I tried parties and reconnecting with old friends. I tried making new friends. I enjoyed amazing music. I threw myself violently out of my comfort zone. I took part in various workshops and programs. I started exercising. I started eating well. I started figuring out what suits me and what doesn’t, what works and what doesn’t.
Meditation is easy!
There are some common misconceptions about meditation. These include what it involves and what makes a meditation successful. I’m here to tell you now that the only way to be unsuccessful with meditation is to never try it or to give up on it as a practice.
Meditation is a proven successful method of reducing and managing stress and anxiety. It is a simple practice, often used for grounding the self in the present moment.
In our busy modern lives, we are usually inundated with tasks and our minds are always racing from one thing to the next. You could think of finding time for meditation as a chance to recharge your brains batteries between tasks, like charging your mobile phone when it’s starting to run low. It’s a much-needed break for the mind and everyone can benefit from it.
Meditation can be a great start to the morning, kicking you off with calm and clarity for the day ahead. It can be done at night before bed and is proven to help people relax into sleep. Even children can learn and benefit from the practice of meditation.
If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.
~ Amit Ray
Meditation isn’t just for spiritual and religious people. It’s not just for psychics and people trying to practice magic. It doesn’t necessarily involve going into trances and having visions, though for some people, this might be what happens.
Some people go into meditation with a specific purpose other than grounding themselves or to try to help them sleep. They may go into meditation with the intention of healing themselves, energetically, or to connect to spirit guides. These sorts of practices are obviously unsuitable for those who do not believe in Spirit, or the power of energy healing, but what is suitable for everyone is basic meditation practices, scientifically proven to be good for mental health.
In this article, I would like to focus on basic meditation techniques and mindfulness for the beginner interested in using meditation for relieving stress and grounding yourself in the present moment.
Step 1 (Set a timer for five minutes):
As a beginner, you want to start by finding somewhere quiet to practice where you will not be distracted. It usually helps to be sitting down comfortably in a chair, or on the floor, keeping your spine straight, with your hands on your lap or knees and your chin tilted slightly towards your chest.
Meditation can be done standing or lying down too, but as it can be extremely relaxing, you might find yourself falling asleep when led down. If you don’t want to fall asleep when you’re lying down, it is always helpful to have a timer set. I personally use a free meditation app on my phone called Insight Timer.
The main thing is to ensure you are comfortable, as you will be maintaining this position for five minutes.
When you are more skilled at meditation, you will likely find you are able to go into meditative states even when there are distractions around.
Step 2 (Focus on your breath):
Now that you are comfortable, you are to begin by focusing on your breath. Breathe in and out through your nose, and notice the sensations. Is the breath cooler coming in or out?
You might want to focus on the rise and fall of your chest or belly, but do not try to change your breath. Just let it be, as it is.
You are just going to focus on your breath to begin with. It may help to visualise the word “inhale” with each breath in, and on each breath out begin to count up, from “one”, all the way up to “nine”.
If your mind wanders off and becomes lost in thought, don’t despair! Just notice, without judgement, what has happened and bring your attention back to your breath. Keep counting on each breath out, all the way up to the number 9.
You should now already be in a much calmer state of mind.
Step 3 (Relax):
Continuing to breathe in and out, bring your awareness to your body. How does it feel? Are you holding tension anywhere?
Tell yourself “relax” and breathe into the area you are holding tension. Allow yourself to let go.
When you feel your body is relaxed, you can bring your attention back to your breath and once again count all the way up to “nine” on each breath out. You can keep repeating this process, but read on to find out how to deal with thoughts and feelings that arise during your meditation.
Observe your thoughts:
It’s natural for the mind to wander, even during meditation. With practice you may find it wanders less and less often, but whenever it does, notice the thoughts and watch them, as an observer. Do not follow the thoughts. Just let them pass you by.
To not follow them means to not get carried away with the stories and ideas the mind is presenting to you. Notice them. Observe them without judgement and let them go, returning your awareness to your breath.
You are not your thoughts. You are the watcher. You are the listener.
My favourite analogy is to compare thoughts to traffic. You are the watcher, sat on the side of the road as the cars, motorcycles and trucks (i.e. your thoughts) continue to drive by.
Observe your feelings:
During meditation, some emotions may arise. Notice these feelings. Perhaps you can identify them. For example, you might feel happy or sad. Don’t argue with your feelings or try to change them. Just observe the feeling and let it be.
Just as you are not your thoughts, you are not your feelings. You are the watcher. You are the one that notices the changing tides of your emotions.
Understand that everything is just as it should be in this moment. You are exactly as you should be. Sit with your emotions without judgement, over-analysing or attaching stories to them and continue to focus on your breath.
Notice if anything changes. Feelings are transient and it’s possible they will change even during the meditation.
Observe your body:
Notice bodily sensations. Your tummy may rumble. You may suddenly feel urges to scratch an itch. You may feel tension coming back or feel your body relaxing as you bring your awareness to the tension and breathe into it. Resist the urge to change anything and simply be, as you are, aware of what is going on in your body and mind and aware of your breath coming in and out.
Notice the space:
Space is the gap between thoughts that you may feel you rarely or have never experienced if you have quite a busy mind. You can begin to learn to notice it by noticing the space between each breath – that moment between each inhale and exhale.
As you learn to observe your thoughts as a watcher, you begin to find space. Notice the space between each thought. Notice these quiet moments, where you are not thinking at all. Notice when the space gets longer or shorter.
Notice how you feel in this space.
Don’t give up:
If you’ve follow my guidance, soon you will have successfully practised meditation for five minutes, without worrying that you’ve had “too many thoughts” or that you’ve somehow done something wrong because you didn’t go into a trance. Hopefully, you find it relaxing and perhaps even enlightening in some way. Maybe you will quickly see the benefit of taking the time to meditate.
The trick to getting the full benefits of meditation is to never give up on it. Continue to practice every day, perhaps several times a day, and/or for longer periods if you feel able to. The more you practise, the easier it is and the more likely you will see positive changes in your health.
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
I begin my career in complementary therapies in the summer of 2018, starting to see clients for Nutritional Therapy and brainstorming ways I can provide more, valuable services. It’s of course not clear yet if I’ll still be doing this in a year, in two years or even in ten years. I could end up taking another direction in life! However, as I never stopped wanting to finish counselling training and support people who might be having difficulties in life, I’m feeling confident today that I’m on the right path.
I was only 12 years old when I first had counselling training with Vale of Berkeley College. It was agreed among staff that students might benefit from having a team of “peer counsellors” available to talk to. They felt students in need may feel more comfortable opening up to people their own age, so about three students each from Years 8 through to sixth form were selected to receive specialist training from the school counsellor.
Staff invited students to apply for the role of peer counsellor and I was later informed I’d been selected because they thought I was a perfect candidate. The Deputy Head explained that though I was still so young, I seemed to have “lived” more than my peers and was noticeably already struggling with mental health issues myself, putting me in the perfect position to understand others going through a hard time.
I attended a three day training course at a pleasant countryside resort with about 15 other students. We never received official qualifications for the training done, but I’d say it was valuable training that had a tremendous impact on my belief system and helped shape the adult I eventually became.
I never stopped believing after that training that every young person would benefit from taking the course. Imagine being trained at the age of 12 to study your own prejudices, recognise them for what they are and come to the understanding they are not valuable beliefs! Imagine exercising your skills in empathy, listening and offering constructive and supportive feedback to those in need!
I can’t say I always effectively used the skills throughout my life and that I’ve been perfect. I can’t say I was always the best listener outside of a counsellor/client setting. I certainly can’t say that as I grew older, new prejudiced beliefs didn’t creep in that I’d eventually notice and challenge. But I can say I’ve been trained in such a way there’s a heightened awareness of these things upon self-reflection and such awareness of your faults is necessary for self improvement.
In my first training course, we covered more than just the basics covered in my OCN Level 1 counselling training course taken 6 years later. I began Level 2 shortly after completing Level 1, but my own mental health issues were so severe, I abandoned the notion of ever being able to support anybody.
I thought ‘Why would anybody ever want my help?’
At the time, I didn’t realise that most people working in psychotherapies and counselling (and other forms of therapies) are usually drawn towards healing professions because they have suffered themselves.
Carl Jung coined the term Wounded Healer to describe such people and so, professionals receive counselling and therapies themselves throughout training and during their careers to ensure they do not carry their wounds into sessions, thus potentially having a negative impact on their ability to help a client.
I have left it too long to begin counselling training again at Level 2, and must take the Level 1 training again, which I hope to begin next year. I think the timing will be perfect, as it is only now after many years of issues that I am finally on the real road to recovery and starting a new chapter in life. The time is right!
Throughout my difficulties, I have sought therapy over the years with the NHS and been rejected time and time again for various reasons. I am just waiting to find out if I will be rejected again or finally going to be having therapy. I begin studying psychology this autumn, after years of studying mental health and human nature at my leisure and being encouraged to go university because understanding people is supposedly one of the things I’m good at.
In the mean time, as well as completing a course in Nutritional Therapy and beginning to see clients, I continue to study nutrition at basic levels. I have taken some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy training and a course in Mindfulness and am trying to prepare myself for the huge (but slightly terrifying) moment I can officially get back to work after years of sickness and all my time spent as a stay-at-home mum.
The nature of my issues are quite complex, with me having been “signed off” for life. Nobody expects me to ever be able to function in society properly even as the unemployed, never mind at work!
I suffer tremendously with a disorder known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is a severe form of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and quite frankly has been life-ruining. I’ve also over the years accumulated a stack of diagnoses, including a diagnosis of a personality disorder I have challenged repeatedly; Depression; Anxiety; an eating disorder; Agoraphobia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I also have physical issues such as joint complaints and a long-standing sports injury from my younger, more active years known as Chondromalacia Patellae which has been causing me immense pain and mobility issues for almost 20 years now.
I don’t feel any of these labels adequately describe the difficulties I’ve had, but it would take much longer to explain why I’ve been deemed such a “write off”, and at such a young age too! Let’s just say I am no stranger to being called “crazy”, however, and stigma follows me wherever I go.
Who knows exactly where my mental health difficulties began? I feel most of the worst things that have ever happened to me, happened after leaving school. That’s when I faced the worst kinds of hardship and trauma, not limited to total poverty and abuse. That’s when I abused alcohol and cannabis as coping mechanisms. That’s when authorities really started to notice my existence.
My last mental and emotional breakdown was incredibly recent – just before my last period. All my knowledge and skills are no match for PMDD when I am not more actively working on preventing it’s symptoms through better management and coping strategies.
I don’t feel like I had a particularly bad childhood at home, though I sometimes suppose that watching age inappropriate movies was not healthy. My father left when I was very young and I have only a few memories of him. I particularly remember finding school horrible, not wanting to go and that every bit of teasing and bullying from my peers deeply affected me.
I was a happy, but sensitive young child and by the time I got to secondary school I was miserable. What started out as sadness when I felt so constantly rejected by my peers started to transform into anger. I was angry with everyone, and angry at the “system”, forcing me into schools that I deemed nothing but little prisons to brainwash and prepare children for some sort of lifetime of enslavement.
Some teachers thought I was a genius. If they liked me, I was usually one of their favourites! It was obvious some other teachers thought I was a “bad kid” with behavioural issues and, quite amusingly, as well as being a peer counsellor, I was also placed in anger and behavioural management classes on and off for three years with the fantastic Rob Turner, who I believe might have been the brother of famous TV chef, Brian.
I’ve joked before that at school I was every character of The Breakfast Club, rolled into one. I was smart and athletic, so – when I felt like it – quite the high achiever. I was also the “basket-case” and “criminal”, often in trouble, finding myself suspended or placed in isolation. I was even “the princess”, something I never truly realised until well after I’d left school and understood that I wasn’t widely hated like I told myself, and actually had plenty of friends!
It’s taken me years to “get over” school and stop blaming it for ruining my life!
As an adult, I believe that mental and physical health issues are so prevalent in the west, because we’re genuinely doing a lot wrong and we’re doing it to people from birth. I can’t say I always agree with the way things are run and I never did. Perhaps, that’s, in part, why I became unwell in the first place.
So, I wonder, what I can do to help people on an individual level, and what can I do to make a larger impact on society on the whole and begin to effect positive change?
Is it partaking in marches, screaming until I’m blue in the face about political matters, social issues and so on, or can I find other, less mentally exhausting and potentially damaging ways to do something about the state of public health?
I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll do a little bit of it all. You’ll have to keep on reading to find out how I’ve chosen to continue my own journey of recovery and supporting others around the world in their own.