Have you ever wanted to just stop? I mean, really stop, set everything aside and just have a breather? In the first two months of My Year In Flux, I expected to steadily recover from the stress of work and London life and emerge a more serene human being. Instead, I’ve racked up several thousand miles down the US Pacific Coast Highway, embarked on new Weekly Challenges every seven days and maintained this site and a travel blog. Frankly it’s been exhausting. So during this last week I called a halt to EVERYTHING for a few minutes each day, closed my eyes, focused inwardly and started to learn how to meditate.
During my eighth weekly challenge, which required me to spend some time seeing the world like my hero, I found myself hurtling through the brilliant Autobiography of a Yogi. The author describes their path to yogic serenity, with meditation playing a large role. I’d only tried meditation a few times, always under instruction, and had never attempted it during my ten or so years of working life, so here was a perfect weekly challenge: learning a new self-improvement skill whilst also forcing a change of pace.
Which type of meditation is best?
A friend with a fair amount of experience suggested I try Zen Breath Meditation, or Zazen. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, a blog I follow fairly religiously, also prescribes the same route. The zazen breath meditation routine appealed to me because no instruction or tools are required to get started, it doesn’t directly connect to religion (though Buddhists, Yogi, Hindus and Taoists can all lay claim) and it neatly connects with thoughts I’ve already expressed on the importance of breath.
How do you learn to start meditating?
I read this great article, giving instruction on how to get started with breath meditation, and (as recommended by Leo Babauta) I began reading Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, which is a sort-of self help book with meditation instructions built in.
Research can quickly become displacement activity, so after flicking through those two sources, I got underway, spending a few minutes each day clambering into a half-lotus position (which helps put the diaphragm in an optimal position), sitting still in a quiet environment and focusing in on nothing but my own breathing.
It’s really tough to clear the mind and focus on one thing, so meditating regularly – preferably more than once a day – is essential for beginners. It’s also essential to take it slow and relax into it: you can’t achieve a state of calm and inner focus through furious effort, but you can patiently plug away.
How long do you meditate and what time of day?
Much of the advice I read suggested that meditation can be best early in the morning. The world is quiet, your mind is clearer of obstructions and rising from bed just a few minutes earlier than usual is an easy to make meditation a part of your routine.
Before my research, I had visions of long, arduous sessions. Personally, I couldn’t have plunged into hours of meditative practice straight off the bat, my brain was too wired and my body too restless, so I started off with ten minutes a day, moving up to around 15-20 minutes sessions by the end of the week.
What are the benefits of meditation?
There’s been loads written about the psychological and physical benefits of meditation. From a Flux standpoint, if you are going to make such a large life decision as leaving your work and home behind in order to embrace new things, some time spent actively focusing on mindfulness and self-discovery is a worthwhile investment. Personally speaking, my initial sessions left me feeling dazed, weirdly calm and inwardly happy.
It’s been a busy seven days for me, but I’ve managed to squeeze in some meditation every day – one day I found myself on a Californian clifftop at dawn, another was spent in my car parked on Sunset Strip in LA, yet another found me perched on a picnic table on a campsite in Big Sur – but I ended the week with a newfound respect for people who regularly practice meditation, it is really quite a tough skill, and one I intend to spend much more time focusing on during the coming year.
Why not give meditation a try? As I’ve proved this week, it takes next-to-no-time to get started, no specialist advice or equipment are required and, I promise you, the benefits are palpable.