"The goal of meditation isn't to control your thoughts, it's to stop letting them control you"
Mindful May was a movement started a few years ago to bring mindfulness to the forefront of people’s lives – an online platform you could join for daily inspiration, mindfulness techniques and a challenge to meditate daily for the 30 days. I like to celebrate Mindful May by including meditation in all classes.
Why do we need to be more mindful?
The Buddhists and Yogis describe our minds like drunken monkeys, jumping erratically from one thing to the next, completely out of control. Often it is not until we sit silently in meditation that we come to experience how out of control our mind is! As we are so caught up in thoughts of the past and the future, we are missing the only moment that we have – the present.
What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
Mindfulness means simply being aware, being completely present in the moment. It is less about doing and more about being. Most of the time we are so caught up in a wave of distracting thoughts that we miss the moment. We can take mindfulness into everyday activities as we are learning to train our brain to be more attentive, focussed and present.
Meditation is a practice that allows us to learn more about how our mind works and identify what are our “samskaras” (the deep grooves of behavioural tendencies). The more we understand our own mind, the greater our ability to make changes by creating more space between our thoughts. This provides the opportunity to respond more skilfully to situations instead of an auto pilot reaction based on our habitual patterns.
There are many different practices from various traditions such as mindfulness meditation; reciting mantras; and visualisations. These meditations help to increase more positive mental attitudes like loving kindness, compassion, gratitude and reduce negative, disturbing emotions such as anger and fear. The ultimate aspect of meditation in the Buddhist and yogic path is enlightenment, the deepest state of wisdom, bliss, and realisation – Samadhi.
However we can start with small steps – mindfulness meditation is a great starting point to develop a calm, steady, unwavering level of concentration to then penetrate deeper into our layers of being.
A simple mindfulness based meditation
In this type of meditation we focus our attention on an object. The breath is the most common and simple object to use as it is something that is always with us (meaning we can practice this type of meditation anywhere) and the act of simply bringing focus to the breath triggers the parasympathetic nervous system response, bringing us into a relaxed state. It is useful to focus on the sensations either at the belly rising and falling or at the entrance of the nostrils.
We not only give our full attention to the object but we also develop the ability to remember the object. When we find we are caught up in thoughts again, it is the moment we realise we have forgotten the breath that we have become mindful again and we return our focus back. The more we practice, the longer we can maintain unwavering focus on the object and the shorter time caught up in thoughts.
Mind training – my mind is too busy to meditate
I have heard so many people say ‘I cant meditate, my mind is too busy”. The Buddhists practices are often called mind training practices. I like this term for two reasons – training reminds us that it is something we slowly build up to in a small stages with practice. We take the same approach as learning a musical instrument, a sport, a language, etc, we need discipline and routine at the beginning until we become intrinsically motivated from the benefits we experience.
What are the benefits?
Scientific studies have documented immense benefits from training our mind – physical and physiological, emotional and mental. Some benefits include stress reduction (which leads to a wide range of health benefits such as improved immunity, better sleep, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, weight control); enhanced brain function such as focus and concentration abilities; improved pranic flow; reduction of anxiety; increased sense of calm, wellbeing and happiness…just to name a few! Studies have shown that you can start experiencing these benefits within a few weeks of sitting for 20 minutes per day.
OK So how do I Start????
Here are some tips to begin and stay motivated throughout the month