How to Meditate Effectively
An ancient practice with timeless benefits
When I read somewhere that meditation was the only process that actually helped your brain regenerate grey matter, I was determined to replace all those brain cells I had lost over the years.
I’m still not sure if that’s actually a fact, but it certainly motivated me to get started. Not only that, but we live in a world where we are constantly on. We’re always connected and rarely take a moment just to breathe.
Even while we’re doing things that should be private and precious, there still remains a niggling urge to publicize each moment to social media or lose ourselves in thoughts of the past and the future.
By being so available to everyone else, it becomes hard to connect back to ourselves. For me, meditation serves as a point of both connection and disconnection.
Its duality and flexibility are why it really appeals to me, though it can definitely be intimidating at first.
The Practice of Meditation
What is meditation? According to Buddhist faith, meditation serves as a path towards enlightenment or nirvana.
It’s a practice of quietening the mind while concentrating your focus on something (which soon becomes nothing). Meditation comes in many forms — for example, my father still tries to convince me that his form of meditation involves playing golf five times a week.
For others, this could come through art or fitness. Sometimes when I write, I get sucked into this flow of words that becomes so seamless, and when I’m done, it’s like I’ve run a marathon.
Meditation, as it is most widely understood, involves a seated posture, closed eyes and directing your focus towards your breath.
You deepen your breathing slightly and the only thing your mind is centred around is this gentle inhale and exhale. By using the breath as a focal point, one is able to bring the focus back to the internal body, feeling the breath move through it and finally be released.
Some forms of meditation may use chants, music or visuals. When I meditate, I like to keep things simple.
I sit in a cross-legged position and just breathe.
Stretching for the Mind
Initially, you’ll experience a barrage of thoughts trying to find space in your mind. It’s important to look at these thoughts almost like an outsider and place no judgement over what they mean or the fact that you’re not meditating correctly.
Just let them float by.
It’s this sense of being so connected to your body while disconnecting from your thoughts that makes meditation so special. It helps us to become less judgemental, especially with ourselves, and allows us to simply be at ease with what is and what may come to be.
See, our minds are like an internet browser with hundreds of tabs open. One is thinking about work, another about lunch, a third about one thing I said last night to someone and why I shouldn’t have said another.
It’s mind-blowing when you consider just how many things we are constantly conscious of.
For me, meditation is like stretching for my brain. There have been many times where I’ve been trying to meditate for 10 or 12 minutes, out of which I might only have managed to actually quieten my mind for the best part of 30 seconds.
Your mind is a muscle and it takes an incredible amount of practice and training to actually attain a meditative state.
This is important to understand, and just because you don’t feel like it worked the first few times, that doesn’t mean it won’t eventually happen.
In my experiences, this meditative state is very distinct. I suddenly feel like my body has gotten very small and that my head is very large. It’s like all the energy in my body has moved upwards and the rest of me is simply floating.
It’s quite an amazing feeling — but it happens very rarely.
Apart from the calming effect meditation has, studies have shown that people who meditate have lower blood pressure, are less stressed and generally have a more positive outlook on life.
Meditation also trains your mind to focus, a skill we’ve really lost thanks to the multiple screens and apps that have taken over our world.
It can also help us to become more self-aware and develop a stronger relationship with our minds — an important tool when it comes to dealing with failures and setbacks in life. The benefits are endless, but it’s often getting started that is the hardest part.
A good way to begin meditating is using an app like Headspace, which I love. There are also great videos and tutorials on YouTube that can help you get going.
At the end of the day, meditation is as important as eating healthy food, drinking enough water and exercising.
By ignoring your mental health, you are giving away a lot more than you know. So when we begin to fall off the wagon, it can help to remind ourselves of the importance of regular meditation.
It doesn’t require hours of commitment — just start small. Think of just shutting off for five minutes a day, and see where it takes you.