When I was a little girl my parents took me to Thailand (thanks guys!).
I was at an age where I got regular nosebleeds and, sure enough, standing in the hot courtyard under the watchful eyes of dozens of stone buddhas, my nose began to gush.
Spotting me, a monk from across the courtyard reached into the folds of his flowing orange robes and pulled out a kleenex. He handed it to me, guided me to a seat in the shade and walked away.
One of the central tenets of Buddhism is meditation and it’s this aspect of the faith that is most apparent in their calm demeanour, something we could all do with – am I right?!
Meditation is well-known as a means of fostering serenity, dispelling stress and encouraging mindfulness ie the ability to focus on the present, forgetting past hurts and letting go of fear about the future.
In case that all sounds a bit too ‘waffly’ for you, the hard science backs up the benefits.
A recent study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that mindfulness can not only reduce stress, but also inflammation. Given that chronic inflammation is at the root of a whole host of diseases, this is mind-blowing stuff.
US Marines are even incorporating meditation into their training, to help them deal with the stress of service and become even more badass.
And that’s why I decided to meditate daily for the month of January as part of what I like to call ‘The Great Meditation Experiment’.
How to Get Started?
There are many different ways to get into meditation. Some people find it helps to use a mantra, others prefer guided meditation (where you listen to audio). Shawna from facebook suggested visualising a burning blue flame, keeping your mind focused on the flame otherwise it will expire.
Whatever you do, the main idea is to find something that helps you tune out the clutter.
I felt a bit silly chanting something (yep, I’m self-conscious even in my own head!) so instead just focused on breathing. I counted as I inhaled..1..2..3…4 and then counted down as I exhaled. Simple.
Or so you’d think.
It’s actually surprisingly hard to just sit still and breathe. It helps to think of your thoughts as clouds – notice them drifting by but don’t dwell on them, just get back to your breath. Personally speaking, my two main demons were impatience and boredom.
I got very impatient with my roving thoughts and, until I got used to it, bored just sitting there.
Posture is another big thing to watch for. You don’t have to go for the standard lotus position – I found that too distracting because I’m a natural huncher – but don’t lie down either (you’re meditating, not sleeping), just assume a position that’s comfortable for you.
I settled on sitting on a yoga mat, with my back against the wall, legs crossed, eyes closed and head slightly bowed. I started with just five minutes a day because that seemed achieveable (and it was, except for that one day when the dog was sick and hubs was on a night shift) but gradually worked up to 15 minutes.
Sadly I don’t have a team of scientists/researchers at my disposal to take actual measurements so I can’t tell you if physiologically meditation has done anything for me.
I don’t know whether it was the meditation itself, or just the fact that I was more aware of the need to be mindful in my daily life, but I did find that I became much better at handling negative situations and my overall mood greatly improved.
A month isn’t really long enough to see true benefits. That’s why I intend to continue the Great Meditation Experiment.
Then hopefully one day soon, it’ll cease to be an experiment and become a way of life instead.
Weigh in: Do you meditate? What’s your technique? Are you sold on the benefits? What do you do to practice mindfulness?