My Thoughts On Meditation
How To Use Meditation To Enhance Your Life And Training.
I have been asked recently to do a post on meditation, how I use it to have a better life and how it may be used to help your efforts in training. I will start with an overview and will do more detailed posts in the future if theres anything you guys think is worth me expanding on.
Firstly, let me just say that meditation is a BIG thing right now. The western world has gone crazy over it and it seems that 80% of “successful” people are doing some form or another. So what makes me qualified to comment? well, I’ve been mediating regularly for 15 years now. I am by no means an expert. I have effectively reached a level that is good enough for me and ran with it, rather than continue to explore the deepest depths. Meditation saved me from a very challenging time as a youth and has served me well ever since.
So this is a very personal piece for me. It is not intended as a guide or how to, but more a “this is my experience and I hope it helps”!.
Without further ado:
My experience with meditation started when I was 15. I had been struggling with a few health issues and had been unable to take part in sport, which was my solace, and had a whole bunch of teenage dramas going on. The doctor had prescribed anti depressants and for reasons I will not share here I absolutely did not want to walk that road. Luckily at the time I was a crazy Michael Jordan fan and Phil Jackson, the bulls head coach, had all the players mediating in practice. If it’s good enough for Mike it’s good enough for me, I thought, and that was it. I taught myself to meditate over the coming months and developed my practice over the next 15 years. I’ve read extensively on the subject and am happy to say I’ve introduced the practice to quite a few people and enjoyed hearing about their own experiences.
The impact on my life was nothing short of profound. I was able to quiet my mind, find a peace I had not experienced before, improve my ability to focus and shut out distractions, calm my reactions to stressful events, sleep better, improve clarity over what I wanted for my life and my future, and even discover things about myself that I may never otherwise have done. I think meditation has had more impact on my life than anything else I’ve ever done for free, and probably most of the things I’ve paid for except training.
Quieting the mind:
I’m a dopamine dominant guy, (as tested via the Braverman test). That means I have a tendency to over work and under recover. I am extremely driven, to the point of having very little fun if my life when left to my own devices. My mind often runs wild and produces thoughts, ideas and tasks at a dizzying rate. I can quite readily work to the point of exhaustion if I’m not careful and as I write this on the 22nd of September I am aware that the last day I did absolutely no work was the 12th of July when I was on my stag party and , frankly, not able to do meaningful work. Therefore I find the ability of meditation to quiet my mind extremely useful.
I think of my mind like the ocean. On the surface it is choppy. Lots going on, lots of activity. But dive deep and there’s a calmness that’s always there no matter how rough the surface is. Meditation for me is like a deep dive. I find a quieter, more orderly pocket of consciousness that allows me to still the monkey mind activity.
For this benefit any type of meditation will do, although I hear transcendental meditation is awesome for this and plan to learn that next year, for now, I simply use mindfulness.
Improve focus and shut out distractions:
In the modern world our attention is constantly being drawn away from us, attracted by every stimuli you could possible think of. The practice of mindfulness is one of training your mind to return attention to what you want it to be on. I think that this as a critical skill in modern life.
Drawing your attention back to what you ant to focus on can be seen as a mental skill or strength that needs training like any other skill or strength. Meditation is a fantastic tool for building your ability to focus and control distractions. In not only life but also in training, the ability to focus is one of the most important factors in success.
Effectively, this is the whole practice of mindfulness. You focus on your breath, your mind wanders, you return focus to the breath. Try not to strive not to get distracted, at least at first. Instead simply notice when you are distracted by thoughts, feelings, sensations (like itches or discomfort). When you notice, simply return attention to the breath.
Using simple mindfulness meditation can act as a great brain trainer for this skill.
Calm my reactions to stressful events:
Simply. The more I meditate the more calm I find myself being in every day situations that stress me. When I get snappy and irritable, you can bet I’ve been slack with my practice for a few weeks.
Good research using MRI machines has actually shown that due to neuroplasticity, our brains can actually adapt to a happier “set point” when regular meditation is practiced. With regular mediators showing as being significantly happier on brain scans than your average westerner.
In addition, many good studies show a lowering of cortisol, the stress hormone when meditating and even that regular meditators produce less cortisol to stressful events than do people who do not meditate.
The way I see it, ask almost anyone what they want in their lives and happiness (or the pursuit thereof) is likely to come up. I, and everyone that has to put up with me, are much happier when I keep up my practice.
I am sure there are many reasons why and how meditation can help you sleep better, but from a purely biochemical point of view, meditation helps you lower cortisol (the stress hormone) and potentially produce more serotonin and gaba (the neurotransmitters of calm and feeling centred). This in turn helps you get better sleep. It can be especially useful after stressful days and I find really helps me wind down.
From a psychological point of view it can massively help stop the 1001 thoughts from racing around your head keeping you awake. For this purpose I like to use an audio tool called binaural beats. Effectively this is a track you listen to through headphones that pulses different beats through each ear, which has an effect on brain waves (supposedly) and helps you get into a quiet state more easily and quickly. I like them, I’ve not looked into the research on them, it might just be the calm music that’s helping.
Improve clarity over what I wanted for my life:
In some types of meditation, you choose to focus your mind on a subject, maybe one thats bothering you or one thats inspiring you, you let your deeper parts of your brain that never usually get a say in the matter work through it for you. Similar techniques have been written about using sleep or even just distracting activities, meditation is not essential, but very useful. I found that allowing your deeper brain to work through the problem and almost observing it happen instead of getting all frontal cortex on the issue has tremendous value in providing you with clarity of your own thoughts, feelings and desires relating to particular topics. I especially find that links between seemingly unrelated issues in your life that are actually having impact on one another can come up and make much more sense.
For this type of meditation I find it most productive to allow your mind to wander wherever it chooses to go. Instead of returning your attention to the breath, simply “observe” you own thoughts as they dart around. Do not try to control it or influence it, just sit with it. Eventually the thoughts will settle and clarity tends to come in those moments. To enhance this experience do it in a magnesium float tank, the physiological effects of the sensory deprivation can accelerate and enhance the meditative experience. (Also you cannot go anywhere for an hour).
Discover things about myself that I may never otherwise have done:
Most of what I know about myself I learnt through either quiet reflection or meditative practice of some type. Let me be clear here, I am not a religious person, nor am I spiritual. Most of my interest in meditation is the same as my interest in lifting weights and reading, it’s about self development. My agenda is to excel at certain things in my life and maximise my experience in every way I can. I am firmly of the opinion that meditative practice has enhanced my experience of life so far and will continue to facilitate improvements in myself and my experience for all my years to come. One such way in which meditation has improved my self is in allowing me to get to know myself a little better. I have a better understanding of why I get angry (anger only protects you from feeling a more painful emotion such as betrayal, fear, hurt or shame), I have a better understanding of why I get scared or anxious (often the things that make me feel these emotions are the uncomfortable things I need to do to move forwards). The understanding I have gleamed from my quite primitive practice has allowed me to get out of my own way, take on bigger challenges and dreams and grow as a human.
A few recommendations:
Books: Hurry up and meditate
Great for people too busy to get started, no spirituality, just good advice and tips
Meditation assistance: Audio that helps your brain get into a meditative state
Magnesium Float Tanks:
Calm Water (in Nottingham) http://www.calm-water.co.uk
I have no financial arrangement with any of the above recommendations
I would love to hear everyones comments on either how they have found this helpful (or not), what you would like more elaboration on and your own experiences with using meditation as a tool to improve yourself / your experience.