I am a big advocate for meditation and mindfulness. I have practised on and off for years, and even done a few courses. I find it really helps me to manage my stress and energy levels. It’s taken me a while to find a routine and a type of meditation that works for me and I thought, why keep it to myself? I should share because other frazzled and knackered academics, researchers, students and generally creative people might find it useful. So here goes!
When and for how long?
The first thing to say is that there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Whatever you do and for however long, you will gain some benefit. Some people like to meditate first thing in the morning. I tried this and kept falling back to sleep! Some people like to meditate before bed. That works well for me *if* I’m trying to fall asleep! So, try it out and see when works best for you. Personally, I find it useful to meditate mid-afternoon: it helps me to refocus, gives me a burst of energy, and a few minutes away from the laptop screen. Ten minutes works for me. You might like to start with a shorter session and build up to 10 – 15, maybe even 20 minutes at a time.
I have tried out lots of different meditation apps and was a devotee of Headspace for a long time. But these days, I tend to stick with Insight Timer. Now, if you feel like you need a bit of guidance or fancy trying a different type of meditation, Insight Timer has got you covered: there are loads of guided sessions available on the app for free (definitely try a yoga nidra session if you struggle to fall asleep). There is also a really nice timer function that you can customise to your own needs. So, I set it for 10 minutes, with a background soundtrack of ocean waves and interval bells every minute.
A lot of medication classes and apps will, at the very least, start you off with a meditation technique based on your breath. This is great for many people. But for those of us, like me, with a chronic respiratory condition, focusing on your breath is not the best and most relaxing method! I like focusing on sound instead.
What has worked really well for me recently, is introducing a mantra. I say this to myself, over and over, in my mind for the whole session. The mantra I use is ‘so hum‘ and comes from the Vedic tradition. My understanding is that it doesn’t really matter what you choose as your mantra, as long as it is easy to remember and repeat. It certainly doesn’t have to have any spiritual or religious meaning either for yourself or anyone else.
1. Get yourself comfy in a place where you won’t be disturbed for the duration of the meditation session. I like to sit cross-legged on my sofa, using a pillow to support my back. Alternatively, you could lie-down: you might like to put a cushion under your neck and a bolster under your knees if you experience lower back pain. It’s nice to get under a blanket too: you might find your body temperature begins to drop as you meditate, depending on how long you sit (or lie-down).
2. Start your timer. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Drop your shoulders. Rest your hands in your lap or on your knees. Soften any tension in your face, especially round your eyes. If you find it difficult to settle, spend a few moments grounding yourself: feel the sensation of your clothes on your skin, the sofa, chair or floor underneath you. If you feel so inclined, you could imagine putting down roots into the ground beneath you.
3. Start repeating your chosen mantra in your mind. Focus on it gently. Don’t worry if your mind starts to wander. That’s totally normal. Just gently redirect your attention back to your mantra. The mantra will help to still your mind. And … that’s it basically.
4. When the time is up, come back into your body, i.e. wriggle your hands and feet, maybe stretch, take a couple of deep breaths and open your eyes! You will certainly feel refreshed and calmer than when you started, guaranteed.
Have you found this or any other style of mindfulness meditation helpful? Comment below!
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