Learning meditation is one of those things I’ve had on my life to-do list for years. I have several friends who swear by it and who have been to multiple escape-way-out-of-London retreats where they do NOTHING but meditate – well, and sleep and eat, but no talking, reading or writing – for days on end.
While I have never imagined that I could, or would want to, ever take the practice that far, I have envied them their apparent calm, and was keen to get my own hands on some of that. Never more so than over the past, particularly challenging, six months in my life.
In January, I signed up to an eight-week Guided Meditation course at the City Lit (an excellent institution where scores of Londoners learn oodles of things every day). I followed that up by downloading the Headspace app, with more guided ten- to fifteen-minutes+ meditation care of Andy Puddicombe, who after a personal crises in his twenties, upsticksed to the Far East and became a Buddhist monk before returning to the UK to preach mindfulness.
(The app was recommended to me by someone on my course, but coincidentally, I later found Andy popping up and explaining his ten-minute “get some more headspace” ethos on another one of my learning obsession resources: Ted.com.)
If you have time for classes or apps, I do recommend them – I’m continuing to use Headspace, which comes with some helpful explanatory animations and motivating materials, in addition to the daily mediations to Andy’s dulcet tones.
But I also appreciate that, finding even ten minutes in a crazy-ass busy day can be a big ask. As can finding the time to learn about meditation theories and methods in general. And not everyone can be bothered enough to download an app or buy a year’s subscription.
So, for the really time poor, the really lazy and/or for those who really think the notion of meditation or mindfulness sounds too airy-fairy, I’d like to share with you my boiled-down, five-minute version. The point is simply to slow down, create a little mini-mind break in your busy day by giving that racing brain of yours something else to do besides making 10,000 decisions and flitting insanely between the myriad other thoughts, memories and tasks crowded in there. Here goes:
- Find a quiet place to sit comfortably with your feet on the floor and hands in your lap.
- Set the timer on your smartphone to five minutes, press start and close your eyes.
- For a few seconds, just notice how your body feels sitting in the chair, particularly around the main, physical touch points: the soles of your feet on the solid ground, your bum in the seat of the chair, the weight of your hands in your lap and the tips of your fingers against the fabric of your clothing or your skin.
- While trying to remain as still as possible, slow down your breathing and start counting your breaths. Count ONE on the inhalation and TWO on the exhalation, THREE (in), FOUR (out) and so on.
- For the first ten counts, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Really notice the sensation of the air flowing through those passages.
- After ten, just breathe naturally through your nose, and notice the sensation of the rising and falling of your chest and abdomen as you breathe.
- Keep counting up to 100. It’s no problem if you lose track of the numbers, just resume roughly wherever you think feels right.
- When you reach 100, stop counting and just listen to the sounds. Notice all the different sounds. Birds singing, distant traffic, people talking in the next room. Don’t think what the sounds mean, just let them wash over you like a soundscape. (If you do this a few times, and find the sounds more relaxing, reduce the breath counting to 50 in future.)
- Any time you find your mind wandering, don’t freak out or chastise yourself for “doing it wrong”, just gently guide it back to the counting and noticing sensations. (What you’re doing here is engaging your observing mind. While the mind is observing, it’s too engaged to think or worry.)
- When your timer beeps (turn it off – that goes without saying, right?), slowly open your eyes and stretch.
If you can spare just two minutes more (again, you can time it), you can extend the stretch and really open yourself up into one of the crossing-the-finish-line or Wonder-Woman power poses I previously blogged about. Then you have a nice two-birds-with-one-stone jolt of peace and power in one session. If you can’t spare two minutes, just enjoy that really good stretch (including spreading your hands and fingers out to their maximum span) and telling yourself “I am AWESOME” (because you are, of course).
And, finally, if a few of these five-minute mini-breaks whet your appetite, do check out Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app. It’s free to download and includes the “Take Ten” challenge – ten minutes of meditation a day for ten days. After that you may get properly hooked.