'The goal of meditation isn't to control your thoughts, it's to stop letting them control you' - Anon
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while but life, as it has a habit of doing, got in the way. For me, the 13 March 2018 marked 100 days of meditation. It was a huge personal achievement. Meditation, and being still in general, has always been a struggle for me: I have an overactive, anxious mind that runs amok when still, and that until recently I’d managed to fairly successfully quiet through daily movement.
However back in December I had a series of injuries, and suddenly my favourite ways of moving were off the table. I was facing a terrifying and enforced period of rest. My mind went into overdrive: how was I going to deal with this, especially at Christmas? The festive season and all the emotional demands that come with it are hard enough, let alone without my usual ways of letting off steam.
The solution? Actually committing to a meditation practice. Sure, I’d dabbled. I’d done meditation daily on my teacher trainings, I’d done the odd week-long stint here and there, but it wasn’t a daily ritual; a necessity. I’d read somewhere that it takes 30 days to form a habit, so I set myself a goal to meditate every day for 30 days and see what happened. Would it stick? I hoped so. After all, if I had five minutes to scroll Instagram then I had five minutes to meditate and gain some headspace.
I started by using Insight Timer, a wonderful app that has both guided meditations and a timer for when you feel able to go solo, and my favourite meditation teacher Tara Brach has several guided practices on it. I found that first thing in the morning, before I'd even checked my phone, sitting up in bed with pillows propped behind me for support, was the best time for me: too late and before I’d know it the day would slip away from me. Plus, my anxious rescue dog really liked to lie in bed and rest his head on my lap while I did so, which definitely added to the appeal. But if I did miss my morning slot I didn't beat myself up about it, and simply squeezed it in where I could: between classes, popping in my headphones and closing my eyes on the tube, in bed last thing at night (amazing if you struggle sleeping). The trick was to just do it.
For the first two weeks I stuck to guided meditations of about 10-15 minutes long as I felt like I needed the support, but after that I began to fly solo, just sitting quietly for 5-10 minutes, listening to the sounds around me, observing the sensations in my body, catching my mind as it ambled into yet another rabbit hole and coaxing it back to the present. I was gentle with myself, and I think that has been key to making it stick: most days it doesn’t feel like a chore.
Anyway, I don’t profess to be a meditation expert: I have no training in it, only my own experience. But I do know that my anxiety and panic attacks have subsided, and I feel calmer and more grounded. I’m more even and balanced in my response to challenging situations, and that feels good. My friends and family, and even my regular students, have commented on the change. Essentially, things just feel like less of a struggle. I have more ability to just 'be'.
So if you’re thinking of taking up meditation, do it! You will not regret it. Sure, some days are harder than others, but the benefits speak for themselves. I mean, have you ever heard someone say they took up meditation and regretted it? Exactly.
Interestingly, when I posted about my 100-day mark on Instagram, lots of fellow meditators shared their tips, so I’ve decided to share them below. As always, I hope you find it useful, and let me know how you get on.
‘My tips for sticking to meditation? 1) Schedule it and treat it like an important meeting. Set two alarms if that’s what it takes. 2) Commit to sitting for a few minutes no matter what: it’s getting started that is hardest. 3) Get an accountability partner or someone who will also commit to meditation and message each other when you’re done. Ideally, do it at the same time. 4) Come to a group meditation, such at Meditation Unlocked, to help keep up the motivation and accountability.’
‘I always feel better after I meditate, but I struggle with stopping [to meditate] when my head is spinning to actually do it! I start with five mindful breaths. If that’s all I do, that’s OK, but if often leads to more.’
‘I have a few essential oils I use. I find taking the time to slow down, put a drop in my hands, then take three deep breaths and rub on the back of my neck is the perfect prep and grounding to land me in stillness. [There’s] something about the ritual of it. Essential oils are the bell for my daily meditation.’
‘Blankets and cushions and a regular spot at my altar, lots of palo santo, and not looking at anything else on my phone other than Insight Timer (hard!). [I also use] mantra and pranayama to quiet my mind.’
Tania Stalley, Yoga and Meditation Teacher
‘What works for me right now is meditating on what is relevant in your life at the time, and if nothing comes to mind (that’s probably a good thing!) then simply meditate on ‘what am I experiencing now?’. And definitely the same place at roughly the same time each day. I’ve learnt with all my moving around how valuable routine is.’
MY TOP 3 MEDITATION APPS
Free guided meditations for everything from trouble sleeping to dealing with anxiety and stress, plus bells and ambient sound for those who fly solo.
Great for beginners and sceptics. Its Basics Course is completely free and teaches you the fundamental techniques of meditation and mindfulness.
The first ever sound meditation app created by renowned sound healer and therapist Leo Cosendai, it focuses on harnessing the powerful effect of sound on the human mind to soothe and calm.