Rukmini, Ali Shevlin continues with her guest blog series on balance. Thank you, Rukmini for this honest and encouraging fourth article in the series.
I love this image from what-Buddha-said.net.
Recently, I’ve felt as if I’ve been living in the middle of a whirlwind - a whirlwind of work, social engagements, sickness, drama, the demands of others, the demands of myself, emotional highs and lows of others and of myself. Trying to keep up has been exhausting, and I’ve felt, for almost two months, as if I’ve barely even had time to breathe.
I’m much later than I wanted to be in writing this next article about the idea of balance (if you missed the others so far, you can find them here), simply because I’ve been so completely off balance myself that firstly I felt like a fraud, and secondly my head hasn’t stopped spinning long enough for me to sit down and write! And yet, I realised, sharing honest experiences is important. Part of the drama and emotion and downright craziness that’s marked the start of this year has been coming from others, and part of it has been coming from myself. Why do we do it? I don’t have the answer to that. All I can say is that, when I realised it was partly my own mind that was making itself spin, I felt much more in control. I felt much more able to call a halt, or at least to slow things down. I felt much more able to draw a line between my “junk” and other people’s “junk”, and to declare that never the two shall meet again. And the practice that helped me get to that point?
Meditation - the practice of focusing and calming the mind, in order to achieve an overall sense of balance, peace, and heightened awareness.
The benefits of meditation are well-documented. Studies have shown that a regular meditative practice helps to reduce stress, increases the ability to control emotions, increases happiness, improves concentration, expands self-awareness, and helps to achieve an overall sense of wellbeing and balance. More and more people are meditating regularly - around 18 million Americans at last count - and the numbers are only growing.
I’ve meditated daily for over two years now. It’s become a routine, almost like brushing my teeth in the mornings and, just like if I hadn’t brushed my teeth, I don’t feel properly ready for the day if I don’t meditate. Sometimes I have a delicious half hour before anyone else is up, and sometimes it’s a quick 10 minutes before running to get ready for work, but it’s always there.
Since the beginning of the year, though, meditation has been a struggle. My mind has been so busy and full of whirling thoughts that trying to sit quietly, without thinking, began to feel a little bit like torture. It’s a story that I hear from so many people - that they would like to meditate, but can’t seem to shut their minds off and so the effort just becomes frustrating. Rather than helping the mind to relax and become still, meditation becomes a battleground, and our minds are strong creatures. They invariably win. And then meditation becomes just something else that they can’t do.
In my efforts not to lose my love of meditation - and to find a way of meditating that actually helped my search for a balanced mind rather than hindering it - I experimented with a few different ideas. My practice has always consisted of the more traditional style of meditation, and the one that most people think of when they hear the word “meditation”, in that I would sit, cross-legged, back straight and eyes closed, and mentally repeat a mantra in rhythm with my breath in order to focus my mind. The trouble lately was that whenever my body was still for any length of time, my mind seemed to take it as an invitation to run rampant.
However, the goal of meditation is to focus and calm the mind, and I reasoned that there must be other ways of achieving this that were less like a red rag to a bull. I wanted to share some of these different approaches with you, in the hope that they might inspire you to try something new, or to give meditation a go even if the tradition style has never appealed to you.
Yes, it is possible to meditate while moving. The idea here is to get out of your head and into your body, focusing on physical sensations and feelings rather than those thoughts and emotions running through your mind. The movement shouldn’t be strenuous or too physically demanding, as you want to retain the calming element of a traditional sitting meditation, and it should be something where you can focus on the breath as a starting point of being in your body. Walking is ideal, at a quiet time of day and perhaps somewhere in nature, so that you can also use the rhythms of the Earth as a focal point for your mind. Try co-ordinating your breath with your steps, harmonising each inhale and exhale with the movement of your body. After a while it becomes almost hypnotic!
I’ve also discovered dance as a way of meditating while moving, sometimes with music and sometimes without. Try it somewhere where you are alone and unlikely to be disturbed for at least a few minutes, and simply allow your body to take over. It does take a bit of practice, as we are very conditioned to worry about what we might look like! Try and allow your body to move the way it wants to, with no set steps or rhythms or style, and no over-thinking. It might surprise you! And it’s a great way of letting go of anything clogging up your mind.
Meditating to music.
While many people feel that meditating to music isn’t really meditation at all (believing that music is an outside distraction that prevents you from fully going inward), I’ve found it invaluable on those days when sitting in silence is just too much, or when I’m too tired even to repeat a mantra to myself. Calming, soothing music is a great “pillow” for an overworked mind, and it gives the mind something to focus on without you having to put in much effort. There are literally thousands of albums of meditation music available, and there are also countless playlists on the internet. I’ve spent many a happy hour searching for those tracks that feel just right! Another alternative now available are meditation apps such as Insight Timer, which offer selections of different styles of music of different lengths, and enable you to track your meditation progress. You can choose from soothing piano or flute music, nature sounds, singing bowls, crystal bowls, birdsong….whatever floats your meditation boat.
Also available in their thousands online are guided meditations, in which you are led on a meditative “journey” for a specific purpose. These can be really helpful if you are hoping to gain something tangible from your meditation practice, such as being kinder to yourself and others, or relieving physical pain, or boosting your self-confidence.
Meditation does not have to be a solitary activity. Many people actually find it easier to meditate when they are surrounded and supported by other people doing the same. In meditation groups, clubs, or classes, there is no danger of you being disturbed, and far less chance that you’ll give up halfway through! Energetically, when people meditate together the vibration tends to be much higher, making it easier for everyone to concentrate. Styles and vibes vary enormously, so if this appeals to you I would recommend trying as many as you can to get a feel for what suits you and what doesn’t - and for the fellow meditators that suit you and those that don’t!
Are you a regular meditator, or would you like to make meditation part of your daily routine? Which styles of meditation do you prefer? I’d love to hear your experiences!
For more from Ali Shevlin, check out her website http://purepranaayurveda.com.
Loving Life and Living Love,
If you haven't signed up for the blog posts, please do.
I welcome you to leave a comment below or post one on my BestYOU Facebook page.
Sharing your thoughts is a gift to all of us!