Meditation – What Is It? How Do You Do It? How Do You Know It’s Working?

I grew up thinking that meditation was about sitting cross-legged on a remote beach, humming your way to inner peace with your hands placed on your knees and thumb and middle finger pressed tightly together. You needed about 40 minutes, preferably whilst the sun sets, on a perfectly relaxing and calm day. You also needed to resemble a hippy! I thought meditation and incense went hand in hand. No one that I knew did it. No one within my family ever mentioned it. It was weird, strange and not for me.

However…I couldn’t have been more wrong!!!

For so many of us, constant over thinking feels automatic and very normal; from the moment we wake up to the moment we eventually drift off to sleep we’re thinking. Some of it positive, a lot of it negative, most of it based on what’s happened in the past or going to happen in the future.

Think of your mind as a washing machine. When you wake up, you switch it on. It swirls around and around and around hundreds of specific thoughts, actions that need to be done, ideas, ‘to do lists’, past conversations, memories, upcoming events….moment after moment it keeps adding to the load swirling them around as you live out your day.

I’ve always been an ‘over thinker’ with a washing machine mind that is 24/7 switched on. It’s caused so much anxiety, stress and illness within me because I didn’t know how to turn it off or at least slow it down. I had to use external things such as alcohol, drugs and TV to numb my mind and allow me to unwind.

Who would have thought that learning how to take a few moments throughout my day where I deliberately choose to pause the washing machine of my mind to allow for stillness and inner peace to be felt within, would change everything about my life and the way that I cope with the pressures and challenges that pop up within in.

I am now a loud and proud regular meditator. I am also very normal!

So for anyone else that has a mind that tends to over think but also has a belief within them that meditation is for the wild and wondrous of the world… I want to clear a few things up for you.

Firstly – you don’t need to find 40 spare minutes of your busy day to sit on the floor in silence! You just need to think differently about how you play out the actions that are already occurring within your day.

So let’s break this down:

What’s the Aim (or Point!) of Meditation?

To stop you focusing on everything that is swirling around within your mind, bringing you back to this very moment, this second, that you are living now. Your washing machine cycle is put on pause and you are still, quiet and calm. Your focus is on here and now. You’re not thinking about the past or the future but instead are present to what’s happening around you NOW.

How Do We Switch Off Our Cycle of Thoughts When They Seem So Automatic and Natural?

Start with a simple daily action that is suited to you and your life that you already do.

Cooking, making a cup of tea, cleaning the house, walking the dog, running, painting, drawing, eating lunch in the sun, craft, sewing, riding a bike, taking a bath, having a shower and driving are just some of the everyday activities that have enormous potential for meditative moments rather than spending them doing automatic over-thinking.

Every time you do that action, consciously choose to use that time, that moment, as a way of turning off your washing machine cycle or at least slowing it down through the practice of meditation. A habit will start to form and your brain will begin to link that action with meditation and before you know it, every time you do that action, you will automatically go into a calm and relaxed meditative state.

4 years ago I was working full time, starting my day in the office at 6.30am.  At the same time I was setting up my business as a speaker which meant working on my dream in every spare moment I got. The only time I had to turn off my washing machine mind was on my lunch break and in the car whilst driving too and from work. Every single day I used that time and what I noticed was very quickly it changed from ‘oh crap, I’m meant to be meditating’ to ‘hurry up lunch time’ or ‘bring on all the red lights on the journey home’ because I fell in love with that quiet, still, peaceful ‘me’ time.

No Matter How You Choose to Practice Meditation, There are 5 Simple Steps to Follow:

  1. Slow down your breathing. Find a pace and breathing rhythm that works for you. Example would be 4 seconds breathing in through the nose and 4 seconds breathing out through the mouth. Focus on it. Feel the breath come in and feel it exit on its way out.
  2. Breathe deep slow breaths from the mid stomach area of your body, rather than short quick breaths from the upper shoulder area. You want to breathe into your diaphragm which doesn’t reside in your shoulders!! When we’re stressed, anxious or just busy with life we often tend to do small quick breaths from our upper body not getting enough oxygen to where it’s really needed.
  3. Gently remind yourself as much as you need to and as much as your mind begins to wonder off into thinking mode, that nothing else matters in this moment. Say to yourself, ‘I allow myself to be here and now. Just breathe’.
  4. Let out deep heavy sighs when the need arises to release any tension or stress that has built up within you. This is your body’s way of relaxing, calming down and letting go.
  5. Take your senses to this very moment and what is happening around you. The sounds you hear, the sights you see and their intricate details, how you feel within, the smells that may be filling up your room or the area that you’re in.

As a fairly new Mumma, walking is now how I do most of my meditation. As I walk, my breathing and physical steps find a rhythm of their own whilst I take my vision to the things that surround me and the tiny details that exist when your present enough to see them; birds sitting high up in the trees nibbling on gumnuts. The shape of the clouds and the pace of them moving by. The people around me and the way they walk or the actions they’re doing. As I breathe in I will notice the smells that occur; the freshly moved lawn, the fresh rain that had fallen, the dog poo of the park bin! The things I will see when I’m focusing in this way will never cease to amaze me. Beautiful and amazing aspects of life that are so often missed when we’re busy in our own head constantly thinking about tomorrow!

How Do You Know That You’ve Successfully Meditated? 

You feel a little lighter, a little calmer and a little more at peace within yourself than before you started. Your mind may be still and clear if you’ve been practicing meditation for a while or the washing cycle may just be turning at a much slower pace. Either way, you feel different.

The more you do it, the more you will really begin to notice the difference within you in terms of how you feel. You will also start to notice yourself responding to situations, people and events from a calmer more peaceful place rather than fight or flight ‘go go go mode’. A sense of calm will wash over you whilst an inner peace will arise from within. Your ability to cope with pressure will increase, your resilience will strengthen and you will find your becoming a better version of you – a calmer more present you!

Enjoy it. It’s not meant to be hard. Like anything new, at first it’s uncomfy but with practice it gets easier and easier. Eventually the new habit becomes your new normal.

No crossed-legs. No remote beach. No finding 40 minutes. No becoming a hippy. No ‘perfect sun-setting day’ needed! Just a conscious choice to spend a few moments of your day, each and every day, practising the art of turning off your washing machine mind so you can feel a sense of calm and inner peace within yourself and within your life.