Meditation 101: How, why and the common misconceptions
It’s very common to think you have to ‘switch off’ when meditating, but really think about that statement. Our off-switch will only be activated once. The idea of meditation is not to switch off the mind but rather to give it a focus, so as to allow other thoughts to disperse, allowing a state of calm to come forth.
Unfortunately, this is the most common misconception. I certainly empathise though, as I was of this thinking.
Why is this the case? Well, most people feel it’s reserved for scientific or spiritual types only. This is in part due to the barriers created through the language used when discussing the subject. Scientists use complicated words and spiritual people use language which could be construed as ‘fluffy’.
The reality though is that meditation is for everyone. We don’t need years of academic research under our belts, nor do we have to follow a spiritual path or a specific religion. All we have to do is be open to the experience.
Try it on for size. Play with the practice, like you would any other new routine, until you have a grasp of its value and how to embed it into your life in a way that suits.
Another barrier to entry, is most people have no real, simple understanding of what meditation is. This has a lot to do with aforementioned parties overcomplicating things and that there are many forms dating back thousands of years.
In its simplest form meditation is thus:
Meditation is a practice/process where a person uses a technique such as mindfulness, focusing on objects, thoughts or an activity to train their attention and awareness in order to achieve:
Going further, when one applies their attention in this very systematic way it changes the body on an electrical and chemical level and cultivates a state known as homeostasis, also known as equanimity and or recovery mode.
After Martin Luther King’s death it was said that his heart was in the condition of someone 20 years his elder, which was attributed to the stress of his years in the Civil Rights Movement.
We each have a chronological and a biological age. Our chronological age advances once every year however, our biological age can be more, or less, than our chronological age due to the stress we may experience over time. Stress is a very catabolic and damaging hormone if present in the body for too long and not counteracted. So, it would seem that the stress Dr King experienced in life was so intense that his internal organs were deteriorating at a dramatically unhealthy rate.
What does this have to do with meditation? Well, meditation has been shown to reverse one’s biological clock and help those who practice it age healthily. But not only that, studies show regular practice (upwards of 15 minutes per day) can improve your auditory threshold, skin elasticity, memory, pain tolerance, hormonal health and aortic flow.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Find a comfortable, distraction free space. You can sit upright on a chair or on a pillow on the floor. Don’t lay on your back - that cues the body for sleep.
Think ‘sit with dignity’. Sitting with dignity is right in the centre of two outliers: big, bold and broad body posture (think of an athlete in a confident, winning stance or a superhero-esque pose ) and the ‘ihunch’; a contorted position you see many in while walking the streets with their mobile phone - head tilted forward, shoulders small and rounded. Your sweet spot is in the middle of those. Not too bold, not too contorted.
Okay, now you must find your anchor. Your anchor is the very thing you’re going to use to bring your awareness back when you drift off. And you will, this is totally normal.
The most common anchor is breath. You can either use the 627 formula - breathe in for 6, hold for 2, exhale for 7 - or a mantra, such as release, said repeatedly, over and over. When you drift off, bring yourself gently back to either your mantra or the 627 formula time and time again. Set a timer for 5,10 or 15 minutes and begin. And don’t feel like you have to experience some magical sensation or that you’re cleansed of all of life's ills when complete. Just like it takes time to strengthen physical muscles, it also takes time to strengthen mental muscles.
Author: Ross Anderson