My first attempt at meditation should have been successful. I signed up for an intensive mindfulness training retreat in Wales, in an idyllic setting, with expert teachers. I knew all about the science of meditation, and the neuroscience as well. I understood the body and brain mechanisms by which meditation appears to work, and I advocated for the benefits in teaching classes and my psychology practice.
You can guess how the retreat went, can’t you? It was seriously hard work, my brain stayed busy, the time passed hideously slowly and, while determined, I was unable to develop a “personal meditation practice” in the weeks and months following.
I did try again at various times after that. Once with a dear friend in England I joined her at a meditative yoga class. I found the gentle instructions annoying and the class seemed to last an age. I had some success with pilates – the mental effort required to hold the poses quieted my brain and I think gave me a glimmer of the power of mindfulness.
Then a health scare, out of the blue and scary beyond words, brought the importance of meditation back into sharp focus for me. I read everything I could find about inflammation and the links between inflammation and illness and disease. I learnt how what starts as a protective immune process in the body can go awry, and what we might do to keep it in check. This new understanding highlighted the importance of mind-body interventions, and the power of these interventions to help us turn off an adrenalin response when it is no longer useful.
I started simply. I went to the pool and paid attention to my breathing while I was swimming. The warmth and feel of the water was calming, and focusing on breathing helped my mind to quieten and pay attention to breathing. I’ve always loved to walk, so I continued to walk, sometimes noticing my breathing, sometimes paying deliberate attention to the surroundings. I discovered that walking in the bush, and beside the sea, both helped me to walk more mindfully.
More recently, I started yoga classes. This time it’s restorative yoga – the practice emphasises relaxation over flowing movements and physically challenging poses, instead focusing on simple stretches, centering the breath and body, practising stillness along with gentle movements, and holding poses for extended periods.
Slowly, slowly, I have been learning to meditate. I’m developing a daily habit, in fact I often practise several times a day, walking mindfully, swimming with mindful attention, focused breathing and poses during yoga. While it’s clear that moving meditation comes more easily to me than sitting, I’m also learning to sit quietly and focus on my breath, or listen to a piece of music, or to just “be” for a few minutes.
My hope in sharing my experiences is to encourage other “busy brain” people to have another try of meditation, until you find a method that works for you.
Written by Gaynor Parkin