I remember a few years back when I first started hearing about meditation, and to be honest I did think it was a bit of a joke. A few weeks later my doctor suggested I control my anxiety by cutting out weight lifting and taking up Tai Chi… to which I responded “oh haha ok”.
This is only because I didn’t truly understand the process or the benefits of meditation. I felt if I had just sat myself on a mat, closed my eyes and started humming along (my very naive image of what meditation looks like) - I would immediately start thinking of what I need to do tomorrow/next week, or that dumb thing I said to someone five years ago.
MINDFULNESS AND MENTAL BALANCE
To explain meditation I want to explain to you how I view mental balance. The little diagram below is purely for demonstration purposes, I am a visual learner so even though it is fairly straightforward, this is for people like me. Also, I'd like to add that neither anxiety or depression can be neatly encompassed in a little diagram - again it is just for demonstration purposes.
Depressive thoughts lie in the past, when we spend so much time thinking about things that have happened, that they affect what we are doing today.
Anxious thoughts live in the future, again we spend time worrying, not just about things that are happening but things that could happen or go wrong.
Or, you may be doing both! I have been there and it honestly feels like you are living in limbo! And no, living equally in the past and present do not balance you out and you are on a different frequency.
Happiness lives in the present! It is inside you right now and is unlockable through practising mindfulness. Mindfulness is being aware and conscious of your surroundings, what you see and what you feel with your senses.
So if it is inside us, why is it so hard? When you are in a depressive or anxious state you are mentally living in either the past or the future, so your body almost goes into autopilot to get you through the day. Do you ever get into your car and drive, then you end up at the destination without even really remembering the journey? That is the opposite of mindfulness and consciousness. We all do this a lot more than we think!
SO WHAT EVEN IS MEDITATION?
Meditation is anything that draws you away from your thoughts of past/future and brings you into the present moment. It involves you truly being conscious and aware of your surroundings - it is not being absent of thought as I used to believe.
The great thing is that there are so many different ways to incorporate this into your life, you may already be doing it without knowing, and some of you won’t even need to change your schedule - just your mindset.
I never really understood why I felt like a new person after most gym sessions (obvs endorphins etc but it was always something more than this). When I am doing weight training, I literally clear my mind and am purely thinking about what my body is doing, how I am moving, where I feel tension, and pushing through each exercise. That is meditation. Living in the current moment.
COVID UPDATE: Obviously getting to the gym is not an option right now. Enrolling in a home workout program will be the solution to this. I have some other options below if you continue reading :)
I then leave the gym having been brought back to the present, that central position of the diagram, rebalanced and with a fresh new outlook. So I know now that when I am having a particularly anxious day, or I’m feeling really down about something that has happened - a good gym session can usually help!
I find it hard to use a walk as meditation because I do find that my mind wanders, it takes some expert level meditation to really control my mind and thoughts unless I am doing a task that requires a lot of concentration. However, listening to a really interesting podcast while walking is a good way round this. Just stay mindful of your mind wandering :)
Tips: Limit your phone use at the gym. Nothing breaks your meditation like a message from your friend saying “omg can you believe that status Becky posted yesterday” or your partner saying “We need to do washing tonight or what are we having for dinner”. Forcing you to live again in either the past or future!
If you feel your mind wandering, take a deep breath and really focus on the action you are doing currently, don't just go through the motions, squeeze the muscle you are trying to target and think about how it feels.
WHEN ARE YOU MOST HAPPY?
Meditation is not only available while being active. Think to yourself - when are you most happy? Maybe you love to paint, you can get out a big canvas and some paints and concentrate on what brush strokes you are using, how your hand moves and the combinations of colours.
Activities that require some form of physical movement are best as they make you become aware of controlling your body. Even listening to music and going for a walk can be great as long as you really focus on the way your steps hit the pavement, the way the air feels on your skin, or the way to music sounds. Think about your five senses and how the environment stimulates each of them.
Being around friends can be a good way to get yourself back into the present also, but it is more difficult to control your mindfulness here, especially if you are new to the idea. Organise an activity to do that limits past/present talk, go out for a meal that is an experience. You could even communicate these ideas to your friends and involve them in steering conversation away from negativity or worries, to what is going on at the present moment.
COVID UPDATE: Obviously organising activities with friends is not an option either - we can get creative and organise Skype sessions. We can also play online games (Words with Friends or Draw Something are 2 apps you can play with friends)
Tips: Remain focused as mentioned above. Do things that you feel comfortable doing, where you won't be putting pressure on yourself! Ie. If I am terrible at drawing and aim to recreate a work by Michelangelo as meditation, I am likely to get frustrated with myself. The exercise is not goal-oriented but process-oriented. The satisfaction is not in the completion, it is in the moment.
Just breathe and focus, it gets easier the more you do it. Actually allocate time every single day, your mind will enjoy being brought back to ground zero and you'll find it easier to get through other tasks afterwards!
Love & Strength