Let me start by admitting that meditation is hard.
Luckily, that’s the bad news over. Even very small meditation wins can have profound positive effects on both your psychological and physical health.
My journey to a happy place with meditation has taken countless twists, turns, trips and tumbles and I’m hoping I’ve done all the hard work for you.
This is my quick guide to where I went wrong and how you can skip straight to the good stuff.
Epic Fail #1: The Promise of Enlightenment
I was first introduced to meditation during my Yoga Teacher Training in Guatemala 5 years ago. Every morning for 3 weeks straight as the sun was coming up, I sat on a deck overlooking Lake Atitlan, closed my eyes and waited patiently for my spiritual awakening.
Unsurprisingly, it never came. It turns out I was missing a couple of steps. Apparently, enlightenment is phase two (or maybe even phase fifteen). First I had to nail down the technique of meditation.
I needed more guidance.
Epic Fail #2: Ants in my yoga pants
When I returned home to México, a fully-fledged yoga teacher, I was determined to fire up a daily meditation practice. I bought an annual subscription to the app Headspace and committed to meditating for 20 minutes every day.
Now I can be incredibly disciplined, but that turned out to be way too long for me to stay focussed. I did however, make one important discovery. I noticed that I always had my best sessions straight after I did my hour of yoga, but I could rarely sit still until the end of the recording. I needed to set the bar a little lower.
Epic Fail #3: I’m a day-dreamer
When I first heard that the aim of meditation was to clear my mind, I was concerned. I like having weird and wonderful thoughts and letting my mind wander off and come up with sometimes brilliant (but more often terrible) ideas.
It turns out that’s not the point at all. It isn’t thinking that meditation has beef with but stuck thinking – replaying events that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, getting mad at yourself for something you can’t possibly undo, or worrying about a future that you don’t even know is going to happen.
Meditation is about letting go of unhelpful thoughts and living in the present moment, even if just for a few breaths.
Epic Fail #4: Don’t hold your breath
2 years after my initial exposure to meditation, I signed up for a 4-day silent retreat deep in the Guatemalan jungle. Up to this point, I had only experimented with breath meditation. What I discovered sitting in that yoga shala for 6 hours a day, was that if I focussed on the sounds of the birds, wild animals and insects, I could stay present for much longer than if I just tried to focus on my breath. I needed to choose a focal point for my meditation that was more engaging.
My simple 5-step method
After years of taking two steps forward and four steps back, I finally found a method that, although I can't promise will fast track you to enlightenment, does help me wind down in the evening, sleep more deeply, feel less anxious, boost my concentration and tune me back into my body.
This is what you do:
- Lie on your back in a comfortable position. Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing up.
- Listen as I guide you through a 5-minute Body Scan Meditation, methodically drawing your attention to physical sensations all the way from the soles of your feet up to the crown of your head.
- Be curious and try to notice any areas of tightness, pain or discomfort. Breathe into these areas, consciously allowing your muscles to let go of tension.
- If your mind wanders off from observing the sensations in your body, gently bring it back, over and over.
- Practice this technique for 5 minutes every day. Consistency is the key.