A week of self-care: meditation

Meditation

I tell people I meditate and there’s one of two reactions: “Oh my goodness, you what? How do you have the patience for that? I can’t do that, I tried and I can’t do it” (whilst looking at me like I’m mad) and “What sort of meditation do you do?” (which leaves me fumbling for an answer and feeling Rather Inadequate Indeed in the face of their Need To Classify Everything).

As with many things in my life, I don’t know if what I’m doing is correct, or if there’s a better way to do itbut, with meditation, I’m finding peace, deep inner peace, and relaxation and a solid central foundation (by connecting with the source of my self).

I came to meditation via my GP, who recommended I slow down, because I was showing physical signs of anxiety. He didn’t, however, make any recommendations as to how I meditate and, coming home from the appointment, I felt rather lost, Googling ‘meditation’ and finding a great deal of conflicting – very often confusing – and mostly daunting information.

After reading a lot, I was essentially told I should sit still and focus on my breathing and that enlightenment would come……!

Not very helpful.

In the slightest.

I tried and tried and failed spectacularly – leading to yet more anxiety which was exactly not what I needed! [“Goodness!” – I tried to stop myself from thinking – “….you go to the pharmacy with a prescription and they give you a tablet and you feel better quite quickly…”]

I let it settle for a few days and then, on a Google adventure, came across a free 21-day guided meditation from Deepak Chopra and Oprah. Two big names. Together. Offering a free meditation series. I signed up there and then! [Chopra offers free themed 21-day guided meditations throughout the year – information here; and offers a ‘snapshot’ of guided meditations across different themes here].

The beauty of a guided meditation is that the host literally does guide you in to the meditation. You’re taken through steps that first relax you then move you towards a state where you’re able to identify your thoughts as they come and then, further than that, to going ‘beyond’ your thoughts, to a state where you feel, simultaneously, everything at once (yes, I realise that sounds kind of quack! but its the best way I’ve found of describing it).

What Google failed to tell me, in the jumbled up mess it returned during my searches, was that I wouldn’t reach this ‘feeling, simultaneously, everything at once’ state – even with Deepak Chopra guiding me – until after about 8 days of listening to the guided meditations.

Once, however, I’d trained my mind to relax sufficiently, and to look beyond my mundane thoughts, I began to meditate. To enter in to that state that’s so difficult to describe. The state that provides me with deep relaxation and deep peace (even when I’m not meditating, I feel the practice embuing me with this deep sense of peace at all times).

[I should note that, after around 5 months of doing daily meditation, I can now simply lay and focus on my breathing and I feel myself entering ‘the’ state (as Google recommended; I feel I should write to them and ask them to preface all the information they host about meditation with this Extremely Helpful Hint!). I’ve been amazed, during these past few months, at the power of habit and discipline and I live, now, in almost constant amazement at the sheer power of the mind.]

So, whilst I’m very very far from being an expert in meditation, I’m an enthusiastic beginner and:

a) can highly recommend it

b) would recommend using a guided meditation

c) would recommend giving the process a chance: you’ll need time to open yourself to the process

d) promise you that it will open up a whole new world for you

e) promise you that people will give you funny looks when you say you meditate (but that you’ll simply nod wisely and say nothing, secretly wishing really strongly, with all your fingers and toes crossed, that their life leads them to discover meditation too)…

So, whilst I’ve regaled you with my own personal tale of meditation (rather self-indulgently), I’ve failed to recount what Google did manage to tell me, this time very clearly…

Benefits of meditation

– Meditation relaxes, calms stress, reduces anxiety. There’s a quote that floats around, which says, “Buddha was asked, “What have you gained from meditation?”. He replied, “Nothing! However, let me tell you what I have lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death”…

– As a consequence of its effects on calming moods and stabilising emotions, meditation has a role to play in reducing blood pressure, reducing signs of anxiety, lowering the risk of cardiovascular episodes

– Meditation has been shown to have other, very specific, physical effects. Studies are coming out from the medical literature which show that meditation can have an effect on cellular growth, with people who meditate having longer telomeres than non-meditators (telomeres are found at the end of your chromosomes and have a role to play in how fast the cells of your body age). Essentially, the research shows that meditation slows ageing at a cellular level.

– Medical studies have shown that regular meditation can lead to the switching on of genes that have a role to play in fighting disease. The research is showing, very clearly, that the mind has a very clear physical effect over the body (one study showed that patients who are HIV positive and who meditated regularly for four months showed no decline in their white blood cells; as white blood cells are responsible for keeping infection at bay, and as the medicine that achieves an effect around a third as strong as meditation is very very expensive and many people can’t afford this medication, this is an important finding).

– Research shows that people living with cancer feel less overall pain when they meditate, with one study showing that meditation reduced pain intensity by around 40% and that meditating patients received around 35% less pain-control medication than non-meditators.

– Studies have shown that meditation increases the neural connections in the brain, literally increasing brain power.

– Neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change itself in response to stimuli) is stimulated following meditation.

– The brain is shown to age at a slower rate in meditators, with the areas of the brain dealing with memory and decision-making becoming bigger in meditators.

Final thoughts

I’ll flippantly say that I don’t care who thinks I’m strange for meditating. In fact, given the research that shows all the many benefits of meditation (which is, presumably just the tip of the iceberg, given the lack of funding for research in to meditation)I’ll gladly shout about meditation from the rooftops. There have been campaigns from educators for meditation to be standard in Western schools. I can’t claim I’m well-versed enough to know about the ins and outs of those arguments, but I do know that myself and my two littles have become noticeably – audibly! – calmer, less anxious, more tranquil, more creative, more generous and certainly a whole lot kinder since we started meditating. And that, for me, is reason enough to continue.

[This post is part of a series ‘Self-care‘: click for Quiet Time, Journalling and Self-Reflection]

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12 thoughts on “A week of self-care: meditation

  1. Soto Zen has been a part of my life for decades, and when I tell people I’m a Buddhist Christian (or a Christian Buddhist), it’s rather amusing to watch their eyes come out on stalks…the poor dears don’t realize that it’s not a contradiction.

    I find that now I meditate at odd hours, or odd minutes, and can drop into the stream with little fanfare. Meditation is life; everything else is the fever dream.

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    • iwillbloom says:

      Andrew, for me, at this stage in my process, its not a contradiction. I’ve said on my blog before, and always say, that prayer is how one speaks to God, and meditation is how one listens to God. [And, yes, I often find myself ‘in stream’ when I didn’t even realised I’d gone in to it….it was rather unsettling the first few times but now I find it a great comfort].

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  2. Eva says:

    Love, love, LOVE this post! I’ve loved meditation since I first started trying it a few years ago, but lately I’ve been loving it so much more and try to do it at least two to three times a day. It works wonders! I love your point e… I wish the whole world meditated, haha! Can you imagine how much more beautiful it would be? 🙂 I could go on and on talking about meditation… I’ll stop soon, promise! I couldn’t clear my mind completely for so long, I just had to “let my thoughts go”. There are many different ways to meditate and I think each kind has its benefits. I recently read someone say that meditation is the hardest, but best thing you can do for yourself and I’ve got to agree! It may not be THE hardest thing, but it is super hard to quiet our minds, and it’s definitely up there for being one of the best things you can do for yourself and all those around you! Okay, I’ll stop here 😛 Is it okay if I share your post on Facebook/Twitter?

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    • iwillbloom says:

      Eva….glad you liked the post! I’m also doing it more frequently (is there *too much* meditation, I wonder?!)….and, yes, I do often imagine how things would be if more people meditated and do seriously, seriously wish that a movement *would* start in earnest, in education, for meditation classes for children. Definitely, whole-heartedly agree that meditation is the best thing you can do for yourself…and, yes, please do share!

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  3. Zanna says:

    Oh dear. Up until now I must admit I fall firmly in the “I’ve tried and I can’t” category but I am genuinely interested in perusing what I think must be a profound experience and probably also a very healthy habit. I’ve started by doing a short “gratefulness moment” at the start and end of every day, just to try and counteract all the negative emotions (annoyance, jealousy, anger) that we experience every day as a normal part of the human experience. I find myself being more mindful and sleeping better just taking that short time to come away, as it were, from the hustle and bustle and just slow down and be thankful. So far, anything beyond this extremely simple for of meditation–if it can even be called that–has eluded me but perhaps you’ve inspired me to give it another go! Great post 🙂

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    • iwillbloom says:

      Hi Zanna, as I said in the post, I definitely recommend trying a guided meditation (but not a ‘kooky’ one from youtube)…they definitely help to train the mind to relax in the right manner….here’s hoping you do give it another go!

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  4. This so intrigues me. I have done yoga, relaxation breathing kinds of things before…but never true meditation. I’ve always thought it would be such a healthy beneficial thing to do – and now you’ve convinced me. I think I need to give it a try. Thx for sharing dest Gal.

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    • iwillbloom says:

      Hi Carrie….I’ll let you know when Chopra/Oprah are offering their next free 21-day guided meditation (I’m on the email list)….it seems like it will be soon-ish….GREAT!

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  5. Jennifer says:

    A great post once again. It must be so amazing to have this tool for relaxation and overall mental well- being. I have been interested in meditation for a while now. My husband and I took a course with some well know Buddhist monk from Tibet. He gave us many warnings on the first class that many of us have “monkey brains” and will have a hard time focussing and will give up. Yeah, I’m one of those monkey brains. It is a really hard thing to master to turn the brain down! We would do this exercise where he would have us imagining that we were breathing first in and out of the left nostril for 7 repeats, then the right and then both. Every time I almost fell asleep in the middle of class. I thought this was a good sign that I was super relaxed but apparently not. As it happened, my mother who was ailing passed away when we were half way done our course. Of course we were busy with arrangements and the sadness of her death and we never got back to our course. You have me thinking that I should give it a go again. 🙂 I do believe that it is a process that one has to really work on to master.

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    • iwillbloom says:

      Hi Jennifer, I definitely found that I needed to do the guided meditations first (as they helped me relax my monkey brain). Now I can do the breathing exercise-type entry in to meditation, but I couldn’t until I’d gone through the ‘rigour’ of doing the guided meditations first. [I was so sorry to hear about your Mum]. If you like, I’ll let you know when the Chopra/Oprah 21-day free guided meditation opens next, so you can give those a try….Have a lovely weekend, Helen

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  6. Zoe Rose says:

    In our RE lessons at secondary school we sometimes did ‘stillings’ which sound similar, it was always very relaxing and most people finished feeling like they were about to go to sleep! I quite often follow a similar process if I am struggling to sleep. How do you do it with your little ones?

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