Meditation. Does the mere mention of the word strike fear into your very being? Do you immediately jump to why you can’t mediate? I can’t sit still and think of nothing, I just don’t have the time! I can’t sit on the floor because of my back, knees and hips. It’s for hippies and weirdos!
I was put off meditating for years (busy monkey mind doesn’t go anywhere near my head, seriously I have the whole Chimp House going on). In part I put it down to a workshop I did back in 2005. The visiting teacher said he would sit for two hours and completely empty his mind and have no thoughts enter his head. My journey into meditation was over before it began, there was no point in me even trying, I could never sit for two hours with an empty head. So instead, every week I turned up to my Yoga class and got on the mat (not realising that this in itself is a form of meditation).
Over the years I have been given various handy hints, tips and analogies on how to deal with my ‘thoughts’ as they entered my head and disturbed my ‘none thinking time’. One of the least helpful was to ‘imagine I was under water and my thoughts were like passing fish, just let them swim off’. The problem with this is I immediately start to hold my breath. I’m quite literal in my thinking. I did come across an analogy that worked beautifully for me (sorry, I just can’t remember who said it or where I even heard it, but for me, it works). Imagine you are sitting in a train station and the trains keep coming and going, passing through on their various journeys. It would be ridiculous to try and catch every train. Your thoughts are nothing more than the passing trains. How many times have you actually caught yourself in the thought process and wondered, ‘how on earth did I get to thinking about this?’ You track your thoughts back and it’s actually quite incredible the meandering journey of your mind.
Another great tip I read recently was to compare your busy mind to training a puppy. We accept that puppies require patience and kindness and to be shown what to do repeatedly until finally it becomes learnt behaviour; sit on the mat, go outside to toilet, walk nicely on the lead, don’t chew the leg of the chair. Our minds are the same. Be patient and kind with yourself.
So how did I do it? Where did I start?
- I sit in a comfortable chair (or even my bed). No expensive equipment required.
- Sit upright with good posture, don’t slouch.
- Bring your attention to your breath, notice the quality of your breath. Is it deep and smooth or a little raggy. No judgment, just observe.
- Notice the sensations as you inhale, the expansion into your belly and chest, notice the ribcage moving.
- Observe the natural pause at the top of your inhale.
- Exhale fully until you feel your lower ribs tuck slightly.
- Notice the slightly shorter pause at the end of the exhale, followed by the natural deep inhale.
- Try to feel the sensation of the exhale in the space between your upper lip and nose. It is a little harder to discern than the sensation of the inhale in the nostrils and so I find I tend to be less distracted.
- When thoughts enter your head, remember the train passing through the station, let it go, that’s not your destination today.
- Keep coming right back to your breath, in time you will experience fewer trains and naughty puppies.
- Set a timer with a soft tone, the expectation of a loud and jarring noise can create anxiety.
As a visual person, I found the following image from Emma Seppala really informative, she also has some great stuff on her website.
So now you have the how and the why, it’s time to take a seat, pay attention to your breath and calm that Monkey Mind.