Mindfulness and meditation are widely promoted for having healing powers and enhancing overall wellbeing, but how does one ‘empty’ the mind? What is the purpose and the benefits of meditating? And who has time to meditate? These are common questions I answer from curious students feeling overwhelmed about embarking on a meditation practice. With over-stimulated brains and fast-paced lifestyles taking the time and attention to sit and do ‘nothing’ seems like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be, read on to learn how.
Why practice meditation?
Meditating trains you to be in control of your inner state. With practice and diligence you can control your heart rate, breathing, thoughts, and energy flow. It’s all about creating more space for your brain to generate new thought forms and new brain waves to circulate. By quieting the monotonous chatter and focusing on your breath you are training the inner self (mind and nervous system) to be still and peaceful.
Meditation is filling the mind with focus and concentration
There is a common misunderstanding that meditation is about ‘emptying’ the mind or doing ‘nothing’ but it’s actually quite the opposite. Meditation is filling the mind with focus and concentration. When the mind is trained to focus and concentrate, the day to day emotional ups and downs are easy to navigate. When unexpected chaos ensues the inner self will be trained and ready to face it without activating the stress response. When we are in a place of calm and peace it is impossible to activate the fight/flight nervous system which is responsible for creating stress, disease, hyper tension, and anxiety. Meditation becomes an empowering and invaluable life tool. We cannot control a lot of things that happen around us, but we can control our inner state and our response to circumstances.
Meditation works by heightening the function of all your systems
Think of practicing meditation as putting your brain and energy system through boot camp. By training your mind to clear out the distractions, quiet the noise, and focus on the task at hand you’ll be activating your rest/digest nervous system (the parasympathetic nervous system) which is responsible for internal autonomic functions. By training your inner self you’ll be able to soar through difficult situations without activating your fight/flight system (sympathetic nervous system) which interferes with digestion, immunity, sleep, and reproduction. Meditation works by heightening the function of all your systems and therefore supporting a healthy whole person. Your brain’s health is similar to the health of all your other organs. When organs are abused with toxins, like processed foods and chemicals, the negative repercussions are disease and hypertension among other side effects. Similarly, when the brain is bogged down with unhealthy thought patterns such as worrying, negative self-talk, and repetitive thought patterns, the result is unnecessary stress, high blood pressure, anxiety, sleeplessness, and fatigue. By being proactive and giving your mind exercise and a break from the noise you can start to create a sanctuary of space and calm.
I don’t have time to meditate
A little goes a long way. You don’t have to sit under a tree in lotus pose for hours waiting for enlightenment in order to reap the benefits of meditation. Start with baby steps and think quality over quantity. Once a day set a timer for 3 minutes, turn off your devices or put them in a closed room, and lay down or sit and focus on your breath. Or try one of the meditations below. If sitting by yourself with no guidance is problematic there are free meditations out there, just search “3 minute meditations”. After a week try for 4 minutes…then 5 minutes, and so on. Eventually you’ll find the right length of time for you to feel refreshed and grounded.
Once the mind is trained it doesn’t take long to get to that calm and grounded place. Eventually you can take a deep breath, remember the feeling, and instil that feeling in your nervous system. When you get to this level it becomes who you are not just something that you do. For instance when you’re stuck in traffic and it’s really irritating, you can choose to sit relaxed and focus on your breathing rather than triggering your fight/flight system with toxic anger and road rage. You can use those everyday moments to teach and train your inner self rather than activating a stress response.
How do I start a meditation practice?
There are many styles of meditation and you have to find what works for you. Remember the key is to fill your mind with focus. Think about how you learn best; are you a visual person? Or are you better at feeling sensations such as the breath? Do you feel more relaxed sitting or laying down? Here are 3 basic meditations to get you started.
Meditation for the Visual Learner
Sit or lay down comfortably and visualize a sequence of colours. I like to use the chakra colours in order – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white. Or pick a colour scheme that works for you. Cycle through your colour scheme spending a few minutes focusing on the colour and feeling the vibration of that colour in your body. After you’ve cycled through your colours start to notice where your mind is and what you notice in your body. How do you feel? By focusing on the colour at hand you are clearing space in your brain by blocking out everything else that is usually running around in your head. The body and mind become one and eventually with practice the nervous system can drop into this state at your own will whenever you need to feel calm and peace. Here is a guided 12 minute colour meditation on youtube.