These past couple of months I have been attending a Meditation Teacher Training Course with Alexander Filmer Lorch at Flow Tunbridge Wells. The course is aimed at yoga teachers, healers, therapists and anyone who wants to learn more about meditation.
Alexander has led an interesting life! He has been a professional dancer, experienced serious illness and injury, followed his gurus around the world, is a crano sacral therapist and also teaches yoga and meditation to small groups and individuals. His background is in Universal Teachings, and this really appealed to me, because the more work I do, the more I realise all traditions, religions, philosophies, psychology and science are all saying very similar things. There is No One Way of doing this work, whichever path or paths you choose, they all lead in pretty much the same direction.
Alexander also likes to ‘blow our minds’. Some of this is just the sheer volume of material. Other times, it is some intense experiences during meditation. Other times, it is simple statements. This is my favourite (at the moment, bearing in mind we’re halfway through the course and our minds are likely to be blown even more!)
“Just 5 minutes of meditation, 5 times a week, leads to lasting physical changes in the brain”
Wait, what? FIVE MINUTES??
Many people are put off meditation thinking that 2 hours of painfully sitting cross legged is required. Two hours of sitting with your monkey mind that won’t shut up, far removed from any moments of stillness let alone an expansion of consciousness. Turns out this isn’t necessary. Five minutes of sitting, in a way that you are comfortable and supported, is all that is needed. I wrote about the changes your brain undergoes from meditation in this article here.
It’s important to note that the quality of your meditation in these 5 minutes is important, which is why we are being taught various different techniques to aid dropping into stillness. Sometimes these techniques don’t even involve sitting down at all.
I’ve been meditating for 8 years now so I’m reasonably experienced. Even I go through phases of real resistance to meditating, to sitting for prolonged periods. When that resistance is strong, or when you are new to meditation, forcing yourself to sit for 20-30 minutes not only will be miserable, it will also be counter productive. You are unlikely to be mindful, and even more unlikely to find the stillness within. When we are in these periods, knowing that 5 minutes of a particular meditation technique is all that is needed is a relief. Everyone can do 5 minutes, even if they are very busy, or stressed.
Techniques are useful because they take the stress of ‘finding stillness’ away. They give the mind a job to do, which allows us to find peaceful moments, even if they are only a second long. There are also many different techniques depending on what you want to do. Relaxation, connecting to our body, connecting to our brains, rooting, containment, practising withdrawing the senses. And many, many more.
Did you know, that one of the most difficult techniques is watching the breath? And which is the most commonly taught meditation technique? Watching the breath! Now I realise why so many beginners might be turned off meditation and this has led me to re-evaluate my own teaching.
There are also times when sitting in meditation is not only hard, but may also be dangerous. Anyone experiencing a serious bout of depression, anxiety or other mental illness is advised not to meditate. Why? Meditation requires us to sit with our feelings and discomfort. This is hard enough for someone who is busy, figety, has ‘better things to do’ and whose legs hurt when sitting on the floor. It will be even harder for someone with feelings of self loathing, or fear of breathing, or panic attacks, or deep, deep sadness. If you experience psychotic episodes it is even more dangerous.
When I have experienced depressive episodes, especially in the rock bottom period of them, I don’t even try to meditate any more. I was drawn to move, and Alexander supports this. A dynamic meditation can be much more useful to someone in this state. It can also help those who feel antsy, agitated or very stressed. Moving and breathing can be as much a mediation as sitting. It doesn’t even have to be yoga, just gentle breath led movement.
All of this is wonderfully liberating for those wanting to meditate or deepen their practice. We are free to choose the length of our practice and a technique that feels right for us. The self discipline required for 5 -10 minutes of meditation is much less than 20-30 minutes. But interestingly, once we get into the habit of 5-10 minutes disciplined practice, we start to want more. I noticed how when I set my alarm, I was making 2-3 minutes longer. Then another 2-3 minutes. Then another. And then something would happen, the practice would be thrown off course, and I would be back to 5 minutes again.
Over the past few weeks, and the coming months, I have been and will be introducing more and more of these concepts and techniques into my mindfulness meditation and yoga classes. If you have any questions please get in touch! Want to read more – here is Alexander’s book, Inside Meditation.