A few weeks ago I attended a meditation class. I had attended meditation classes in the dim and distant past before I ‘got into’ mindfulness. However they had always left me feeling a little dissatisfied. Looking back this may have been part of the reason why I was initially sceptical about mindfulness.
Anyway as my formal mindfulness practice is now well-established, I thought I may get more from a normal guided meditation session so decided to give it another go. After all, I find it hard to allow myself any more than twenty minutes or so a day to formally practice mindfulness (and to be honest my time meditating is often less than this in a day) and so I thought attending a class would be an ideal way to regularly commit to a longer meditation.
However, it was not to be. Meditation which is not firmly rooted in mindfulness practice is still not my cup of tea. This is what I was reminded of in that hour:
I find the traditional meditation posture incredibly uncomfortable.
I am fully aware that I have poor posture and have struggled over the years in any situation where I have to sit on the floor for any length of time. Often I end up with, at best just backache, and at worst backache and a headache. I was fully prepared for this and at the start of the session requested that I move my mat so I could sit against a wall. The teacher was lovely and very accommodating and didn’t mind at all that I was ruining the aesthetics of the room by moving one of her perfectly spaced out mats. Yet even by doing this I still was incredibly uncomfortable. I missed my choices when doing a formal mindfulness practice of either lying down or sitting in a chair – neither of these aggravate my back half as much as kneeling or sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Being told to RELAX tends to mean I do the total opposite
There were a number of times throughout the session where we were directed to ‘relax’. Unfortunately this tends to have the completely opposite effect on me and I tense up. I keep thinking I should be feeling relaxed AND yet I’m not. This just seems to make me more tense. I love that mindfulness practitioners are very clear that relaxation may be a by-product of mindfulness but it is definitely not an aim or a given. Instead mindfulness is not about striving to be calm and relaxed, it is much more about observing the present moment and bringing an awareness to your feeling, thoughts and physical sensations in that moment. In fact even better still you catch your mind wandering and can congratulate yourself for this.
I’m not one for incense or bells
I like that mindfulness is secular. I like that it is backed by science. I like that it’s straightforward. There’s something about a class that has incense or bells in it that puts me a little on edge. Some mindfulness teachers use lovely ringtones on their phone to finish off a practice and that is absolutely fine with me.
Visualisation leaves me cold
For a fair amount of time in the session we were asked to visualise a ‘happy place’. I happened to imagine being in the mountains which I was ok with. However, a few minutes into this section of the meditation the teacher started to go into more detail about the ‘happy place’ we were visualising and it came to light that we were meant to be visualising a beach. Immediately I was inwardly telling myself off for ‘getting it wrong’. I should have ‘mentally’ been with the rest of the class – on a bloody beach. I love that mindfulness meditation leaves out shoulds and is a very personal, non-judgmental practise without visualisation.
There are few mantras connected with formal mindfulness practice
Some forms of meditation like transcendental meditation – use mantras. Again these are something that I haven’t found very helpful in the past. I was reminded of this again in this class when asked to inwardly repeat a statement to ourselves. Apart from in a befriending practice, mindfulness tends to steer clear of mantras. And when used they are very straightforward. For example you may say to yourself ‘may I be as happy and healthy as is possible for me to be,’ or ‘may I have ease of being.’
This is not to rubbish other forms of meditation. I understand lots of people get lots from more traditional meditation practices and I would hate to appear disrespectful of this. When I attended the class I was able to adapt what I was being told to be more in keeping with mindfulness principles and therefore it was by no means a waste of my time.
However, hopefully I’ve busted some myths about the formal practice associated with mindfulness. I would hate for any misconceptions about mindfulness meditation to put anyone off from trying it.
Have you ever attended a meditation class?
How did you find it?