by Lakshmi Sadhu
“Meditation” is an interesting word. It almost always brings with it a barrage of associated connotations. People either assume it’s too arcane for their tastes, or just flat-out resign themselves to the fact that they can never meditate in this lifetime because of their inability to sit still for more than a few minutes – both notions couldn’t be further from the truth.
Fortunately, in order to meditate, you don’t need to shave all your hair, trade in all your worldly possessions for a simple saffron dyed robe, and find a cosy cave in the Himalayas where you spend the next 30 years of your life Om-ing your brains out (all in hopes of attaining that elusive state of Nirvana). While that may be appealing to some people – it certainly is to me – it may very well not be everyone’s cup of tea.
I want you to do a little exercise for the next five minutes. Time yourself using that nifty little smart phone I spent my previous post asking you to put away…
The exercise you just did is a fundamental form of meditation known as mindfulness, where you direct your attention/awareness to an internal or external point of focus, in this case your breath. In essence, mindfulness means to pay attention to, or be aware of something. Naturally, the object of your attention can be a variety of things, your breath, a mantra, or even an activity as simple as drinking a cup of tea. The point is to shift your energy and awareness back into the present moment, regardless of what you find yourself doing in that present moment.
This of course, is not as easy as it sounds. Our minds are a vortex of thoughts; we constantly flit from one unrelated thought to another. The inherently restless nature of the mind is made all the more clear to us when we sit down for meditation.
It’s not easy in the beginning; nothing worth doing is ever easy. Meditation is a skill like any other, honed with dedicated practice. Start small; set aside 5 or 10 minutes a day for meditation. Find a comfortable quiet spot where you can sit for the duration of the meditation undisturbed. If you find it hard to sit cross-legged on the floor with your back against a wall, sit on a chair instead: make sure your feet are flat against the ground and your back is tall against the backrest of the chair. Then, just be aware of your breath, of how it inflates your chest when it flows in, and relaxes your body when it flows out. Don’t make any attempt to control your breathing; your only task is to be aware of it.
Some people find themselves more drawn to mantras instead of breathing meditation. What you choose as an object of focus depends on your temperament. A mantra can be a word or a collection of words used as a point of focus during meditation; you gently bring yourself back to it every time you find yourself getting distracted by your thoughts. Mantras don’t have to be in Sanskrit, you can use English mantras too! The internet is chock-full of useful information on different kinds of mantras, along with their meaning. Choose one that you intuitively feel drawn to.
You can also use self-affirming mantras in moments of high stress or anxiety. Find a quiet spot to sit down, close your eyes, and slowly mentally repeat to yourself, “I can do this” or “everything will be okay”. This helps you calm down and regain control of a stressful situation.
I must make an important distinction here though. The goal of meditation is not to not think. If you attempt that, you’ll only find yourself creating a more chaotic state of mind. The more you “try” to not think, the more you’ll end up thinking. Attaining a thoughtless state of mind should not be your goal. Your only task, as I said earlier, is to earnestly give your attention, time and again, to your chosen object of focus. A thoughtless state of mind will ensue naturally after long enough practice.
This finally brings me to why you should meditate. We live in a highly stressful world. Students understand this better than anyone else. Science too has backed up meditation, and shown it to provide some crazy benefits. Better memory, less stress, less anxiety, increased creativity, more empathy, and sharper levels of concentration are just some of the benefits. Scientific studies show that meditation also increases grey matter in the brain, along with boosting our immune systems and even slowing the effects of aging! Over time, you’ll find yourself becoming more calm, confident and centred, capable of taking on anything that life throws at you.
So what are you waiting for? Start a meditation practice today!