It is difficult to feel sure about your approach to meditation. Do I need to sit in lotus position? Must I close my eyes? What on earth is this hand gesture thing? And the biggie – I can’t possibly clear my mind, is it even possible for me to meditate?
This week I was asked to lead meditations for the teachers at a local school as part of their Wellness Week. As I was planning the sessions, I realised how tempted I was to teach them about meditation, explaining the options, pre-empting their questions and waxing lyrical about the virtues of regular practice. Instead, I decided to focus on allowing them to experience the process, and (to meet my need for people to be fully informed) make a handout for them as well. I’m sharing that with you as part of this week’s instalment of Friday Featuring…
Benefits of mindful practices
There are many studies around now which show that meditation and other mindfulness practices (such as yoga) can increase your compassion and empathy – for others, improving relationships; for yourself, improving self-esteem and your sense of place in the world; and, I’m hoping, for the planet.
These practices can improve ability to concentrate and sleep quality and can also alleviate your experience of stress, pain and anxiety. They have been shown to affect how the brain works and its structure, improving the ability to regulate emotions. By becoming more aware of how you are feeling (your thoughts and physical sensations) in the present moment, you are less likely to be overwhelmed. You might have a sense that a small pause – time and space – is being created between thought and response, giving you insight into your emotions and perhaps allowing you to respond in a more considered way.
These are not small matters. The World Health Organisation says that depression is currently the leading cause of disability worldwide, with an estimated 4.4% (322 million) people globally affected (2015). An estimated 3.6% (264 million) people globally live with an anxiety disorder (2015). Wednesday was World Mental Health Day, which is a great incentive to speak, listen and learn from each other, and adopt practices and habits which we know will make a positive impact on our wellbeing. And with that …
To begin: posture + setting yourself up
The goal is to be comfortable, calm, and free to begin your meditation. Don’t stress too much about ticking all the boxes – just guide yourself into an easy position to start. Some tips are:
Establishing a routine
Let me know how you get on, and please share any of your own hints and tips below.
Breathe, make space, be compassionate.
Instruction and guidance can provide a lot of support in establishing a regular practice. Sitting and meditating in a group (with or without instruction) is also very helpful. There are many organisations that offer afternoon, one-day, weekend or week-long retreats. I can recommend places to learn if you are interested – just let me know.
Online, there are options such as the excellent Headspace app, the Insight app and podcasts such as Tara Brach’s.
In future episodes of Friday Featuring… I’ll provide a script (or maybe even an audio file, technological expertise pending) of a guided mediation, and I’ll also tell the story about how I accidentally learned to meditate.
Picture credit: this is a small portion of a glorious, huge painting called “Reverse” (2002- 3) by Jenny Saville RA from the recent Tate Britain exhibition “All Too Human”. This is a confronting painting, but a masterpiece of close observation. The Tate said, ‘Saville’s large-scale nudes and self-portraits frequently depict the honest and often unflattering realities of the human form.’ It felt apt.