As a yoga teacher, I have lost track of how many times students have told me that they wish they could meditate but they find it incredibly hard to focus.
Well, I’ll let you into a secret – we all find it hard to focus.
In fact, it has been shown that the mind can stay focused for only an average of 6 seconds before it wanders off. So, don’t worry, your struggle with concentration is completely normal. Phew!
There is a huge misnomer that meditation is all about emptying your mind of thoughts. Nope. Not even close. Meditation isn’t about becoming an airhead – instead, it’s all about training your mind so that you can experience brief moments between your thoughts where you are totally present. And these moments may last only a couple of seconds before your mind starts drifting off, wondering if your boss really is a sociopath or trying to remember whether you replied to your friends whatsapp message.
But there is no denying that meditation is the number one tool for creating more happiness and less stress – a study by Frederikson et al. in 2008 has shown that daily loving-kindness meditation has the ability to significantly increase happiness levels and reduce depression. And there have been countless articles in the media over the last few years that have advocated the use of mindfulness in reducing stress.
So if we know that meditation is the key to happiness, why do we have such resistance to it?
I believe that for many of us, the intention to meditate is there, but we find it incredibly difficult to sit for 10 minutes and focus on our breath. We become put off by the whole damn experience, and so we go back to doing what we usually do - watching TV or scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. It’s clear that for many beginners, mindfulness as an introductory practice simply doesn’t always work. (As a disclaimer, if you do already have a strong mindfulness practice that works for you, that’s great, but what the heck are you doing reading this article?!).
It is my belief and my experience that for many beginners, a better starting practice is the use of mantra and mala beads.
A mantra is a phrase with meaning that is repeated over and over again. The mind focusses on the sounds and the words, which can be much easier than simply focusing on the breath. Of course the mind will still wander off, and it always will do, but the use of mantra is a much easier entry point for beginner meditators.
And this is where the use of mala beads comes in (says the woman who makes and sells mala beads, but it’s true!). Mala beads are circles of beads used to count the reciting of mantras. Malas are typically made with 18, 27, 54 or 108 beads, and a ‘guru’ bead (the beginning bead) – these are all auspicious numbers and perhaps I’ll write about their meaning in another blog post.
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