Can meditation help relieve your depression? Not everyone agrees. My very dear Yoga teacher Michelle Chand Michelle Chand certainly does not. She thinks that there couldn’t be anything worse than sitting in silence having to contemplate what is inside her own head when she is feeling low. Granted, if you put it like that…, it doesn’t sound too appealing.
However, like everything else depression related, we all have very different experiences. Personally I find meditation very helpful and my biggest issue is to try and fit it in in my already crazy busy diary. So, as mentioned a few weeks ago on my FaceBook page, I recently attended a meditation class at the London Buddhist Centre. I was hoping that if I took things to the next level it might help me make meditation more of a priority in my life. It hasn’t yet, but that’s ok but I don’t beat myself up about things like that anymore. And that is a result in itself!
Even though I do not practice daily I have started to really take on board (and apply) one of the key learnings from yoga and meditation: be kind to yourself.
What does being kind to yourself has anything to do with yoga and meditation? Well, everything.
Being kind to yourself while practising yoga
Being a true yogi means that when you are getting into a yoga position, you are able to assess how far in the position you should be going. If you are familiar with yoga you will know that most positions have several degrees of difficulties.
When you get into a yoga position you should assess the following:
- how you feel
- what is the state of your body
- are you feeling strong
- are you feeling tired
- do you have a cranky lower back
- do you have a weak knee
You should listen to your body and then assess how far you go into the position in order to get the right balance between pushing yourself enough to get some fitness benefit but not pushing yourself so much that you would hurt yourself.
It actually takes a lot of humility to do this. The reality is that you minute to get started your mind is going to want to do the toughest version of the position. You are going to start looking at people around you and will want to do the same of them. You are going to compare yourself with others. And you are going to start saying means things to yourself: Why can you not do this? Everybody else can! You are so unfit! You really need to get back into shape! Look at this woman in front of you; she is like 10 years older and she is much fitter! You should be ashamed! Etc. Sound familiar?
Of course it does. You have recognised it; that was your nasty inner voice. The one that is making you feel worse. And as previously discussed in Shut your negative inner voice up and be your own best friend instead, that voice is a symptom of your depression and you need to fight it.
This is where yoga and meditation come in.
As explained above, you can work on fighting your critical inner voice while practicing yoga. It’s easy. All you have to do is focus on finding the balance. If your critical inner voice gets started, you need to acknowledge it and let it go. You can respond to it by saying something like: I hear you but actually, this is where I am at today and I am ok with that. Today, my neck is sore and therefore I will not aggravate it by turning it too far and that’s ok. This is not a competition. For all I know this woman in front of me have been practising for 10 years or was born flexible (it does happen). Do you get the idea?
Being kind to yourself while practising meditation
Now moving on to meditation. Essentially it is the same thing except that when you meditate you are staying still.
OK, this might sound a bit of a strong statement. What I mean is that the thinking process is the same.
If you are not familiar with meditation, here is a little bit on the basics:
- Step 1: You sit down comfortably
- Step 2: You close your eyes
- Step 3: You focus on your breath: in/out, in/out, in/out…
And that is it.
So what do you think is going to happen? Your thoughts are going to go wild! “What should I have for dinner?” “I really wish I hadn’t said that to this person earlier.” “What should I get Mum for Christmas?” “Have I locked the door?” “Tomorrow I am going to…” Bla bla bla…
The reality is that your thoughts never stop. Whether you are aware of it or not, this chatter is constant. It is just way more obvious when you are trying to concentrate. Actually if you think about it, hasn’t this ever happened to you before? Personally it happens to me all the time. For example, I sit at my desk at work and try to start reviewing a super long email and… Here it goes: “The rain is super heavy! I wonder if it is as bad at home. Oops! Did I shut the bedroom window?!” And then we are on to the next topic, and the next one and next thing I know, 5 minutes have passed and I still have no idea what the super long email in front of me says.
As I am sure you would have guessed, the purpose of meditation is not to sit for 20 minutes just to explore the random thoughts that are popping into your head. And this is exactly why some people who suffer from depression do not like to meditate by the way. Because as Michelle said, the last thing you want to do when you have depression is to explore the random thoughts that are popping into your head, because let’s be honest, they might be very happy thoughts.
So what you are going to do instead is the same as when the critical inner voice in your head gets started when you are in the middle of downward facing dog: acknowledge the thought, let it go and go back to focusing on your breath. Sounds easy? Well give it a go and let me know!
Depending on the day bringing myself back to my breath can take me ages. Because the thoughts might be quite interesting and all of a sudden I forgot that I am meant to be focusing on your breath!
And this is where you need to watch out for that nasty internal voice again. This is where it will pop into your head with love messages like: “you can’t even focus on your breath, what a loser you are!” “You are such an air-head; this is ridiculous, get a grip and get on with it!” And so on…
But again, like when you are practising yoga, what are you going to do? You are going to forgive yourself for loosing focus. You will acknowledge that this is normal and that in fact everybody goes through the same thing, even people who practice every day. And you are going to go back to focusing on your breath. And a few seconds late, the same thing is going to happen again and you are going to do the exact same thing again.
This may sounds like nothing but actually, this will have an effect on your wellbeing long term. If you don’t believe me, read 10% Happier from Dan Harris or Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra and let me know your thoughts afterwards.
How to meditate
A few techniques
So now we know why we should do it, let’s talk about how we do it.
As discussed earlier meditating is not a complicated process in itself. The steps are rather basic:
- Sit comfortably
- Close your eyes
- Focus on your breath
However “not complicated” does not mean “not difficult”. As I was saying, your thoughts are going to become rather loud and what is actually difficult is become aware of it and bring yourself back to your breath, without have insulted yourself in the process for losing your focus.
The other common issue is losing your focus because of the noises around you… Believe me, meditating is easier said than done.
This is why a range of techniques have been developed. And to help you get started you can access them easily in various forms:
- Books telling you how to meditate and teaching you various techniques. For example I read The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg years ago and I did found it very helpful.
- Apps: that’s the trendy way to do it. I haven’t tried any personally so I cannot make any recommendation.
- Listen to guided meditations available on the Internet. Just type “guided meditation” in You Tube and you will get hundreds of hit to browse through.
Having tried quite a few times (and failed) to include meditation in my daily routine I thought by attending a class might be the answer so I decided to try a meditation class at the London Buddhist Centre.
A day at the London Buddhist Centre
The London Buddhist Centre offers a number of regular classes at many different times so this really is the place to go if you live in London. Sadly I don’t currently live in London. So as I cannot attend a weekly class I decided to try one of the full-day courses where they teach you a few different techniques.
And it was brilliant. I had such an amazing day at the London Buddhist Centre that I would have moved to London just to be able to go there every day.
The day was run by 2 lovely Mitras. They started the day by explaining to us what meditation was and then talked us through the different techniques.
They would explain one technique; we would practice it all together; and we would then talk about how the meditation went and our personal experiences (what when through our minds, could we do the exercise easily or was it difficult, etc.).
The day was structured like a seminar. We had a break in the morning, an hour for lunch and a break in the afternoon. The lunch was a simple but fresh vegetarian buffet. And the day just disappeared.
There is something very peaceful about the centre. On arrival you are welcomed by one of the people that will be taking you through the day. You are asked to take off your shoes and go into the waiting room. I found there a rather quiet crowd. People were slowly starting to speak to each other. The Mitras introduced themselves, asked us to do the same and we then went into the shrine to start the course.
What struck me the most throughout that day was the interaction I had with the people who were attending the course. It was somehow as if the calm charisma of the Mitras were rubbing onto us. We were speaking rather quietly and calmly and we were happy to share our experiences, which were sometimes quite personal, with each other.
Throughout the whole day I felt calm, at peace and not judged. And this is exactly what the atmosphere of the day was: calm, peaceful and non-judgmental. There was no good or bad answer, just a group of people learning together.
And that was beautifully refreshing.
I left the day wanting to come back as soon as possible.
Do you meditate? What has been your experience so far? Let me know in the comments below