One of the most important aspects of my self-renewal journey is learning to meditate and be more mindful. This encompasses all four motivations that I am working on – Physical, Spiritual, Mental and Social/Emotional (through self-care). This is the area that I have been working on the longest and I have currently been meditating for 36 days.
I felt quite strongly that this was the place I needed to start and that it would be the one activity which would help me in all other endeavours. I have tried and failed many times previously to learn to meditate and be more mindful. I would always do quite well to start but would then become increasingly frustrated with some of the initial issues such as not being able to focus, the mind keeping on wandering, not being comfortable or finding it a bit of a chore or a little boring. I realise now that at those times I had not realised the importance of it. It was only when I started writing down my lists that I realised this one thing could be the key to changing everything for me.
In my post today I want to write a little about how I started meditating and the initial struggles I faced and how I found ways to overcome them. Hopefully by the end of the post anyone who has been thinking about giving it a go will have a few steps to work with. I also recommend an app called Headspace which I have been using to help me. I find it really helps motivate you and keeps you on track.
The first thing to do is to get comfortable. You can sit in a chair or on the floor. It is not necessary to sit in any particular position such as the lotus although your spine should be erect. For some, sitting with your spine straight can be uncomfortable to start with but you will get used to it quickly. Initially you can use the feeling to help you stay present. I don’t recommend sitting on the sofa as if you are too comfortable you may fall asleep and it is harder to sit with your spine straight! Okay, Are you comfortable?
You can start with your eyes open. Don’t stare at anything particular, just keep a soft gaze and be aware of the space around you. Now you can start to take a few deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose. Your focus should be on your chest expanding and your lungs filling with air. You should breathe out through your mouth where your focus should be on your body softening and relaxing. Initially breathe loud enough that if there was someone sitting next to you they could hear you inhale and exhale. Do this for as long as you need to feel relaxed. When you feel relaxed, close your eyes gently on an exhale.
Firstly focus on the physical sensations. Feel your body pressing down against the chair or floor. Feel the soles of your feet pressing on the ground. Feel your arms and hands resting on your legs or lap. It can be quite difficult at first to tune into the body but it will get easier the more aware you become. I found focusing on the feet helpful as you often get a tingling sensation here which is quite obvious. Focus on the body sensations for a couple of minutes.
When you feel ready start to notice the sounds around you… a ticking clock, the hum of electricity, cars passing outside and the wind blowing. It is important that you don’t search for sounds, just notice what comes to you. As soon as it comes to your awareness, let it pass again. It’s amazing what you notice when you think you’re in silence! When you feel comfortable with this bring the attention back into the body.
Notice how your body is feeling. Scan down your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck on any one area, just keep moving steadily down. Are there any areas of tightness, tension? Are there areas which feel relaxed. Don’t think about it, just notice and move on. Build a picture of how your body feels. Initially I found scanning the body difficult as I could not feel every part of my body. When this happens you just need to notice you don’t feel anything and move on. It can help to say the body parts in your head to keep you focused and moving on. Head, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, neck…etc. You will become more aware as you practise.
Next, when you feel ready start to focus on your breathing. Notice the rise and fall in your body. Where do you notice it? In the stomach? Diaphragm? Chest? Shoulders? Notice the rhythm of the breath. Are they long? Short? Shallow? Deep? Don’t think about it, just notice. After a short while you can count the breaths, I found this really helped me to focus. Count one on the inhale and 2 on the exhale etc right up to ten. When you reach ten, start back at one and continue in this way. Allow thoughts to come and go. If you get distracted, come back to the breath and pick up on the number you left off on.
Next, completely let go off any focus. If your mind wants to think, let it think. If your mind wants to be busy, let it be busy. Don’t try to control anything. After a few moments bring the attention back to the body.
Notice the physical sensations, the contact your body has with the chair or floor. The soles of your feet on the floor. Your arms and hands resting on your legs or lap. Notice the sounds. Bring yourself back into your immediate environment. Gently open your eyes, have a stretch and relax. Take a minute to appreciate how good it feels.
Remember at this stage it is still very common for you to be having a lot of thoughts. This is normal, just remember the moment you realise that you are distracted, just to bring your awareness back to the body or breath. It gets easier with practise.