How and why to start mindfulness meditation
6 years ago when I embarked on my first yoga teacher training, I had never meditated. I had been told that you meditate in order to reach enlightenment.
Spiritual enlightenment being a state of being where one reached understanding of the world, where everything attached to our ego melted away and you exist in a state of bliss. I have to say neither the act of meditating itself, sitting for hours at a time in silence not moving, trying to think of nothing (how is that even possible?) or enlightenment, really appealed to me. I was and still am attached to feeling the highs and lows of love, life and the universe. However, if I wanted to be a yoga teacher, the deal was I had to meditate.
Luckily, I was in the hands of a fantastic, experienced and wise teacher who had been exploring yoga and meditation for more than 30 years. My preconceptions were incorrect, meditating or mindfulness practice isn’t about ‘thinking nothing’ or, for most of us, enlightenment. It is, however, beneficial to all of us in our everyday lives and has the ability to transform both you and your life path for good.
What the practice does is a technique to bring in self-awareness, understanding that we are not our thoughts. In fact most of our thoughts are inconsequential synaptic functions. Think about all that random brain ‘noise’ or, as it is called in yoga, chitta vritti (‘monkey brain’) that goes on in your mind. Most of it doesn’t mean anything. However, if we have negative chitta vritti and we listen to and believe it e.g. ‘you are not good enough’ it can have an incredibly negative effect on your self-confidence, outlook and therefore the outcome of your life. A mindfulness practice means that you bring an abstract awareness to this process to realise that all thoughts are just that. Thoughts. Not reality. Once you create this awareness you can choose which thoughts become your reality, you can choose to listen to the positive thoughts. Equally there are points in meditating, if you have a regular practice, where the ‘monkey brain’ fades and you find that inner calm and peace.
Whilst mediation has been practiced for thousands of years in the east, I think in recent western history its spiritual or ‘hippy dippy’ image meant that the mainstream shied away from it. But as self-awareness is now a recognised psychological theory of thought and is being used as a technique to help people overcome psychological issues, it has gained scientific gravitas. Equally there are many highly successful people, e.g. Bill Ford (Ford Motors Exec Chairman), Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), who name it as a key element of their success and, as big blue chip companies like Google, Goldman Sachs and Apple, encourage and teach their employees to practice, it becomes interesting, accessible and desirable to more people.
So if you want to be the best version of you, feel calm, centred and focused, be able to ignore the negative and thrive on the positive, find a comfortable position (you don't have to be cross legged), set your timing for 10mins, and start to notice your thoughts. That is all a mediation practice is, there is no mystery. There are a few different techniques but they all come to the same awareness. Give it a go, it is easier than you think…