After all, it calms the mind, balances your emotions, deepens your breathing and helps to control stress, fear and negativity. During meditation, you connect with your authentic Self. Transcend your limitations and struggles. Enjoy the infinite peace, love, bliss and worth that dwell deep within your blessed soul.
And I know that. I tried.
When I first started to transform my life back in 2005, I believed a regular, healthy meditation practice was an indispensable part of my journey out of fear, emotional turmoil and worthlessness.
Many times I sat down on my meditation cushion. Closed my eyes. Focused on my breath with high hopes and expectations.
But it always went a bit like this…
Me: “OK, breathe in. And out. No thinking now.”
Mind: “Shall we have fish and chips for dinner?”
Me: “Argh! Be quiet!”
Mind: “Oops! No more thinking…my back aches. That was another thought, wasn’t it? So sorry!”
Me: “Don’t worry about it. It’s ok. Just be silent now please”.
Mind: “Oh God! I have to give a presentation at work tomorrow. I think I’ll be sick.”
“Me: “Would you just shut up!”
Mind: “Don’t be so mean! I‘m trying my best here. I’m just not good enough. I will never get better. It’s hopeless.”
Me: “You know what, just forget about it! I can’t even meditate. I hate myself. What is wrong with me?!”
It was counterproductive, to say the least. Every time I attempted meditation, I abandoned it prematurely, feeling ever more anxious and upset. Despairing over my obvious inability to create a happier life.
I believed I wasn’t disciplined enough. Too weak and pathetic. Incompetent.
When, in fact, I misunderstood meditation altogether.
When I thought of meditation, I always imagined a Yogi with a flowing white beard sitting in Lotus pose on a hard stone floor for several hours a day. His mind was still, his inner peace unperturbed. He was approaching enlightenment, transcendence of all his problems, stress and suffering.
He was doing it right.
But no matter how often I tried, I was incapable of silencing my mind. And it didn’t improve with practice either!
So I gave up on my aspirations to establish a mediation practice. Forfeited the benefits associated with it. And felt like a pathetic self-improvement failure for a while.
But I was determined to transform my life, overcome the limitations my anxiety forced upon me, be free. So, I started to focus on other ways to conquer my anxiety and turn my life around.
And I soon discovered that, while meditation is a wonderful complement to a strategy for self-improvement, it’s not a prerequisite for it.
Even without meditation I managed to turn my life around, find peace, freedom and happiness. And I had abandoned the thought of ever incorporating meditation into my life.
Until a single sentence by Eckhart Tolle shattered my rigid definition of meditation and opened up the prospect of successful, effective meditation to my ruminating mind:
As soon as I heard it, I knew this was my way in. Because my concept of meditation had been all wrong.
It’s true that meditation is a way to silence the mind, to experience the stillness within. The space between your thoughts.
Because only in this stillness, when the mind interrupts its endless racket, can we connect to our true Self. Which is peaceful, calm, infinitely loving and worthy.
And usually drowned out by the mind’s deafening doubts, fears and worries and the ego’s incessant self-obsession.
But meditation is not about asceticism, self-denial, forcing yourself to be still over prolonged periods of time no matter how hard it is.
And it’s certainly not meant to make you feel bad about yourself!
Meditation is about mindfulness, balance, doing what feels right for you. Making you feel good. Which can be achieved in many different ways.
Over time I adopted 4 alternative meditation techniques as part of my daily routines. I love them all dearly. They increase my wellbeing, add to my health and maintain my emotional balance.
They might be unconventional. And they certainly don’t match my previous preconceptions of what meditation should be.
But they certainly work for me!
This is exactly what it says on the tin. One breath of stillness.
That’s all that is required to connect to your conscious Self. To feel peace, love, balance, your true inner worth. To relax.
No matter where you are and what you are doing. At work, on the bus, while walking, ironing, before you fall asleep or first thing in the morning. Or even better in nature, on the beach while watching the waves roll in or observing the clouds move by.
All you need to do is keep your mind still for one single breath, in and out.
Focus on your breath, the sound of the rain or traffic, your office mate typing. Whatever it might be. Or concentrate on the unusual stillness in your mind (I find this most relaxing).
I dare to say that even the most hyperactive mind can be trained to be still for one breathing cycle. Just be patient. It only takes a few seconds. Try and try again.
And once you manage one breath, try to go for 2. Then 3.
But keep it short and sweet. Keep it joyful and enjoyable. This is not a challenge who can be still the longest. It’s not an opportunity to beat yourself up for your failure.
Every second of stillness in your mind is beneficial. And you should be proud of looking after yourself.
Another surprisingly effective way to meditate is through repetitive tasks.
I use crochet. But any activity that is not too challenging (i.e. doesn’t require the mind to solve a problem) but still involves some concentration and focus on what you are doing is suitable here.
Most crafts will work. Knitting, needlework, card making, woodwork, pottery, there is no limit here.
Just focus on what your hands are doing and relax into the stillness. Surrender all tension, breathe calmly and enjoy the process of creation while giving your mind a well-deserved rest.
So often we regard our hobbies as an indulgence, a waste of precious time that should be used for more productive endeavours. We feel guilty for our hedonistic squander.
But your favourite hobby can (and should) be a vital part of your daily self-care ritual. A powerful way to connect with consciousness, find peace and enjoyment in the creative action while resetting your emotional balance.
As such, these “repetitive task” hobbies are not selfish, self-indulgent or wasteful. They are necessary to maintain your emotional, mental and physical health.
And giving yourself permission to prioritise them from time to time, without guilt, is an empowering act of self-love.
Another problem I had with meditation (apart from the prattling mind) was finding time for it in my frantic schedule.
Because I don’t have time for big programmes and hour-long practices!
I can try but I will never manage to squeeze in meditation and yoga in one day. Especially not for a longer period of time. And travelling to a yoga studio, losing 30 minutes of my day, is a no-no to begin with (and I am often too lazy to go out after work).
So I started an online yoga challenge.
It’s 30 minutes (or less) a day. And I soon discovered that the rhythmic flow of the movement and focusing on following the instructions were enough to make my mind go still.
Combining yoga and meditation into one easy instalment.
I now enjoy my meditative yoga session every other day. Without others witnessing my astounding inflexibility, without fear of judgement, in the comfort of my own home.
And it makes me feel wonderful knowing I enhance my health and enjoy the benefits of meditation.
All at the same time.
I will never be able to silence my mind over extended periods of time. It likes to be busy. I have accepted that.
Over the years, as my anxiety subsided and my self-worth increased, the fearful, negative, worry thoughts were replaced by happy, excited, looking-forward thoughts.
But still, conventional meditation as we tend to imagine it will never work for me.
That’s why I love guided meditations so much. They give the mind something to do. Something to absorb, visualise and follow.
Guided meditations distract our mind from its usual chatter, while reinforcing healthy, uplifting beliefs or clearing old baggage.
When I want to do “proper” meditation, I use guided meditations to stay engaged and reap the maximum benefits.
If you want to explore whether this is for you, you can try my “Discover your true worth” guided meditation which is part of the free Healthy Self-Worth Starter Kit.
The only thing that makes meditation unattainable or impossible for us is our own narrow preconceptions about it.
And while I personally don’t believe that meditation has to be part of every successful self-improvement strategy, its benefits to our emotional, mental and even physical health are indisputable.
So, if you want to include a regular meditation practice into your life, let go of all the rules, restrictions and assumptions of what meditation ought to be.
And choose what it can be for you.
Start with a single breath. Experiment with your hobbies. Be creative.
Meditation can only ever be beneficial if it is enjoyable and relaxing. And if the conventional way to meditate, silently sitting cross-legged on a cushion, doesn’t work for you, then explore other avenues.
You don’t need to miss out on all the benefits meditation has to offer just because your mind is too busy, you can’t sit still or your back aches.
All it takes is a little mind shift, some experimentation and the willingness to try new techniques, without prejudice, impatience or self-condemnation.
You deserve a happy, healthy, balanced life. You are worthy of peace, love and joy.
And meditation IS for you. Once you find a practice you love...
No matter how unconventional.