Guest Post: Meditation and Self Care: Where to Begin

This is a guest post by Holly Ashby. If you’d like to write a guest post for The Pillow Fort, you can find more details here.

The importance of self care has really come to the forefront in recent years, and what self care as a concept means to people can be very personal. For some, the best thing they can do to keep themselves happy is the indulgence of a massive bar of chocolate, duvet and all their favourite films, while for others it’s diligently picking the right foods and getting out for some therapeutic exercise. Often it can be a combination of approaches, and being able to identify what’s best for you at that moment is one of the key principles involved in looking after yourself.

DeathtoStock4For many, adding meditation into this routine can do all kinds of good. Stress relief (the primary and most well publicised benefit of meditation) can have knock on effects that alleviate a myriad of issues, from pain to persistent tiredness. Meditation also provides a rest that is three times deeper than the deepest level of sleep, which not only makes you feel more energised but also allows for a greater release of endorphins and reduces the damaging stress hormone cortisol in our systems by up to a third.

The only issue is, how on earth do you start meditating?! I tried repeatedly before concluding that it was simply impossible. Switching off the chattering buzz in the back of my mind and slipping into a peaceful quiet felt about as natural as wearing some trousers that are two sizes too small! I was about as far away from the hippy-calm I envisaged in my mind as it’s possible to be. Thinking “I’ll just have a little lie down” in the midst of many meditation attempts invariably led to unplanned naps and I was convinced that there was a right way to meditate, and I was absolutely not achieving it.

This is a common experience for many people and thinking of those who do famously meditate can be really intimidating. If you look at the Dalia Lama and other smiling, compassionate, slightly otherworldly people who embrace the spirituality that is traditionally associated with meditation then it’s easy to think that you need to be a special sort of person to do it properly. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. You don’t need to be spiritual or imbued with a kind of unnatural calm to be able to benefit.

The trick is to do it at your own pace, and remove any expectations you may have put on yourself. Choose a simple meditation to begin with, for example focusing on your breathing, and don’t be put off by failing to become a perfect example of Zen when you first try. There’s lots of different meditation techniques and plenty of resources out there to try them, so by starting small and developing your practice you can find out what is truly right for you. But there is no rush, and there are a few things you can do to make taking up the practice easier.

Photo 26-02-2015 17 09 16Making a calming space in which you can meditate with few distractions goes a long way. This can also be habit forming, as this is the set aside space where you go twice a day to meditate.  Through trial and error you can find the best position in which to meditate. Usually, sitting up somewhere comfortable (but not too snuggly!) is the best way to avoid the “unplanned nap” issue, but there really is no right way for everyone and whatever works for you is fine.

You can also make it simpler for yourself by easing in, rather than bombarding yourself with information (for example by article-hopping on the internet) just before you plan to meditate. Giving yourself half an hour or so where you don’t look at a screen, or meditate when you first get up in the morning. This can lessen some of the internal distractions that would otherwise bother you. It’s also very important not to beat yourself up if you don’t feel like it’s going well. Getting stressed out about meditating is massively counter-productive and will make it much harder to enjoy.

This means that when you find your brain singing pop lyrics and mulling over just how much so-and-so has irritated you today – there’s no need to worry. Just acknowledge that this is completely normal and try again, perhaps tomorrow if you don’t feel like it now. Like anything else, it gets easier the more you practice.

With so many benefits to be had from the habit of meditation, it’s worth overcoming the challenges that we all encounter when we first try. Meditation can improve your quality of sleep, aid healing, lesson the stress that aggravates pain and fuels unhappiness and increase your energy. By taking it at your own pace, keeping up the habit and encouraging yourself, rather than thinking you are doing badly, you can improve with time and experience the benefits.

Holly Ashby - meditation and self-careGuest Blogger Bio

Holly Ashby is a writer and illustrator who currently works for Will Williams Meditation, who aim to help people lead the happiest and healthiest lives they can by providing meditation classes in London, Brighton and Geneva.