There is something about the idea, at least in the recent past, that somehow hasn’t always jived with mainstream, western societies.
But lately, it is almost hard to pick up a newspaper and read a recent report without reading about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. I must admit, while my yoga practice is my own moving meditation, I don’t carve time out of my day to purposefully meditate. So being the eternal student that I am, I decided to take a short course on learning how to meditate.
The course is taught by Wendy Quan at The Calm Monkey, a really inspiring woman who has now taught thousands of people to meditate over the last ten years. Her years of teaching and her own research have shown that meditation can increase ‘personal resiliency’, which she describes as one’s own ability to bounce back from difficult situations and allow things to easily bounce off of oneself.
Wendy’s demeanour, needless to say, is calm, collected and soothing – I suppose only to be expected from a teacher of meditation.
“When you are the most stressed out,” she says, “that’s when you should be meditating the most.”
Words from the wise.
So for all of you type As out there whose brains are buzzing and you’re thinking, “I don’t have time to read about meditation,” I know where you are coming from… because I am one of them. So I will cut to the chase.
Here is the quick and dirty of what I learned about meditation to get started:
- Mindfulness and meditation are often uttered in the same breath but they are different from one another, although complementary. While meditation is about purposefully carving out time to meditate using various techniques, mindfulness is about practicing being present in the moment.
- By being mindful, we are able to enjoy the moment and enjoy our life experiences more fully by not worrying about our future vacation plans or ruminating over an argument we had yesterday.
- Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not about having an empty or a ‘blank’ mind. Rather, it is about learning to focus the mind, noticing when our thoughts wander and then coming back to our initial focus.
- When we notice our thoughts wandering, we become more self-aware. When we are self-aware we are more able to change our thoughts about something. Remember that time you manufactured that story in your own mind about how your friends were talking sh*t about you behind your back the other day? You know what I’m talking about. When we notice the stories we manufacture in our own minds, we are able to change them. I particularly like this quote: “Don’t assume motive, assume positive intention.”
Here is the basics on how to meditate:
- Start by downloading a meditation timing app. Wendy suggested Insight Timer. This will allow you to set a timer for the duration of your meditation.
- Find a cushion to sit on and ensure your knees are at the same height as, or lower than, your hips. If you don’t have a cushion, you can also sit in a chair, feet flat on the ground.
- If you sit cross-legged, try not to stack your ankles which can cut off circulation.
- There are countless props you can use, including a meditation bench, which I think I will try.
- Relax and roll your shoulder blades down your back and close your eyes.
- Start a simple meditation by focusing on your breath, without breathing differently than you normally would.
- You can listen to some free, simple meditation recordings by visiting Wendy’s website here.
Lastly, here are some final meditation tips from Wendy:
- “Attitude is everything.”
- Have no expectations.
- Hold no judgements or negative self-talk.
- Be an observer.
- Bring a beginner’s mind, let go of the ego.
- Don’t expect a ‘blank mind’ but notice the moments when your mind wanders. Your job is to re-focus gently.
- Be patient, give it time, and allow rather than try.
Here is an example of how NOT to meditate below. This was me, a couple of years ago, attempting a mystical meditation in Hawaii. Although the view is alright, my knees are above my hips, and my ankles are stacked!