It's All In The Mind
Do you believe that the thoughts you have define who you are?
Did you know that the goal of Yoga is to still the activity of the mind?
Are you confused by all the recent hype about meditation and where you should start?
I have spent 20+ years practising yoga and studying yoga philosophy. When dealing with mental health problems and working with the mind/meditation, the key concept to grasp is this: the thoughts in your mind are not who you are!
There is a part of you, deep within, which can observe your mind’s activity. It’s the bit of you that notices when you are flitting from one thought to another. It’s when you recognise that you are ‘all over the place’ or that you are serene and calm.
All philosophies and religions try to define this aspect of ourselves. Yoga calls it ‘the true self’, in Christianity it’s the soul or the spirit. For me, it is the unchanging part of me, my Lisa-ness, my essence.
Yoga and Mindfulness purport that the true self observes the world through the lens of the mind - this diagram may help:
In life, from about age two, the true self and the mind get confused. The role of Yoga and meditation is to discern between these two. If you can do that, you can free yourself from the distraction of the mind, and even 2-3mins of this a day can bring a sense of peace.
What is a Meditation Practice? What do I have to do?
I am a practitioner - I do a daily practice. I sit still for 20mins most days, after my yoga practice, and repeat a mantra (the object or focus of my meditation).
Let me be clear. My mind is not still for those 20mins – it keeps wandering off. And that’s okay, it’s what the mind does. I am not a renunciate, I am living a normal life with work, family, money, politics like everyone else, and I am training my mind.
The meditation practice, for me, is to notice when the mind gets involved in other thoughts and then bringing it back to the word or object of my practice. For example, I might use the word ‘serenity’, repeated slowly in my mind on the breath out S-E-R-E-N-I-T-Y. When I notice my mind making shopping lists or shouting out ‘Tessa’s birthday card!’ I gently bring it back to the word.
It’s a bit like training a puppy to walk at heel. You start walking, the puppy runs forward/pulls on the lead, you stop and bring the puppy back to heel. You then continue to walk. The mind has to be trained in the same way.
"20 minute Meditation? I can’t do that!"
The best advice I can give is to do it daily and start off in small steps.
Start with 2-3 mins, then 5, then 10, then 15 leading up to 20mins. This might take you 6 weeks, there is no rush. The effect of the practice is cumulative, you are building a peace-bank within.
There are hundreds of groups, apps, and books available for daily meditation. Fearne Cotton’s books ‘Quiet’ and ‘Calm’ are a good starting place and here are some of the best meditation apps.
You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it!
Try not to measure your progress or success with meditation. Telling yourself you were rubbish today serves no purpose. Just do it, every single day, building up the time you spend in stillness slowly, and before long you will notice changes.
According to NHS England, one in four adults and one in 10 children experience mental illness, and many more of us know and care for people who do.
Mental health is complex and varied:
mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder)
psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia)
trauma-related disorders (such as post-traumatic stress disorder)
substance abuse disorders
If you, or someone you know needs help - don't wait. Talk about it like you would if you had flu or broke your leg. And remember - it's okay not to be okay.
Vulnerability expert Brené Brown says there is a deep connection between joy and gratitude, but that an attitude of gratitude is not enough - you have to have a tangible practice of gratitude . I keep a daily gratitude diary and make sure I write about simple prompts to get the gratitude flowing. I write about being grateful for hot running water, something a loved one did for me, or list silly things my kids did. It’s about noticing the small things.