Recent minor surgery has resulted in much anxiety and forced ‘doing very little’ on me. Prior to the operation I was becoming increasingly apprehensive and had to find a way to calm myself. The answer came in the form of a free app; Headspace, which has ten introductory meditation sessions and encourages you to set a daily reminder to find the time and space to reconnect with yourself. As a former yoga teacher you might think I wouldn’t need to an app to remind me to meditate, but you’d be wrong; even those trained in meditation sometimes need a little shove in the direction of ten minutes of peace each day. Especially, if like me, you were not very good at sitting and doing nothing in the first place, and much preferred the physical asana practice of yoga.
It is also very beneficial to go back to the beginning sometimes and remind yourself of what you already know but may have forgotten, and possibly approaching it in a different way in the process. I have almost completed the ten free sessions and have found them very useful during what has been a very challenging time for me. As yet, I haven’t decided if I will sign up for further access to Headspace but it did lead me to consider re-reading some of my meditation books and I thought I would write a post about them as potential inspiration for some of you.
The little ‘Sit like a Buddha’ book is a simple, straightforward guide to meditation, written with humour, and is a realistic approach to the practice. It’s also a quick read, so you can get straight on with your meditation! One aspect of the book which I found useful was the chapter entitled ‘know your why’, which was something I had never thought about before. I guess I just thought ‘I should meditate’ but never asked myself why I was doing so; it was just something I felt I ought to do. Yes, I know all the benefits (and they are many) but what was the particular reason for sitting on any given day to practice? That I had not previously questioned; and so my reason these last few weeks has clearly been dealing with anxiety over my surgery, and the ongoing recovery from it. Once I had established my why, I felt a greater sense of purpose to practice and found it easier to make the time to do so.
‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ is a classic of the genre from Thich Nhat Hanh; my copy is quite old; it was published in 1991! That goes to show how good it is because I do not horde, I have regular and quite ruthless clear-outs of everything, books included. The fact that this one (and others by TNH) has escaped my eager de-cluttering is testament to it being an essential read for anyone interested in meditation. I love the relevant examples used to allow beginners in to the practice, such as ‘washing the dishes, wash the dishes’ and the importance of being fully present in every moment, regardless of how you might feel at the time. This is something which I have often used when anxiety comes calling and I consciously re-direct my focus to what is happening in the here and now, as opposed to what I fear may happen. This is a must purchase! As are any books by Thich Nhat Hanh.
‘The Meditator’s Handbook’ is one of the first books on the subject I ever bought and takes a more psychological approach to the practice. It details varies styles of mediation from different belief systems, both eastern and western alike, in addition to perspectives from Tai Chi and yoga. It is a very thorough and therefore, a more academic guide, with plenty of opportunities to put what you have read about into practice. I would say this is for those who are more serious about their practice and would like to know something about the various meditation traditions around the world.
‘Mindfulness’ by Williams and Penman is one of the more recent publications on meditation and takes a modern approach by focusing primarily on the practice of mindfulness and how it can help with anxiety and depression. It includes an 8-week programme with accompanying CD, and is clear, practical and extremely helpful; especially at a time when mental health is (rightly so) being given increasing importance in society. As someone who is currently not 100%, I am aware that my recovery will be as much mental as physical, and if I can remain positive I will get better much quicker.
Regardless of whether you are a proficient practitioner or a beginner, I hope this post has inspired you, and I would love to hear of your books, apps or any other meditation tips you have.