What Is Meditation?

When I take on a new Life Coaching client the first thing I do is to send them my intake forms to fill in so I can gather some background information.

On one of the forms I ask them to rate their satisfaction levels out of 10 in 16 different areas of their life.

There’s good reason for doing this and it’s largely because, even though a client may come to me with one issue, there maybe other issues underpinning that, that they are unaware of.

One of the areas I ask about is that of meditation and it often provides fascinating conversation when we start working together.

What Is Meditation?

And the reason it’s fascinating is because the conversation unlike any other topic I ever discuss, follows pretty much the same pattern with the majority of clients.

Me: You have 5 down for meditation, what prompted you to score it like that?
Client: (quizzical look) I’m not really sure what meditation is so I scored it in the middle.
Me: Would you be interested to know more if it could help you lower your stress, make you happier and improve your health?
Client: Probably, but the problem is I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it.
Me: What makes you believe that?
Client: Well, I have brain that is going 1,000 miles per hour and never shuts up.
Me: I know exactly why that is.
Client: Really, why?
Me: It’s because you’re human.

You may think I’m being flippant, but really I’m not. If you could climb inside my head (and please don’t do it, it’s full to capacity), you would notice that my mind is going all the time too.

The human brain is wired and trained to chatter away to itself. Although your brain is only 3% of your body weight it uses, in the form of oxygen and glucose, about 25% of your energy supplies.

Even when you’re asleep that amount doesn’t drop measurably because your brain is still hard at work making sure your heart is pumping, blood  pressure being maintained, food being digested, new cells generated etc.

There are a number of common misconceptions with meditation, some of which I covered off in my rather tongue-in-cheek post, 7 Reasons To Avoid Meditation.

  1. If you’re mind isn’t completely still you’re not meditating
  2. It’s only really for sandal-wearing, tofu-eating, dolphin-hugging hippies like Life Coaches
  3. You need to sit upright with your legs wrapped round each other like a contortionist
  4. A nap or hypnosis is just as good as meditating
  5. You need to do it for years before you see any benefit
  6. Meditation is a spiritual practice
  7. You need to do it for at least 30 minutes a day to see any benefit

I think it’s enough to say they’re all wrong on some level, but I do want to address the points one by one and therefore by ruling out what meditation isn’t, we get closer to what it is.

1. If you’re mind isn’t still you’re not meditating

I have been meditating for 5 years and I’m guessing in that time I have never managed to shut my thoughts off for more than 10 seconds in any one sitting. Pretty crap eh?

Apart from the fact that there are many different types of meditation, many of which require visualization and thus involving the mind, meditation is a PRACTICE.

What is meant by that, is that you pretty much never master it, you just do your best each time you sit.

I’m sure there are a handful of people that get close to mastery, but my guess is (I don’t know this for a fact) that even expert meditators think they can improve on their practice.

2. It’s only really for sandal-wearing, tofu eating dolphin-hugging hippies like Life Coaches*

I think this is the thing that puts so many people off and it’s total and utter bollocks.

If you knew how many successful CEO’s, sports people, celebrities and ‘ordinary’ people meditated you would probably be shocked. And not because it’s not many either.

A better and more accurate way of putting it would be;

 It’s only for people who want to be happier, healthier, more content and live longer.

3. You need to sit upright with your legs wrapped round each other like a contortionist.

I can’t get into the lotus position, or even close.

I also rarely meditate on the floor with my legs crossed. That’s because I have knee and back issues that usually mean the pain causes me to quit early.

So I meditate either lying down or in a chair.

It’s best to keep your spine straight, and it’s best to make sure you don’t nod off, but everything else is up for grabs which is why you can meditate walking and even in the shower if you like.

4. A nap or hypnosis is just as good as meditating

Sorry but no, lovely though naps are they will not rewire your brain.

Meditation can.

I am a trained hypnotherapist and it has a lot of uses, but it has a lot more limitations than meditation.

Hypnosis probably won’t make you happier or live longer (although I guess indirectly it can by helping you remove fears and change negative behaviors) and it won’t increase concentration levels or make you a kinder more content person.

The main difference between napping and hypnosis and meditation is the latter is an active process the former two, passive.

Meditation is something you do, not something you let happen to you.

Note: if you are interested in knowing more about the power of hypnosis I wrote a post called What Is Hypnosis?

5. You need to do it for years before you see any benefit

I’d say of all the clients that have adopted meditation whilst I have been working with them, about 80% have seen immediate or close to immediate benefits.

Even if that benefit is only feeling more chilled for an hour or two afterwards.

You can see benefits in lowering stress levels, increasing mood and improving concentration levels very quickly with meditation

However, the benefits are cumulative too, so the longer you do it the greater the return. A bit like working out.

6. Meditation is a spiritual practice

Of course it can be a spiritual practice and for many people it is,  but it doesn’t have to be.

You can just do it for the huge health and mood gains if you like, the choice is yours.

7. You need to do it for at least 30 minutes a day to see any benefit

5 minutes a day is better than nothing, so don’t stress that you don’t have time.

My meditation teacher, Bodhipaksa from Wildmind has even produced a CD of guided meditations called “Meditations For Busy People’ that are all around 10 minutes or less.

Check out his meditation store, and no, it’s not an affiliate link so I don’t stand to gain anything other than a very happy reader.

Ok, so I have said what meditation isn’t, but I haven’t really said what it is so let me take a layman’s stab at this and please feel free to disagree.

“Meditation is the acceptance of experience and the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience.”

And that line comes directly from Bodhipaksa when I was struggling to come up with a one line sound bite , I e-mailed him.

So thanks to him for bailing me out!

That’s why you can meditate walking, or lying, or even doing the dishes (more in my next post).

And the cool thing about the moment is it’s all you ever have, so if you’re not in it, you’re not really living to your fullest.

Not so mystical and/or scary now, is it?

In the next post I’m going to walk you through some basic meditations that you can try out without the need of a saffron robe or to shave your head, unless you insist.

Then the post after that I’m going to take a look at the human brain and give you some interesting facts to chew on, some of which will be meditation related and some not. So stick around!

I’m keen to know if you meditate and if not, what’s stopping you?

* I do hug dolphins on a daily basis, and I do own a pair of sandals, but I don’t eat tofu.