Welcome to the first post in my “How to Rule Your Mind” series.
In my last blog post I asked you to think about having just one goal for this year – to improve your wellbeing and your mindset. I really believe that if you make this the one thing you will work on this year then everything else will fall in to place. That’s certainly what happened for me, so I thought I’d share some of things that I’ve found useful in a series of “how to rule your mind” posts!
So where do you start? I’ve found that often people want to do something to improve their mental health but they have no idea where to start. So, I thought I’d do this series to get you on the right track. It’s really important to know that mental health and wellbeing is a really personal thing and it’s not a one size fits all approach. What works for me might not be exactly the same for you. So these posts are intended to be a starting point for you – a guide to what has worked for me and to give you a sample of what might work for you!
I thought I’d start with meditation. When I started on the road to looking after my mind one of the first things I did was start meditation. At first I just dabbled a bit, doing 5 minutes here and there. Now I’ve moved on to a really dedicated practice of Vedic meditation twice a day for 20 minutes. I can honestly say it’s transformed my mindset and the way I view my life and I am a really big advocate of meditation for everyone!
Often when people think about mediatation they think they need to “clear their mind” and they’ll say ” oh I can’t mediate, I can’t think about nothing, my mind is too crazy and I can’t stop my thoughts”. But the thing is – meditation is not really about “stoping” or “blocking” the thoughts and it’s not about being able to think about nothing (although that might be nice). Mediation is really about being able to let your thoughts come and go but not attach any emotion or feeling to them. It’s about being able to catch yourself when your thoughts are going and learning to come back to the breath or the mantra or the stillness. Then it about bringing that in to our every day lives so that we can be more calm. So we are training our brains to let thoughts come and let them go but not get hung up on them. And it takes a lot of practice.
Meditation should actually be the easiest thing in the world to do, because it’s just doing nothing, but in today’s world we find it very difficult because we can’t sit still. We are all so busy and so geared up for being on the go at all times that sitting in stillness is now really difficult. So even though it should be really easy because it’s just doing nothing, it actually takes a lot of practice. For me, when I started, even just the thought of sitting still in one place for 5 minutes seemed totally unachievable. Seriously – I thought, “how am I going to sit in the one place for 5 minutes!!” I found it really hard. But I persevered and I kept at it and now I can sit happily for 20 minutes twice a day – amazing!
It’s important that meditation is done sitting in stillness. I know a lot of people say “running is my mediation” or “I meditate while I’m walking or gardening” but true mediation should be done in complete stillness, just sitting on the couch or on the ground. Running, gardening and walking etc are all fantastic, but that is more mindfulness rather than actual meditation. Those things are still great if you enjoy it and it makes you feel calm and you should definitely do those things as well, but to get the real benefits of meditation you need to dedicate a time and practice it in stillness.
So – where do you start? If you want to start meditating the best place to start, I think, is with the Smiling Mind app. This is how I started and I think it gives you a good taste of what mediation is all about and how to do it. You can watch a video I made with the Smiling Mind team here too.
You can also just start out by yourself with self guided mediation, but this can be a little more tricky when you are first getting going and takes a little more discipline. The apps take you through what it’s all about and how to do it. Plus they are a bit shorter and will give you the direction. It depends a bit on whether you like the voice of the guy on the app too. There’s a few other guided ones I’d recommend trying like Headspace, or Deepak Chopra and I also discovered another one recently called Insight Timer . Give them a go and see which one sits with you best.
If you want to start with a self guided mediation, simply start by counting your breath. So breath in is one, breath out is 2 do it up to 10 and then start at one again. Just do that over and over for 10 minutes. You will have other thoughts come in to your head but that’s fine just let them come and as soon as you realise you are thinking about something else just come back to counting the breath. Some days you will be off thinking for ages before you realise it and other days you will find you can hold the counting of the breath for a lot longer. Every meditation is different and there is no “good” or “bad” meditation, it’s all just what it is. There is no judgement, that’s all part of it!
I would recommend starting with and committing to 5-10 minutes every morning as soon as you wake up and see how you go. I find I love the morning meditation and it helps me get out of bed! Instead of it being hard to get out of bed, I know I am getting up to meditate and it sort of eases me in to the day and I feel much better after meditating than I do after a 10 minute hit of the snooze button!
So – my challenge to you is to commit to meditating every morning for 10 minutes for one month! (Actually why not do Mindful in May?!) Set your alarm for 5 minutes earlier and meditate as soon as you get up. No checking phones or doing anything else until you’ve meditated and see how you go! I’d love to hear if you notice a difference. Do you find you are able to stop yourself snapping at the kids more? Do you feel you are able to enjoy things more? Do you feel a bit calmer overall? See if you notice any changes. For the full range of awesome benefits from mediating they recommend 20 minutes at least every day but every little bit will help and you are teaching yourself a new skill so you need to start with something achievable!
If you need more convincing on the benefits of meditation check out this article from Harvard University Eight Weeks to a Better Brain
You can download the Smiling Mind app here: Smiling Mind
I also listened to (and highly recommend) the Crappy to Happy podcast recently. They’re episode on mindfulness nails it and pretty much covers all of what I’ve talked about here.
Good luck and have fun. Meditation is so cool and I love it and I hope you love it too!
My next post will be all about practicing gratitude to improve your mental health so until then – happy meditating!