Tuesday, 4 October 2016

How To Get Your Life Back On Track with Meditation

"To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour"
William Blake

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour. William Blake
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/williambla150124.html


You know what this is about, right? You’ve heard it before. You may have even given it a try. But you don’t find time and you’re not very good at it anyway. It just feels like a waste of time if it doesn’t work.

The reason why you are interested though is because of the ongoing challenges in your life. Whether it’s your health, work, relationships or finances, you feel under pressure and life feels like it’s out of control. You need something that really works.

Well, meditation (you knew that’s what we were talking about, right?) does work. There’s any number of studies now which point to its helpful effect on anxiety and depression*. Individuals who practise it point to its beneficial effect on their lives in very specific ways.

Did you know? Research suggests that meditation helps stop the natural shrinking of the brain which happens naturally with age and it can even help grow new cells**.

I’ll hold my hand up at this point. Vested interest, you see. I am a meditator and approach it with the zeal of the recently converted. You’re probably not surprised at that but it may surprise you to know how much it has helped me within a matter of months.


Stress and an Overflowing Bucket

The thing is, I’d grown convinced some time ago that my recurring bouts of chronic fatigue were a result of stress. Not massive amounts necessarily, just everyday stuff which has built up over a long period of time. In short, my bucket was full and every time another of life’s stressors came along, the bucket started overflowing and I became quite ill.

What to do? Well, from all I’d read and heard, the one thing which perhaps had a chance of helping me to empty that bucket was meditation. I’d tried it a few years ago and practised it quite often and then stopped for reasons which are still not quite clear to me. Since then, it had always been an aspiration to start again but I kept telling myself that I wasn’t any good at it and therefore there was no point trying because it wouldn’t help if I couldn’t get it to work. 

With A Little Help …

Fortunately, with the help of a friend, I realized something very important – you don’t have to be good at it. That’s not the point. The point is just do it – just meditate. Do it and keep doing it and it will change your life. It could be the best gift you ever give yourself.

Success: Ten months later I’m sleeping better, I feel calmer and more importantly, the ups and downs of recovering from chronic fatigue have been removed and I am making sure but steady progress to regain my health.

To be fair, I started feeling those benefits after about a month but I wasn’t completely sure so I decided to postpone judgement. Nearly a year later and I’m a convinced meditator.

Starting to Meditate

So, if you’re inspired to meditate (and why wouldn’t you be?), what can you do to start?

Well, I can’t pretend to be an expert but what I know I learned from a guy called Paul Wilson***, who has written several books on the whole concept of calm. He basically makes it as simple as possible and removes much of the mysticism about it. In other words, you don’t have to sit in the classic pose, worry about your chakras or say, “Omm”.

These are my basic five steps to meditating which I’ve adapted from Paul Wilson.

1. Find a quiet spot, probably in your own home and wear some comfortable clothing

2. Take some time to make yourself as comfortable as possible. I prefer a reclining position but I’ve also meditated lying down and sitting up.

3. Take a little bit more time to just lie and rest and then after a few minutes do a full-body relaxation or progressive muscle relaxation****.

4. When you are fully relaxed begin the meditation

5. Take a simple one-syllable word which has no obvious meaning. (I use “One”.) Slowly repeat it silently over and over again to yourself. Keep going for about 20 minutes.

There, what could be simpler?

Especially to begin with, you will find your focus wandering and your mind will be thinking about everything from what you had for breakfast to a random stranger you met 20 years ago. At that moment, just accept that your mind has lost its focus and start again with your one-word repetition. Don’t think you’ve failed or that you’re rubbish at it. In fact, don’t think anything. Just gently re-focus on repeating your “mantra”.
With practice, the length of time that you are able to focus on your mantra will increase but that’s not so important. What is important, is that you keep turning up and you keep doing it. Meditation is a habit which after a few months you will want to keep for the rest of your life.

Tip: to build up the habit, try a red pen and a prominently displayed calendar. Put a red cross on a day on the calendar every time you’ve meditated and see how long you can keep it going. If you break the chain, start again the next day*****.

The research has tended to be small-scale to be fair so there is a need for a large-scale longitudinal project which produces some robust results. However, the best evidence will be your own.

Tip: if you like challenges, how about starting off with a 30x30 challenge? Task yourself with meditating every day for 30 minutes for 30 days. If you succeed, try 100 days.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t work out for you to begin with. There are lots of different ways to meditate and lots of ways to build up the habit. It may suit some people to start meditating for one minute, the next day two minutes and so on. Do what works for you and do it the easiest way possible.
I don’t think meditation is a cure-all. However, it might just give you that foothold back in life that you’ve been missing. Through calming and giving you the mental ability to cope better with life’s misfortunes, it could be your most important tool in re-gaining your confidence and your zest for life.
Keep Calm and Keep Meditating!

How exactly will I benefit?  
Well, that’s hard to say but the evidence suggests that it does help with anxiety and depression. People who practise regularly point to other benefits such as increased creativity. I’ve told you the benefits to me and you may be surprised at the people who do meditate daily, including Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Seinfeld. Check out the Million Meditators page of Facebook which links to reports on evidence for meditation.
How long before I see a benefit?  
Again, it depends very much on how often you do it and for how long. If you were to do it every day for a month, for about 20 minutes, there is evidence to suggest that after that time you’ll feel a positive difference in your mental well-being.
What if nothing happens?  
Nothing does happen. To begin with you may feel it is a terrible waste of time because you can’t focus and all the things you don’t want to think about go through your mind anyway. You may not feel particularly relaxed at the end of the session. The important thing is to give it time, be patient and know that it works. Because it does.
Why am I rubbish at it?  
I’ve been doing it for nearly a year and I’m still rubbish but I’m still getting lots of benefits. There will be days where you can’t concentrate and others where it goes like a breeze. Some days you’ll think it was pointless but feel great afterwards and on other days the opposite happens. Don’t bother about whether you’re a success or failure at it. Just do it.


Related Posts
Feeling Stuck? One Thing You Must Try Right Now.
Effort, Education and Growth Mindsets 
Get Uncomfortable


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Coming Up

Future blogposts on how I confronted my mental blocks to progress and how a morning self-care routine was the difference between life and death for one young woman.

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* From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22582738 quoted in Deepak Chopra's article in The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/how-meditation-can-help-a_b_8134058.html?ir=Australia

** http://thenewdaily.com.au/life/wellbeing/2015/07/05/renovate-brain-meditation/

*** https://www.amazon.com/Calm-Technique-Meditation-without-Mysticism/dp/0760715246

**** You can use this resource https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/MuscleRelaxation.pdf Personally, I don't tense my muscles first. In this resource, I would go straight to Release Only at the bottom of Page 4

***** I'm indebted to James Clear for this habit forming exercise http://jamesclear.com/stop-procrastinating-seinfeld-strategy which he in turn got from Jerry Seinfeld who just so happens to be a convinced meditator himself!

photo credit: bernat.rv <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/137220414@N03/28580877104">Serenity</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>

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