There’s a glib-but-fun saying that speaks to the value of using meditation to clear your mind, heal your body and solve your problems… "Don’t just do something – sit there!" But is that what meditation is – just sitting around? This month’s Bob’s Bones sorts the fact from the fiction. Let’s start by dispelling a few ‘Meditation Myths’:
Myth One: Only Spiritual People Meditate.
There are many, many different ways to meditate so while some people prefer their sessions to have a spiritual aspect, it’s by no means essential. In fact, we can’t actually think of anyone we know who uses meditation as part of a religious regimen.
Myth Two: Meditating Means Blocking Your Thoughts.
Absolutely not! Thoughts will almost certainly enter your mind as you learn to meditate – and they should. The widely-held belief that you’re supposed to block your thoughts altogether is responsible for a lot of people frustratedly giving up their meditation efforts very early on…
In truth, you can no more stop thoughts occurring in your mind than you can stop clouds rolling by overhead! What you can do, though, is choose to focus your attention on the gaps that exist between your thoughts. In other words, meditation requires only that you pay less attention to your thoughts, and more attention to the space between them. It’s like choosing to ignore a cloud as it drifts away, and focus on the sky.
In fact, when you meditate, you can choose to pay attention to any one thing: your breath, perhaps, or an image in your mind; a helpful mantra or a stillness in your body. When any other thought occurs to you, you simply return your attention to the original object of your focus… Then, as you learn to pay attention like this, you’ll find that you spend more and more time in the gaps between thoughts.
Myth Three: Meditation takes years to learn.
Well, no – it only takes a few minutes to learn! Indeed, since you’ve read this far it’s fair to say you’ve already learned what to do. When you do your first few meditations you may very well notice immediate benefits… And the longer that you practice, the easier and more beneficial you should find it.
Myth Four: There’s no benefit from meditation.
This is a strange thing we hear every so often… And oddly enough, the people that say it are usually people that use meditation quite a lot! We think there’s a silly reason for that but, to be clear, the short-term benefits of meditation can include lower heart rate and blood pressure, better circulation, an increase in feelings of relaxation and well-being, a reduction in anxiety and, consequently, lower levels of cortisol – your body’s stress chemical.
What’s more, meditation puts your body in the parasympathetic state. This not only improves digestion but also activates your immune system. So why do some advocates say there are no benefits? To be honest, we think they’re being a little bit smug and smart!
The fact is that while many people purposefully use meditation to clear their minds, some purists go so far as to suggest that just the notion of having an end goal in meditation defeats the point of it entirely! They argue that the act of meditation itself is the goal and that you can’t benefit from it if that’s your aim. To us that’s a bit like saying the point of food is to sustain life so you mustn’t eat something you enjoy! Of course there are benefits – if the thought of those benefits comes to you during a session, then treat it as you treat every thought – let it pass.
So… Myths dispelled! Now what?
Well, we don’t want to overwhelm you with dozens of different ways to try meditating… Nor do we want you to be distracted by mantras and candles and gongs before you’ve taken a single breath! Let’s keep it very simple.
There are three ways to meditate that we’d like to chat about: Concentration Meditation, Mindfulness Meditation and Guided Meditation – although to be fair the latter might be considered a form of the first two. In any case, we’ll start with a very simple Concentration Meditation. This involves focusing on a single thing. For ease of explanation here, let’s use your breath. Follow the instructions below and try the exercise for about three minutes. You can build up to a longer duration of time! For now, all you need to do is concentrate on your breathing… And anytime you notice a thought popping up in your head, or your mind starting to wander, just choose to concentrate on your breath again!
A Meditation Exercise
- Set a three-minute count-down alarm on your phone.
- Make sure the alarm tone is a very gentle one!
- Switch your phone to airplane mode.
- Be sure you won’t be disturbed.
- Sit in a comfortable chair, or lie down on your bed.
- Close your eyes.
After your eyes are closed:
- Breathe normally.
- Notice your chest rising and falling…
- Focus your attention on your breath.
- Just keep concentrating on that breathing!
- Remember, when you notice that a thought has occurred to you, simply return your focus back to your breath.
- Continue for the three minutes.
- Open your eyes – and notice how you feel!
Another enormously popular form of meditation is Mindfulness Meditation. This invites you to be more aware of your thoughts, surroundings or feelings in your body without dwelling on or judging them. In a Mindfulness Meditation you might again choose to focus on breathing, say, before choosing to relax the muscles in your body. And again, if thoughts come up – or sensations or noises – you simply let them pass.
Finally, there’s Guided Meditation. This is much easier for the beginner since another person takes care of some of the work… While you sit or lie down, your guide gently suggests things that you might notice, feel or do. For more information on meditation, or to book a session, drop us a line here at the Back in Shape clinic, either in person, by phone – on 020 8655 1664 – or by email via firstname.lastname@example.org
Back in Shape cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of any action or inaction based on its Newsletter or Info Sheets. If you have any doubts or concerns over medical and health issues, our best advice is always to pop in to see us, visit your GP or call NHS Direct on 111 to discuss your health.