I don’t suppose my life is any busier than anyone else’s but sometimes I feel like my head is so full of a never ending to-do list that I don’t know where to start. I spend a lot of time doing one thing while thinking about what needs doing next and next and next. I never seem to focus on one task when there are fifty spinning in my head. Sound familiar?
About a year ago I came across an article about meditation. Okay, well, I admit, I read an article in Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter, goop, about meditation and how it can help clear your head and give you thinking space. Wow, I thought, I need to get me some of that. Trouble was, the only meditation I’d heard of before was done by monks with shaved heads wearing orange robes and sitting in a trance repeating ‘om’ for hours on end. I guess I've always thought it was a bit too happy clappy.
Still, what’s good for Gwyneth is good for me so I ventured to the website she’d recommended and tried ten minutes of sitting quietly listening to a guy who talked a lot of sense about clear thinking and mindfulness. After I’d finished I definitely felt calmer, and when I started my next item on the to-do list I focused entirely on it. Seemed the meditation had worked- or was it just a fluke?
I tried it again the next day, and then the next and soon became hooked on my 10 minutes of total peace and quiet a day. With this particular website there is a meditation programme that extends to 15 minutes, then 20, but there are plenty of other websites that have free downloads too- just google mindfulness meditation and you'll see the internet is full of people out there grabbing a few minute’s peace every day.
|image courtesy of adamr freedigitalphotos.net.|
The more I meditated the more I wanted to learn what was actually happening inside my head and whether I was wasting my time and energy when I could have been worrying about all those things on my list instead- and I discovered there are a zillion books out there about the process. Two I found helpful were ‘get some headspace’ by Andy Puddicombe and ‘Sane New World’ by Ruby Wax (yes, the zany comedienne- who has studied mindfulness at Oxford University). Both these books talked about how it works in a way that is easy to understand and steers clear from the happy clappy stuff.
It seems that the more mindful we are the happier we become, more brain connections grow (thus making our brains healthier and stronger), the more focused we become… numerous research papers have found that meditation protects the brain, allows us to distance ourselves from negative emotions and can even strengthen our immune functions.
So far so sciencey- but how do we actually do it? You don’t need an app or someone to tell you what to do- but I definitely found benefit in listening to someone when I first started. But if you don’t want to take a chance on a download here’s how it’s done:
Mindfulness meditation is about connecting to ourselves in the moment- the now.
Set a kitchen timer for ten minutes (5 if you can’t manage 10). Find a place to sit quietly, sit upright, but relaxed. Take 5 long deep breaths and close your eyes.
Now, be aware of your back against the chair, your bottom on the cushion, feet on the floor. Listen to the sounds outside- close ones, then those further away. When you feel ready focus on your breathing- don’t try to change it in anyway, just be aware of it… of how different each breath is. Now start to count the breaths- 1 on the in breath and 2 on the out breath. When you reach ten, start again. If you find your mind wondering (and it will!), as soon as you realize you’ve lost focus on the breath, refocus again. Don’t get frustrated or angry, losing focus is natural and normal particularly at the beginning- just bring your mind back to the breath and start counting again. When your mind wanders again- bring it back again. On and on until the time is up.
When the alarm beeps, don’t jump up immediately, just allow your mind to wander where it likes for a few seconds, then be aware of your bottom on the cushion, your back against the chair, your feet on the floor…. Then slowly open your eyes, listening to the sounds around you. Be in the moment.
Then go back to your to-do list and carry on the day- this time with a slice of peace in your heart.
Give it a go! I promise you’ll feel better for it, and if you do- try it again tomorrow.
Has any one else tried meditation? If so, how did you get on? What prompts do you use? If you don't use meditation what works to clear your head?