Meditation arose as part of Buddhist and Hindu traditions that appeared in India from 2000BC onwards and then spread through Asia. In recent years, meditation, it seems, has become a much more global practice and has become an inescapable part of daily life for many of us in the west.
Its popularity is a response to the growing speed of modern life and to the amazing recent progress in research on how the brain operates. Firstly our lives are faster-paced and more non-stop than ever before. We are always connected and always trying to juggle work, home friends and money. It’s unsurprising that more people report feeling stressed and that there is a growing rise in stress-related physical and mental health problems.
Meanwhile incredible advances in neural imaging have allowed us to see how the way we live impacts our brains. What research by scientists at many of the world’s leading universities including, Harvard and Oxford have shown is that meditating literally changes the physiology of our brains and there’s strong evidence it can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression, insomnia and improve focus, creativity, sleep and general well-being. By giving us greater insight it can also help us better manage relationships with friends, family and colleagues.
It can be very difficult to build a meditation practice. Sitting still, inhabiting the present and not engaging with our thoughts, fears, desires and fantasies is very different to how we normally are.
So take things slowly and don’t worry about your expectations. Remember the biggest impact of meditating is the difference between meditating for no minutes and meditating for one minute. Even if you only manage a single minute of meditating and stillness you are doing so much. There are many different ways to build a practice. You could attend a course or workshop, you could join a meditation group or you could start using an app like Headspace or Buddhify. What works for you will depend on how you learn and your lifestyle. Similarly there are many different forms of meditation. Some people may enjoy body scanning but find breath awareness difficult. Others may really enjoy the simplicity of a mantra-based meditation like TM.
Another thing to consider is when to meditate
Try and meditate at least 2 hours after eating or 3 hours after eating a heavy meal. Perhaps try and find a regular slot: before breakfast, lunch or dinner often works well. When you meditate find a place where you are comfortable sitting for 10 minutes or more and where you can sit straight. Ideally look for somewhere where you will be undisturbed. Sometimes this won’t be possible. If you have an app or a recording of a guided meditation you can meditate on the tube or the bus. If you’re doing this try and find a seat away from the doors, get comfortable and plug in your earphones. Over time as your practice grows you may be able to meditate on the bus or tube just by sitting and not engaging with the sounds around you, although this can certainly takes a bit of time to build. Stay committed and most importantly, be patient with yourself and the journey.