Meditation is often associated with monks in mountains and despite the fact both my parents are open to it and have practiced it, I only first started ‘getting into’ mediation myself at the start of this year. Now I have dabbled my feet in the waters of relaxation a little, I am desperate to report back.
Like some of my contemporaries, I am a strange contradiction of a girl in that I am essentially a ‘happy person’, very easily pleased and able to find happiness in seriously mundane things. Like, nothing makes me happier than eating a big sandwich or just being on a bus. Anything more exciting and I am basically in euphoria. As you can imagine, euphoria is a common theme for me. This ability to find happiness in the everyday, they say, is one of the key attitudes in maintained ‘happiness’.
However, I trip myself up and get stuck in thought processes which bring me down or stress me out. Yes I go about my day ‘happily’ and tend to spread positive vibes, but what’s happening inside doesn’t always reflect that. I have got into a cycle of forever planning ahead, making it hard for myself to just be in the present. I would put it out there and say this is a fairly common problem in modern Britain, a problem born out of a combination of:
1. frantic world syndrome
2. too much choice
3. unconscious thought habits we adopt at a young age
It seems to me that decisive and calm people, who aren’t prone to over-thinking, tend to be happier. I know that in learning to live in the moment and generally calming the hell down, I could be not just happy and excited, but actually content and free. So many of us proactively do things to try and achieve this – running, blogging, healthy-eating. I am so proud that our generation seems to be slowly tipping the balance back away from binge drinking and McDonald's to wellbeing. I personally pay so much attention to my wellbeing (after I found debauchery just did not work for me) that my main problem now is the fact that I just do do do do do – never taking a breath to be. Enter meditation.
Both my Dad and my boss recommended this mindfulness book to me, when all my previous releases – running, baking, writing doing doing doing, - were by this point just making me tired and ill, adding to my stress. I was keen on trying something which involved and encouraged just being. Mindfulness seems to be about giving your mind/mental state the same attention you give your body. If you want a strong body you have to go the gym , if you want peace of mind you have to work on it. I really wanted to work on it, but knowing where to start was hard. So taking their advice, I started with the book and it's accompaniment the Head Space app.
Head Space is a fantastic concept, it combines mediation with our modern lifestyle. At first I thought ‘what’s more contradictory than meditation in an App??’ - the most solo pastime, solitude defined, representing itself in social technology. I wasn’t sure. I needed to come away from social not get closer to it! But I downloaded the Head Space Take 10 app (free) and committed to 10 minutes of meditation every day, via the app. It involves effectively sitting quietly for 10 minutes, whilst Andy Puddicombe (founder, narrator and one-time monk) takes you through simple breathing exercises, effectively distracting your mind from whatever else is going on it. Even on day 1 appreciated the way the exercise forced me to switch off, even if just for 10 minutes, and instantly I felt calmer.
Continuing with Head Space for 10 days wasn’t easy, forcing yourself to continue when there is no tangible benefit is tough and I struggled to concentrate around days 6 & 7. Andy says this is normal. By day 10 I had definitely noticed a difference – taking just 10 minutes out of my day to clear my mind felt so good. I didn’t feel as wound up, I slept better and my partner seemed to notice the change in me.
For me, Headspace works not in the way you necessarily notice. I didn’t go around thinking ‘wow! look how calm I am!’ but I did find myself much better able to cope with the day to day. On a recent BBC2 documentary about the power of positive thinking, Andy’s Headspace featured, and specialists on the programme claim that there is a biological link between meditation and the part of your brain which manages your emotions. This for me is very interesting, as I would say that’s the main change I witnessed – the ability to remain calm and just get less ruffled by small things. Andy suggests 6 - 8 weeks of daily practice before expecting significant long-term changes, but the actual benefits showed pretty quickly for me.
Re-exploring Head Space again last month, I again noticed how much better I slept on nights I had meditated and found myself coping much better with some quite big worries/anxieties. I am now certain that this practice is beneficial to people who struggle to feel calm in every day life or to live in the present moment. And I don't have to go to a cave to do it!
I plan to invest in Take 15 this week and maintain it this time. In the summer sunshine, emotions can run high and life can pick up even more speed, so I plan to enjoy every moment in the moment. The future can wait. Wish me luck!