As I write, the coronavirus pandemic is up-ending every aspect of our lives. In the space of just a few weeks social distancing, supermarket rations, working from home and a shutdown of all but essential services have become the new normal. Health care and front line workers are dealing with massive shortages of resources. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. We have to adapt and create new routines and explore ways to cope with the fear, uncertainty and stress. One way we can do this is through meditation.
Using meditation to find calm
I’ve always struggled with doing meditation. My mind races, my breathing feels unnatural and my body feels uncomfortable. I’d long given up trying, choosing to see my version of meditation as those moments of flow that occur when I’m running, paddle boarding or even writing. Structured meditation has felt beyond me but I now see this time as an opportunity to create a positive change and give it another go.
To do this I’ve enlisted the help of someone who has been practicing and teaching meditation for many years. Jill is a fabulous and fit 70-something – let’s call her Fit Fab Seventyish! I’m proud to say that Jill is also my mum. In my blog post 5 benefits of yoga beyond the mat I share how Jill introduced me to yoga at an early age.
I loved interviewing Jill about her meditation journey (by phone of course, because #stayhome) and getting some practical tips to share with you so we can all incorporate some calm into our lives at the moment.
Jill’s 40 year meditation journey
What are the benefits of a regular meditation practice, particularly at a time like this?
Meditation focusses your mind, it alleviates stress and it’s good for your overall health. These things help us to stay calm.
How did you get into meditation?
I first started meditation about 40 years ago through my association with yoga – it was part of an esoteric yoga group I was in. I was impressed by how effective it was. The calmness appealed to me, and it was a way to be at peace with myself.
What was meditation like 40 years ago?
I was young enough then to sit on the ground cross-legged! It was really the beginning of this sort of thing in Australia. We would start a yoga session with meditation and it was quite distinct to relaxation.
We also had a separate group that met just to do healing meditations. I remember someone’s daughter was in a car accident and the group was called together to meditate and send healing to that person.
We didn’t speak about it much to people outside the group as the teacher was adamant that it could be taken the wrong way. It was at a time when organised religions thought meditation was from the devil. It was very much secretive.
What do you remember about the atmosphere and ritual?
It was mostly held at night time and the room was cosy, warm and safe.
It was guided meditation with symbolic use of the yoga lotus flower. We were asked to visualise the flower over our heart’s centre. The petals of the flower would open at the start of the meditation and close at the finish.
Becoming a meditation teacher
About 15 years ago when Graham (Jill’s husband and my dad) was diagnosed with a chronic illness he started doing meditation as a complementary therapy and it really helped him.
I decided then to do a meditation teacher training course because I saw first-hand the positive results. It was a good way for me to keep up my practice and hopefully help other people at the same time.
What did the teacher training course involve?
It wasn’t just about how to teach other people to meditate but also how to read the signs if people were struggling – if the meditation brought up anything for them. It taught me about being attuned to that and giving people space to express that if they wanted.
How do you incorporate teaching meditation into your life?
For 12 years I had two groups that I lead weekly. One of those groups still meet occasionally. Having the groups was a great way for me to keep up my own meditation practice.
Tips for a 10 minute meditation
We’re all dealing with stress and fear at the moment. What tips can you share with us for a short and effective meditation session?
These are my suggestions of a step-by-step guide to a short 10 minute meditation:
1. If you can, put on some meditation music and light a candle. It really helps. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
2. Sit on the floor or a chair. Use cushions if you like. Don’t meditate lying down, that’s relaxation.
3. Have your spine straight or you’ll slump over. (I find it easier to sit against a wall to support my spine.)
4. Close your eyes and start breathing slowly, counting in and out for the same time. It might mean counting in for four and out for four, or in for five and out for five – whatever feels comfortable for you.
5. Take your mind to a beautiful place that you love. Imagine you’re in that place. Let the breath come and go. If the mind wanders bring it back to the breath. Each time something comes into your mind go back to your breath and that place you love.
6. After 10 minutes open your eyes, take a few deep breaths and get up slowly. Take the peace and calm with you!
What about space? We might not have a beautiful room available where we can create a meditation sanctuary, or we might have other people sharing our space. Do you have any tips?
You need a safe place, somewhere you’re not going to be interrupted. It doesn’t matter how big or small or what it looks like. If all else fails sit on the toilet or in your car! (Given the current toilet paper shortage you might have the bathroom to yourself for a while!)
It’s important to be calm and sit quietly when you’re meditating. You might need to meditate late at night or early in the morning. You could even put a sign on your door letting people know that you’re meditating. Don’t worry about background noise too much, you’ll learn to block out it out once you’ve been doing meditation for a while.
Encourage people you live with to do some meditation with you. Just offer it to them, it may not be right for them now but they might be curious down the track.
The ultimate aim of meditation
Jill told me that she teaches ‘Journey meditation’, where the aim is for silence and nothingness in your mind. It’s believed that the body and mind can heal at this stage. She also told me that after 40 years of practicing meditation she hasn’t achieved this yet, so not to be disheartened if it doesn’t happen for you.
Meditation can really help us get through this challenging time and, as Jill has proven, many more years and challenges to come!
I hope you’re as encouraged as I am to start meditating regularly – it’s an effective and practical tool that we can all access. May you find moments of hope and calm at this time.