The connection between the mind and body is very real. When you’re emotional, stressed or working through some form of mental trauma, that impacts you physically. Even down to your thoughts, the tone of your internal voice and the things that you dwell on throughout the day. All of these things manifest externally at some point. They reflect in your work, your relationships, and the way you feel about yourself and the world around you.
Therapy is as important to your mental health as an annual exam is to your physical health. But, the same way that working out and eating well out is seen as physical maintenance, meditating is mental maintenance.
“The benefits of meditation have been experienced by people of all walks of life, from all backgrounds, and in all corners of the Earth,” explains Ash Zeuch, a meditation guide based in Osoyoos, BC. “It’s an ancient practice getting its recognition in modern society and is a peaceful force ready to reshape life as we know it.”
Well, for a lot of people—myself included—meditating can feel like you’re essentially sitting there with your eyes closed hoping, or pretending, that something’s happening. So I asked Ash a few basic questions to break it down for us.
HB: What’s the biggest misconception that people have about meditation?
Ash Zeuch: Needing or desiring to immediately enter an empty mind-space is often the biggest misconception I hear when introducing someone to meditation. “Meditation sounds great…But I can’t do that. My mind races too much.” “I’ve tried mediating, but I can’t turn off my brain. It’s not for me.” There are dozens of variations for this expected, instant nothingness.
Sitting down to meditate for the first few times feels like you’re inviting even more thoughts to mind than you knew you had. An opening of the flood gates, so to speak. The awareness and redirection of these busy thoughts is where this practice takes on the meaning of controlling one’s mind. We do eventually enter the space of clarity, stillness, and of strengthened virtues, depending on the intention, focus, and commitment we bring to our practice.
Even with years of experience, seasoned gurus and beginners alike can cycle back in to that monkey-mind. It’s completely dependent on our own inner-world experience.
HB: What’s the ideal environment for meditation?
AZ: The ideal environment for meditation is a quiet space with dim lighting. When you’re starting out, having as little stimulants as possible for your mind is best. Bright lighting can cause eye irritation which leads the mind to focus on the irritation. For another example of lessening irritation, sounds such as hearing the dog bark outside can cause the mind to cycle through the thoughts of “Why is the dog barking? I must get up to go quiet the dog.” You’re likely to abandon your session with daily life irritants.
Prep your space by dimming the lights (or meditate by candle light). Bringing the pup in to nap on its cushion. Turn the TV off or wear earplugs. Sit on your own cushion or lay down with a pillow. Comfort is key.
HB: How long should you meditate starting out?
AZ: Going the route of self-lead meditation, the well-known leaders in the meditation community say 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the evening.
I myself have a more down-to-earth approach. I know that it’s human nature to get restless, and annoyed at the things that make us restless. I’ve battled this experience with meditation for years when I first began. So, starting out, I say 10 minutes a session.
If you get 10 in the morning and that’s it, celebrate that! If it’s 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening, celebrate that, too! Then bump it up an extra minute the next day. Bump it up another minute the day after that, working your way up to those 30 minute sessions. And always, always celebrate yourself showing up for your practice.
Every minute counts and contributes to your wellbeing.
HB: What are some resources or tips you would suggest for a beginner who’s interested in making meditation a part of their self-care regimen?
AZ: The best meditation tip I give all beginners is to explore guided meditation. Guided sessions could be online downloads, podcasts, or local group session (my fave). Our own inner voice can get lost between the other thoughts that trickle in and out of focus, and finding our way back out of those rabbit holes can become exhausting.
In the very beginning of practicing anything, all we’re really doing is building up our commitment to the practice. So why not make the beginning easy for yourself? Allow a guiding voice to direct your mind’s eye through an inner journey. That outside voice also serves as our mind’s reminder to come back to our intention and to stay present in the moment when we find our mind chasing one of those rampant thoughts.
Incorporating more silent, self-lead mediations into your practice becomes easier once our commitment to the practice becomes established and we have that experience of focused intention in our back pockets.