What springs to mind when you think of meditation?
Reverent Buddhist monks sitting in faraway caves? Vegans lecturing people on the dangers of sunscreen to coral reef health?
I was sceptical when it came to trying meditation. Though after reading from reputable, non-hippie sources, I gave it a go.
I’ve found mindfulness practice to be less holy and more pragmatic than I first thought. Consistent practice helps me to keep a clear mind and make better decisions.
Many versions of meditation exist. Some focus on breath awareness while others are centred on repeating a mantra. But their goal is the same: to improve acuity.
You’re not trying to block or stop thoughts from appearing. Mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts. Once you can recognise them, you can choose what to do with them.
Let’s say you’re in conversation with a friend. Something she says prompts a thought. Though, instead of interrupting your buddy, you pocket the thought. You don’t ruminate on it but allow her to finish what she’s saying.
Find a comfortable, upright spot where you won’t be distracted
Stay upright or you’ll risk nodding off. Comfort is important too. During practice, you don’t want to be concerned with maintaining a position that makes your back ache. A good chair is best.
Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth
Start with a handful of larger-than-normal breaths. Then let your breathing settle into a normal rhythm.
Pay attention to the breath
The mind needs to be occupied by something. By paying close attention to your breathing, it fills the void that would otherwise be filled by internal chatter.
What do you feel when you breathe in? Focus on your tummy rising and falling. When breathing out, feel the air passing out of your mouth.
The sensation you focus on is not important, just keep it breath-focused.
Don’t get frustrated by incoming thoughts
Each time you find yourself being drawn in, bring your attention back to the breath. It could be minutes before you realise your mind is off track. That’s normal.
Count each breath to keep yourself accountable.
Begin with short practices of two to three minutes. Build your sessions to ten minutes, and beyond, with time.
Ten minutes a session is enough for me. I found more benefit from adding extra sessions in throughout the day rather than making a session longer. It’s like hitting the reboot button.
Does ‘mindfulness’ still have you picturing a guy with dreadlocks chained to a tree munching on a veggie burger?
I hope not.
Just as you go to the gym to train your physical body’ mindfulness practice is training for your brain. You’ll be rewarded with better concentration, mood and patience.