is doing. Watch your thoughts, as Buddhist Dudjom Rinpoche said, “Be like an old wise man, watching a child play.”1
I used to try to get rid of my annoying and intruding thoughts, which of course felt like hard work. But once I realised how I could watch a thought as an outsider, how to reduce my attachment to my thoughts and not add to them, the thoughts became less important. By focussing my attention on spiritual visualisations, this helps to move away from my thoughts and to look deeper inward.
To bring the mind home means to drop into our pre-existing inner peace. Once you become accustomed to this peaceful tranquillity, it becomes increasingly easier over time to access this calmness and clarity when in regular day-to-day life.
Don’t praise yourself or berate yourself for your performance. Have an open mind and heart, and have compassion for yourself. For some, this is one of the most challenging aspects of meditation. Do not let yourself get too attached to how well or poorly you do each meditation. This can be an important lesson in itself. Simply, do it.
Daily meditation sounds simple but it can be harder to put into practise each day. Studies have shown that a regular practice has benefits after just 8 weeks.2
Whether you find it easy or hard, keep on practising. If you miss a day, don’t worry, start again the next day. Each day is a new beginning.
Why do it everyday? Because most of us need reminding each day that we have a peaceful and joyful place to go inside us. The world carries on and we benefit by stepping out of that fantastic madness, to be reminded that we have a spark of the divine within us, and that we can shed any heaviness that we collect.
When one stops and is still, we allow ourselves to become aware of what is going on with us; with our bodies, minds and our emotions. Things that perhaps we ignore as we get through our to-do list and deal with the challenges of everyday life.
Some people find they need to commit to a designated time of the day for meditating, like exercising. For instance, they might schedule it in each morning at 6am or 7pm at night, making it part of their routine.
Others have a weekly group practice, in addition to their private practice, to help with accountability. They also enjoy sharing their experiences with others and gain insights from verbalising their experiences. Having a good meditation teacher is like a personal fitness trainer who helps you work on your skills, work through what you experience, and also helps with your commitment.
The more you practise and work on your meditation skills, more freedom will open up within your life. People talk about a space opening up after you meditate. It can be like shedding layers of heaviness, and then a clear space opens up for creativity or for simply noticing other things around you. It can feel a like a restart button, you can feel refreshed, calmer, like a newer version of yourself.
Many have found the benefits of a regular meditation practice range from feeling relaxed and joyful, feeling less stressed, dealing with stress more easily, better decision-making, reducing blood pressure, boosting the immune system, feeling more empathy, increasing the ability to focus, and enhanced creativity. Some report that it completely transforms their lives for the better.
Buddhist traditions claim that meditation decreases psychological distress and promotes well-being.3
For me, meditation is centring and grounding, relaxing and enlightening. I find that the quiet time, even if it’s just for my self-agreed minimum of 10 min, allows me to refresh and gain perspective. It calms my emotions, even if I’m simply using the mindfulness technique of focussing on my breathing.
The brain needs looking after, just like our bodies need nurturing. The healthier our mind, the more enjoyable our life.
If you need scientific proof of the benefits of meditation, there are many articles and studies on meditation and mindfulness.
- A picture says a thousand words. Live and Dare analysed over 100 scientific papers on meditation and summarised 76 proven benefits in an infographic, listing the many sources. LiveandDare.com, Benefits of Meditation Infographic, What will happen if you start meditating today, 2015.
- Here is a recent article on mindfulness and the brain, Harvard Business Review, Mindfulness can literally change your brain, 2015.
- From Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) on mindfulness in the workplace, The ROI on Mindfulness in the Workplace, June 2018.
- A presentation from ABC News journalist, Dan Harris, explained how his once-sceptical views on meditation changed, Hack Your Brain’s Default Mode with Meditation.
Overall, it would be fair to say that most people who practise meditation find it is beneficial, leading them to feeling happier, and better able to deal with life’s ups and downs. It should be noted that some people are recommended to approach meditation with caution. *
How do you know it is working? If you are experiencing an increase in some or many of the reported benefits, and you can laugh at yourself in a pure and joyous way more and more, then you can be assured that your meditations are working. Meditation can also bring up challenging and unresolved feelings, allowing you the opportunity to observe them and work at letting them go.
Meditation using planned visual journeys is deeper and diagnostic. They help me to understand emotions that underlie surface reactions and feelings, understand the emotions of others, and have compassion and love for myself and others. By releasing old thought patterns and heavy emotional patterns, I am continually improving my ability to see things for what they are, and increasing creativity across many facets of my life. It especially helps me to feel a wonderful combination of tranquillity and joy, and to laugh at myself and the world.
To practice meditation in isolation would simply result in the benefit of relaxing for those few minutes. Meditation is truly beneficial to yourself and those around you if you blend the learning’s, peace and joy, into your everyday life.
Taking the time to meditate may seem too hard when you are busy or simply don’t feel like it. However, studies and anecdotal evidence show that taking time out to meditate becomes effective down-time, so you can then have more effective up-time.4
Filling our busy lives with more distractions, such as electronic devices, can easily take up a lot of time for limited benefit. Watching entertainment programs can be relaxing, interesting and inspiring but as part of a daily habit, they can end up being a one-way communication at you. The equivalent of ’empty’ calories providing no nutritional value; they take up your time but provide you with nothing but noise, distraction and disharmony.
Consider a daily meditation practice like your daily shower, like a shower for your soul! Most of us wouldn’t choose to skip food for a day, in a similar way meditation is like nourishment for your mind, body and spirit.
The aim is to be calm and quiet but not sleepy. Sometimes when relaxing our minds we can feel ourselves dozing or going into a fuzzy, daydreaming state. You can easily remedy this by simply taking a deep breath, reasserting your posture, and bringing yourself back to the present.5
Your mind, body and spirit will grow accustomed to this calm state over time.
According to Buddhist meditation master Sogyal Rinpoche, if you feel that you are not in the meditation properly you can take a 30 sec or 60 sec break, remain seated with eyes closed, and stop trying to meditate. He finds that people often relax from the ‘trying’ and often are back into the meditation without realising it.6
Even after all these years of practising meditation, being challenged by it, loving it, feeling the immense and widespread benefits of it, I still procrastinate. One trick I use when procrastination arrives is firstly to be aware of it, then set myself a minimum meditation time of 10 min. In most cases, if the kids are not interrupting me, I will delve into the meditation for much longer than my minimum time. But that’s just me. Everyone is different. Discover and know your triggers and make it work for you.
As with life, we learn from challenges. When things don’t go perfectly, when we think something is great and it turns out that it’s not, it can be discouraging. When you can laugh at yourself more, you know it is working. I am managing to laugh at myself more and more, and when I’m mindful I can feel the difference when I haven’t meditated.
Meditation may seem simple but its benefits can be exponential. It is absolutely, without a doubt, a skill worth learning and practising.
If you’ve read this whole article (gold star) or even if you’ve scrolled to the end, imagine if you’d spent that time taking some deep, mindful breaths and meditating.
So keep at it, relax into it, and be open. And most of all, smile and giggle like a Buddha 🙂
“The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment.” Sogyal Rinpoche.7
*NOTE: Meditation should not be undertaken without proper medical assessment and advice if you have a serious mental illness, have a serious anxiety disorder or psychotic disorder (for example, bipolar disorder or suffer from PTSD). Meditation can bring traumatic memories to the surface and it is recommended that you be assessed by a qualified psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health practitioner before and during any course of meditation, as well as practise meditation with an experienced meditation teacher.
1. Sogyal Rinpoche, Revised and updated, edited by Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: A Spiritual Classic from One of the Foremost Interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism to the West (Rider 100), Chapter 5 “Bringing the Mind Home”, 2012.
2. Harvard Business Review, Mindfulness can literally change your brain, 2015.
4. McKinsey Quarterly, The art and science of well-being at work. Leaders of high-intensity, high-performing organizations are beginning to recognize the important effects of mindfulness, exercise, and sleep on the body-and the brain, podcast and transcript, February 2016.
5. Sogyal Rinpoche, Revised and updated, edited by Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: A Spiritual Classic from One of the Foremost Interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism to the West (Rider 100), Chapter 5 “Bringing the Mind Home”, 2012.
6. Sogyal Rinpoche, Revised and updated, edited by Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: A Spiritual Classic from One of the Foremost Interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism to the West (Rider 100), Chapter 5 “Bringing the Mind Home”, 2012.
7. Sogyal Rinpoche, Revised and updated, edited by Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: A Spiritual Classic from One of the Foremost Interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism to the West (Rider 100), Chapter 5 “Bringing the Mind Home”, 2012.
Janelle provides private and group guided meditation sessions: teaching a tranquil and joyful way to retreat from the hectic pattern of modern life. She was pleased to exclusively write the suite of guided meditations for Sydney’s, purpose-built meditation studio, MYND Studios, for corporate workers in the CBD.
Janelle is passionate about living a joyful, calm and fulfilled life, and loves guiding people through this inspired way of accessing personal and spiritual development. She provides group workshops and sessions for clients privately, by appointment, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Janelle (BA, GradDipPsycSc) is a Registered Meditation Teacher, Meditation Association of Australia.