What’s all this fascination with meditation? Meditation has arguably become a trendy buzzword in recent years, and is part and parcel of our avo toast, lulu pants + yoga sweating culture.
But what even is meditating?
Meditation can be described as focusing one's mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.
Synonyms: contemplate, think about, consider, ponder, cogitate, muse.
I'll be honest, my own journey with meditation hasn't been quite the flowing path to enlightenment that one might hope when signing up for such things. It's resembled more stop, start, rocky twists, u-turns and down right cliff edge.
I used to be someone who openly said, “meditation isn’t for me, I can’t quiet my mind”.
When I studied yin yoga, Norman Blair famously proclaimed, those who state they cannot meditate are the ones who need it most. Saying you can't meditate is like saying you can't ride a bike or play a guitar before you've even attempted to learn. It simply takes practice and a willingness to persevere.
Even when I started "practicing" meditation (I put this in inverted commas as I've come to learn that there is a distinct difference between meditation with something like yoga and doing meditation in its entirety), the teacher would say we’re going to “drop in” or “ground”, and I’d think to myself, where the hell am I dropping? How do I just drop? And what the heck is grounding? I felt like I was missing a trick that everyone else was in on or that I needed some magical solution to tap into and access meditation.
Every time I tried to quieten my mind, I would suddenly have a thousand and one thoughts pop in, remembering everything I’d ever done in the history of my life, focusing on the past, I’d then leap forward to the future and goals would be interspersed with thoughts of what I was going to have for dinner (obviously!) Too much past, future and not enough present. As I've come to learn, meditation is simply a gateway tool and an invitation inviting your mind to slow down. To be in the now.
There’s no secret sauce or magic other than a chance for us to connect inwards, observe our thoughts, cultivate patience and practice kindness within ourselves.
An opportunity to step out of the "rush" and frantic energy of our modern world, to pause, reflect and take our bodies out of the fight or flight response.
The science behind meditation in itself is pretty hard to argue with;
The corpus callosum (which connects the two hemispheres of your brain) become more active, allowing a greater flow of information between the two. The left side of the brain processes information in a very analytical way; it’s focused on detail, and is very task-orientated. The right side of the brain processes information in a big-picture way; it’s much more contextual, and tends to be more emotionally intelligent and collaborative in its approach. Better connections between the two leads to greater focus and heightened capability.
The engine of your stress response, the amygdala, becomes functionally less active. So instead of firing at any old trigger, perpetuating a need to firefight your way through life as if in constant survival mode, it begins to become more discerning as to what actually deserves a response.
Science data from Will Williams, “The Effortless Mind”
Last week, I did Will’s vedic meditation beginners course in London which has absolutely taken my appreciation of meditation to a new level. It also, for the first time, made it seem attainable and it felt like something that I not only could, but wanted to incorporate into my life on a daily basis.
I went into the experience expecting to feel that lightness and buzz you commonly hear about or associate with meditation. Whilst I did feel this over the 3 days, my sleep was also the best it has been for a long time but it didn't prepare me for the heaviness and other feelings and emotions that surfaced during that time. I felt incredibly tired, didn't want to move my body like I normally do on a day to day basis, and I felt like I wanted to close the door at the end of each day for some alone time to process and integrate how I was feeling.
I'm not saying this in anyway to dissuade you, but I think it's important for anyone considering undertaking meditation as a part of their wellbeing toolkit, that they are prepared for what may come up. As with anything, you can't have the lightness without the dark, and often in order to reach new levels of soul evolution, we need to move through that darkness first.
Once I'd leaned in and considered these feelings, it became so clear to me, that of course, the heaviness, tiredness and need for alone time had surfaced because these were emotions and feelings residing in my body, my mind and my cells. They needed to come out my system. For them to come to the surface so I could release them.
Like any illness, treatment wellness practice, there's always a recuperation period or beginners discomfort and often, it's going to get worse before it gets better or you're going to be terrible at something until you practice it - not many people are able to rock a headstand first try and that cold is going to leave you feeling all snotty and sorry for yourself before it clears up, right?
So my advice for anyone who may be experiencing something similar in the form of "what the hell is going on" after meditation, yoga, any kind of talking therapy or anything that has required you to meet your edge and your comfort zone, is to just pause, take a moment to catch your breath and ground yourself so you can bring your attention and awareness to the fact that what you're currently experiencing may not mean or signal that it's bad for you, doesn't work or something you should stop immediately. If anything, in my experience, it's a surefire sign you're on the right path to a personal breakthrough and stage of growth for you and to keep going.
When things feel icky and awkward like your soul has been exposed, the natural inclination is to want to retreat, run away and shut up shop. We crave our old familiar and not so confronting previous self. When I've found and do find myself in this situation, I am now familiar enough with that 'edge' so I immediately put my wellbeing toolkit into practice and will do any or all of the following:
Ground myself - this is something as simple as placing my feet on the grass or even soil to reconnect myself with something bigger than me. Mama earth.
Pick up the phone, Skype or voice-note someone who I know will understand exactly what I'm going through. That saying "find your tribe and love them hard" is SO important because as you grow, stretch and evolve it's incredibly important for you to be surrounded by people who are doing the same so you can lovingly hold space for each other and of course, call each other on your limiting beliefs and narratives that every human gets caught up in.
Move my body - this is something that has become somewhat of a religion to me. Movement is a form of meditation for me - I find stillness in the movement. It gets me out of my head and into my body, which often, when we're all up in our heads we become disconnected from our bodies, walking around like floating heads consumed with feelings of vulnerability, feeling lost, overwhelmed or confused.
Sleep - sleep truly is best cure for most things and in this instance, it's no different. Make yourself a sleepy tea like lavender and chamomile. Create a bedtime ritual such as no phones in the bedroom after a certain time, low lighting in the room to start preparing your eyes for rest, diffusing lavender or another soothing oil. My favourite blend is:
4 drops lavender
2 drops cedarwood
2 drops wild orange
1 drop ylang ylang
Practising kindness and gentleness to yourself. This is a huge one because it’s so easy to fall into a trap of listening to our inner thoughts and fears at times where we feel uncomfortable and exposed, and boy, do they say mean things! When such thoughts pop into your head, try to replace them with more gentle and softer ones, speak to yourself the way you would a friend, and say, “I don’t appreciate you saying those thoughts” and then adding in lighter and positive thoughts, you could even try asking yourself what it is that you need right now to feel more settled, safe and grounded. You’d be amazed how far a good romcom and some chocolate biscuits go to helping you feel less raw.
The main thing to remember during times of change and transition is that you’re not in this alone. Just like the butterfly, you are cocooning in your journey of becoming.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on meditation styles you’ve found, how long you’ve practiced for, and if you have a regular practice. Hit me up below or catch me on social @frouwilliams.
Until next time gorg,