I first started meditating when I left my parents rural Welsh home, moved to an inner-city environment, and found I couldn’t get to sleep – I could blame the streetlights but to be honest moving away from home and living with strangers was probably a big part of it. Someone at the Karate club I was a member of back then suggested Zazen meditation – I ended up counting my breaths to 4, over and over and over, every night. Now I only have to lie down and take a breath in order to fall asleep…a source of much frustration to my wife.
I also used the same counting to 4 approach in my running – and still do, particularly at tough points where I tune out of the physical and mental activity until I get nudged back to reality – I often over-count and suddenly realise I’m in the fifties!
I’ve also used this approach to calm myself during the day when things are getting on top of me – a ‘reset’ moment that I regularly recommend.
As a family we’d recently subscribed to the Headspace* app and although I’ve been a bit snooty about Headspace in the past I decided to embrace it, and use it to develop a more consistent meditation practice. There’s too many courses to list – letting go of stress, productivity, sports motivation – as well as sleepcasts and yoga lessons, all of which you can do concurrently or one at a time. I ran through the basics courses over a couple of days and decided on a course called Headspace 365 (there’s something wrong with me, I’m sure anyone else would have gone with a 30 day course). There’s usually the option to change the length of the meditations but this course doesn’t offer that, it starts with 10 minutes, moves up to 15 and currently I’m at 20 – I don’t think it gets any longer than that but 20 is probably my sweet spot in terms of opportunity cost as there’s plenty of other things I have to do on a daily basis.
Our current routines at home meant the best place to fit this new habit into my day is in the morning, straight after having my #FirstCup as it’s the quietest space in the day. There were a couple of days where I didn’t get this time and had to crowbar it in later, these were much harder sessions. I also managed to work through a couple of other courses – exam focus, prioritisation – in spare 10 minute slots during the month but didn’t find them as helpful as the consistent morning practice. In future I’ll make these an evening routine instead.
Things I learned
- Using a quiet moment in the morning prevented me wasting that time scrolling on FB or YouTube – or both – and got the day started in a much more positive fashion
- I was able to see a significant reduction in my heart rate (via my Fitbit*) when I was meditating which contributed to an overall reduction in my average heart rate.
- I felt more focused after the first week, not the Bruce Lee, laser-like focus I’m aiming to achieve but certainly clearer minded than usual and less stressed at the points that usually hit me – college and work stuff normally.
- According to my family I was noticeably less grumpy (I’d argue I’m never grumpy but it would be a 3 to 1 vote against!)
- There were days where it didn’t come easily and other days where it was over too soon. The more I practice the easier it gets. (There’s a life lesson for us all)
- I did have a few moments of ‘clarity’ after the first few weeks and soon learned to have a notepad to hand to write ideas and thoughts down as soon as I’d finished.
There are hundreds of different forms of meditation around the world. The most common include:
Zazen – Japanese Zen Buddist meditation
Mindfulness – noting thoughts but not latching onto them – Buddist in origin
Transcendental – a mantra or phrases individual to you – popularised in the West by the Beatles
Spiritual – seeking a deeper connection with god/universe/higher power
Focused – concentration on something – breath, counting, an object, when the mind is distracted you have to refocus and carry on
Mantra – the classic is the ‘Om’ but you can chant almost anything
Body scan or progressive relaxation – focuses on muscles or body parts one at a time to achieve overall relaxation
Deepak Chopra set a Guinness World Record for the largest synchronized online meditation in 2014 with 93,000 people registered.
Improve your memory and mental focus
Lower your blood pressure
Reduce your anxiety (my anxiety typically shows up with repetitive door checking and has been noticeably reduced this month)
Improve sleep and provide effective relaxation
Reduce pain levels and relieve some depression symptoms
For a simple introduction to basic mindfulness meditation I’d recommend this guide on mindful.org but I’m also happy to chat about how to start – just message me.
I definitely recommend you try meditation. Today. Right now.
That said, I was a little disappointed to get to the end of March and not see any significant changes. On reflection, although I’ve meditated in the past this is probably the first time I’ve made it a consistent practice for so long (56 day streak today and a total of 18 hours of meditation) and I did feel some benefits very quickly but unlike weight-loss they aren’t immediately visible. Like everything we do consistently I expect these benefits to compound in the future as I carry on – you can expect another blog post at the 365 milestone.
Consistency is the key element here, it’s not the time spent meditating each day so much as the consistent repetition teaching your brain that you can do something repeatedly – so don’t give up if you only manage a few minutes a day as that still strengthens your mind and brain – think of it as cardio for the mind.
*As you’d expect, there are other meditation apps and fitness wearables available.