Meditation has been practised for thousands of years and long time practitioners of it have claimed its benefits from finding Nirvana to increasing happiness. My interest lies purely in the secular side of the practice – all I want to know is whether meditation can improve my life in some significant way.
There have been many scientific studies into the benefits of meditation that suggest that this is the case (if you have 10 minutes watch this fascination TED article and talk on the benefits of meditation http://bit.ly/1ej0uoP). Mindfulness meditation particularly has been singled out as being especially beneficial in combating anxiety and beating stress, as well as a host of other benefits like increasing creativity and concentration. Mindfulness is the “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis” (Marlatt & Kristeller, 1999, p.68). Mindfulness meditation takes the form of quietly sitting and observing oneself and one’s thoughts almost as a third party observer. The aim is not to get ‘caught up’ in the thoughts, but merely recognises that you are having them.
Over the course of a week I am going to try mindfulness meditation for 15 minutes every day to see if I can feel any benefit. I will update with my progress on the community.
It is now the end of my week long meditation experiment. I meditated for 10-15 minutes a day either in the office or at home using the three techniques outlined below. I am using the Meditation Helper app to help time my sittings. The app chimes a bell at the beginning and end of the meditation so you know when to stop. As long as you don’t have the bell too loud I found this a good way to ease in and out of the meditation (I had it too loud to start off with and nearly jumped out of my skin when it first went off). It is also useful as it turns your phones airplane mode on which means no-one can contact you and distract you.
The first meditation session I tried was using a mindfulness technique as outlined by this article. I sat in one of the chairs at work (not cross legged on the floor, or in the lotus position or anything!) and let my eyes rest on the ground in front of me. I found having my eyes open slightly distracting at the beginning because I found myself very conscious of the fact that my eyes were getting slightly dry and having to blink. However, after a while I did not notice it.
My mind initially was racing and I was very distracted by the thought that I was meditating! It was hard to not get caught up in my own thoughts as it is rarely that you get time to just sit and think. However, after a few minutes I found my mind quieting slightly. The time passed fairly quickly and it was only at the end (it must have been about 9 minutes in) that I was starting to wonder how long I had been sitting there.
As I opened my eyes I felt very still and was reluctant to get up and carry on with my day. I certainly felt quite refreshed.
In the second session I tried a slightly different meditation technique. Instead of keeping my eyes open and staring at the floor, I tried closing my eyes and repeating the mantra of ‘om’.
I found my mind was initially less distracted as I had something to focus on, however once the mantra became a reflex I found myself similarly having to stop my mind wandering off. As far as I can tell from reading about meditation it is fairly common for your mind to be quite restless when you are starting out as it is used to constantly thinking about things. Not that this sort of meditation is about clearing your mind completely, but it is trying not to get caught up in your thoughts (not thinking about things to the extent you forget you are in the room) which is difficult!
Similarly after this session I felt very still, though I was getting impatient towards the end of the 10 minutes.
The last technique that I tried was using a guided meditation app. You just put your headphones in and it will guide you through your meditation. I found the voice quite soothing and I liked the fact I could have some background noise like rainfall – it helped to block out potentially distracting sounds. Between the sound of the rainfall and the voice guiding you though I found this the easiest one to keep focused on my meditation. I wasn’t having to try and think of the ‘instructions’ I had read online.
After each session I definitely felt calmer and more focused after the meditation. I found it easier to quieten my mind down after a few sessions so I can see how this could become second nature over time. I cannot say it has affected my general life but that is a bit much to ask after 1 week! I think it is definitely something I would like to carry on doing as a way to relax after a stressful day. The meditation app seems like a good place for beginners to start if they don’t have someone to teach them how to meditate.
Why not try meditation for a week yourself! Have you already discovered the benefits of meditation? Or do you think it is a load of spiritual mumbo jumbo? Let us know!