I finally sought help on how to meditate for beginners back in November 2012. And I have never felt better!
A few months ago I wrote a column about the symptoms of Rushing Woman’s Syndrome described by Dr. Libby Weaver in her book of the same name. Dr. Weaver suggests that many of us are permanently stressed and our strategy of surviving on caffeine and alcohol is adversely affecting our health. She suggests the antidote to our stressful lives is enforced relaxation. She suggests giving up the caffeine and alcohol and committing to meditation. I explained in my previous blog that despite my many short-comings and my tendency to rush, I was actually very happy with my busy-ness to thank you very much, so please move that book out of my way and let me get on!
I can imagine all the enlightened out there amongst you just took a great big sigh and sent me a huge ether bubble of pity and prayed that one day I might see the light and write something a little more useful to our minds and bodies.
I used to go and see a wonderful psychologist regularly – about all sorts of things from my eldest child’s fussy eating habits, to parenting issues and anger issues and you name it. She always gave me the same advice – ‘Ally’, she would softly say, ‘You need to meditate’.And I would say, “Yes, yes, I know but can we just sort this stuff out first?”
I have dabbled in meditation at various times over the years, committing for a day here and a week there. More recently I committed to the Chopra 21 day meditation challenge – which requires a commitment of 15 minutes a day where Deepak gives a little lecture on something and nice music plays and we are left to our own thoughts for perhaps 8 -10 minutes. It was nice but nothing much happened. And now I can see that meditating for 15 minutes a day is a bit like dieting a little bit or giving up a little bit of alcohol or giving up smoking a little bit. The results are less than spectacular!
Then I found myself in a primordial sound meditation course. If anyone had ever told me that I would walk out of there having committed to one hour of meditation every day for a year, I would have told them they were demented. But commit I did! Thirty minutes in the morning means I get up at 4.55am to do my time on the cushions before my gym class starts at 6 am. And again in the evening – thirty minutes.
Why I hear you ask, would you do that?
When we rush or are under stress, adrenaline is released into our bloodstream. Dr. Jane Flemming, a London GP says. ”In survival mode, our heart rate rises and blood pressure shoots up. Meanwhile, muscles, preparing for danger, contract and tighten. Non-essential functions such as immunity and digestion go by the wayside”. This is all okay if it only happens occasionally like every time we meet a lion in the jungle, for example. But when this becomes our permanent state of being, our entire physiology begins to suffer. We get sick, experience chronic pain and age prematurely.
How to Meditate for Beginners
When we meditate we stop producing adrenalin and produce regenerating hormones. Our blood pressure comes down and blood flow returns to our vital organs. Scientific research now shows improved immune function, brain function, anti-aging effects and pain management result from regular meditation. In effect, by regularly practicing meditation, we move from an almost permanent state of flight or fight mode to a much healthier and sustainable state.
Researchers from the Harvard Medical School found that genes that protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure, inflammation, and rheumatoid arthritis were switched on in those who regularly practiced meditation. Those who regularly meditate have a higher chance of having improved immunity, lower blood pressure, and healthier hormone levels.
But what about feeling calmer and more relaxed? So far I have clocked up around 120 hours of meditation over four months. I can still get very annoyed at times. When my husband raises his eyes at me, I gently explain to him that it took me 43 years to hard-wire my brain into the current model and it could take another 43 years to undo the zillions of habitual and automated neural connections that currently run my life for me. Patience!
Perhaps the most surprising thing I’ve noticed since commencing my daily hour on the cushions is that my body is loosening its grip on my fat deposits. Dr. Libby Weaver explains that when we rush around frantically releasing adrenalin and cortisol, our bodies get the message to hold tight to fat deposits because we just might need them. As mentioned, adrenalin diverts blood away from our precious organs – heart, lungs, digestive and reproductive systems – to our arms and legs so we can out-run that hungry lion. Stress hormones are great for fleeing lions but when they are constantly released because we are late for the bus or a sister, mother, husband or child is triggering emotional reactions then not only do our digestive, immune and reproductive systems suffer but we hold tight to our precious fat deposits. What amazes me is not that I can lose weight by sitting on my cushions but that I can have such a profound impact on my whole body by simply stopping, breathing and focusing my mind.
I have learned that meditation is not about denying feelings of anger or frustration. Those emotions will always visit – like unpopular relatives, they’ll just keep coming back. But we can choose how we react each time they drop by.
My daughter told me pre-meditation that if she was ever a Mum, she’d be just like me, stressed out all the time! Hopefully, I still have time for her to remember a slightly different version of her mother!