In these most uncertain of times it can be challenging not look to the future with a sense of trepidation. Covid-19 has created a new, uncomfortable normal that has brought with it considerable dissonance and insecurity. With simple pleasures such as dining out and going to the gym a distant memory serious financial, physical and mental struggles are commonplace. At musclemary we have found that through the practice of meditation we have been able to remain more grounded, present and accepting of our current reality. Without trying to say what works for us should work for everyone, we would encourage those looking for methods to adjust to their new reality to consider meditation as a potential tool to use.
What is meditation?
If meditation is new to you, you may have some preconceived ideas about what it is. For some meditation conjures up images of monks, sitting in isolation inside a Tibetan monastery spending countless hours in deep contemplation. However, the reality is meditation is simply a tool to help control the mind, gain a clearer perspective, and become more in touch with the inner self.
Meditation is often mistakenly thought to be the complete silencing of the mind and the removal of thought. In turn, people often believe they do not have the capacity to meditate because their mind is too active. In addition, many who have maybe tried it once or twice have become frustrated as they are unsure what to expect and as a result do not know if they are doing it correctly.
The truth is that meditation is an entirely personal and unique to the individual. The primary focus involves the removal of desires and attachment to unnecessary belongings. Through detaching from ego, comparison, and status it becomes possible to become more “awake” to both your current reality and self.
Meditation can be used for several positive reasons including working through anxiety and depression, to improving self-worth and relationships with others. It does so by providing individuals with a tool to pursue a non-judgemental awareness of their thoughts, how they respond to situations, their communication methods, and underlying physical symptoms.
Through observing, rather than interacting or actively trying to control thoughts greater space and calmness in the mind can be found. Having this sense of space can be used to put in place practices to work towards achieving a greater sense of contentment. Increased awareness also provides the opportunity to recognise thoughts and behaviours quickly before they regress into potential negativity.
Furthermore, through focusing on the present meditation can enable a greater sense of being in the moment and experiencing it fully without dwelling on the past or projecting into the future.
Forms of Meditation
Ancient texts refer to two types of meditation, with and without seed. With seed meditation is performed using specific breathing patterns or mantras to enable the mind to focus specifically on a predetermined goal. The use of such methods is to try and avoid the mind becoming distracted and thoughts to wander from the intention. This can be particularly useful for those starting to meditate for the first time.
Without seed is the opposite. This is performed by focusing on what the mind and body are intuitively saying without external direction or being focused on a specific agenda. Through becoming aware of emotions, it is possible to recognise what limiting thoughts, bias judgements, and attachments the mind is cultivating and address them accordingly.
Guided meditation, a form of seed meditation, is common in the practice of Yoga to facilitate relaxation. This involves a tutor talking through a series of actions to steer the participant in a particular direction. One example of this is a body scan, where the mind is directed to focus on the body’s natural flow of energy as it passes through the body.
Tools of Meditation
Meditation can be supported using various means to achieve a greater sense of concentration and focus allowing irrelevant thoughts to be surrendered. Specific practices for doing so include:
Gazing: The method of gazing involves maintaining eye contact with an object such as a candle flame or flower for a sustained period. Full focus is given on the object throughout the meditation to try and subdue the minds chatter.
Breath: To achieve focus and bring the minds focus inwardly the breath is commonly used as a focal point. Observation of the breath, be it the number of breaths, the length/depth of the breath, or the area of the body which is inhaling/exhaling can improve concentration and awareness of both the body and mind.
Visualisation: Visualisation is used in a similar method to gazing but instead of the focus being a tangible object the mind is used to create the scenario. Concentration is then placed on visualised image.
Mantras: A mantra is a word or a phrase that is spoken internally or externally in a repetitive manner. One of the most recognisable mantras performed in meditation is Om. Om mantra is used to signify every sound that can be uttered.
Postures for meditation
Meditation can be performed in various postures and it is always recommended to practice in the position you find most comfortable. The lotus asana is commonly used by individuals who have practiced meditation and yoga for a considerable period and are sufficiently conditioned that they can hold this posture for a lengthy duration.
For those just starting out it may be advisable to just find a comfortable seated position if possible or even potentially lying. However, due to the tendency for participants to fall asleep while lying it may be more appropriate to perform in a seated unless this is performed post Yoga practice when relaxation is the goal.
When Should You Meditate?
There is no set time or place that you should practice meditation. However, the optimal time for the practice would be at a time when you can focus all your mental energy on the process. If your mind is distracted, or you are likely to be interrupted then it would be more beneficial to wait to a quieter moment.
How can you start meditating?
If you’re just starting meditation it may be useful to download a specific meditation app such as Headspace or Calm which due to their make it simple interface make it easy to get started. These platforms will enable you to focus on a goal unique to you and guide you through the initial process.
Furthermore, meditation is often practiced within Yoga sessions and in recent times there has been a significant rise in the number of specific meditation classes which individuals of all levels of experience can join.
In conclusion, meditation might not work for you. You might not enjoy the experience and find it ineffective in helping progress towards your goals. However, the principles or non-judgement, awareness and the removal of ego and status are vey much in line with our core beliefs at musclemary. It is for this reason and the benefits that we have received from performing meditation that we believe that it may be useful for others to try.