Stress is not caused by the environment, but by our reaction to the environment.
This is by far the most important and poignant message that I learnt recently when I embarked on a four-day meditation course.
I know what you’re thinking… meditation? How stressed must you be to resort to meditation??! The truth is, I’m not particularly stressed. Well, of course, I am stressed, but I’m no more stressed than Billy the postman or Leila who served me a latte this morning. We are all stressed. We all take on stress from our own lives and then feed off each other’s stress. It really is one big stress cycle. So when I signed up for meditation, my primary reason wasn’t to de-stress me (although, that has been an added bonus). My main reason was to further explore and understand the power of the mind over the body. For me stress= Crohns flare. The correlation was so alarmingly obvious; it became something I couldn’t ignore anymore.
Throwback ten years ago, to my fourteen year old self, and I actually learnt how to meditate alongside my paediatric specialist, Dr Sullivan. I was extremely poorly. I had been on every drug under the sun and my body was still raging with inflammation. Major life altering surgery was looming and amongst this, Dr Sullivan suggested I tried meditating. I have to be honest – I didn’t get it. I was a teenager and I was full of hormones! Despite this, I went to a meditating school in London where I learnt the technique but I really couldn’t get on board with it. I wasn’t ready or prepared to understand.
Looking back now, I couldn’t be more grateful for what he did. He planted the seed, which has grown as I’ve settled into my life (ie turned into an adult). It niggled and I couldn’t get rid of it – I knew there must be some value in meditating and I had to go back and find out more. So I signed up for a four day basic meditation course at the London Centre of Meditation to see what I was missing out on.
The technique I learnt was ‘vedic meditation’ – originating from ‘Ayreveda’, one of the oldest holistic bodies of knowledge in the world. Vedic meditation originates from India, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The theory of this type of meditation is deep rooted and practiced by repeating a personal mantra silently in the mind. As soon as I sat down on day one, I knew I had to forget what I had previously learnt ten years ago. The technique was different, the philosophy was different and I had to give this a go with a completely open mind.
Jillian, our meditation coach got us meditating on day one. We each learnt an individual mantra in private and then returned as a group to practice our first meditation together. It’s hard to articulate the feeling of that first twenty-minute practice, but it was blissful. Whilst thoughts still danced around in my head, by coming quietly back to my mantra, I was able to relax and I barely noticed the minutes passing. I felt my muscles relax, my tense shoulders loosen and my brain begin to slow down. It was truly peaceful. I was so chilled on the way home from the session I completely missed my stop on the train! I couldn’t understand how I had missed this feeling ten years ago?!!
Over the next two days, with the homework to meditate for twenty minutes morning and evening, Jillian helped us understand the power of the mantra and how we are realistically going to fit twenty minutes twice a day into our lives. I was extremely reluctant to give up anymore sleep, ESPECIALLY in the morning, but I was surprised how keen I was to jump out of bed into my meditation. During meditation, your metabolic rate is lower than that of the deepest point in your sleep. Similarly, during a meditation session, your body will be receiving 2-5x the amount of rest you receive during sleep. I know what you’re thinking – how can that possibly be right? But the science backs it up. Read more here and here. There are real physical changes that happen during the body during meditation – changes for the better.
I was generally astonished at how quickly I began to feel the difference in my life. I began to feel more relaxed at work and more able to cope with changing demands. Decisions that I had been torturing myself over become clearer. On day four of the course Jillian talked to us about ‘transcending’ – and suddenly I had a flashback to ten years ago. ‘Transcending’ was all I was taught and all I was told to seek to achieve – the place in your mind where you travel beyond thought and sit in a blissful place of total tranquility. Reaching the stage of total tranquility on a permanent basis is known as ‘enlightenment’ – although few ever reach this stage.
Whilst I am not expecting a miracle on my Crohns through meditation, I am excited to see if the long-term effects have any impact on my physical health. I have a lot more reading and understanding to do but I feel like I’ve opened another chapter in the life of Bryony.Two weeks on from the course and I am still juggling managing to fit the 40 minutes of meditation into my life, but I’m getting there. The most fascinating thing I found was that it was just the normal Tom, John and Ben learning to meditate with me – businessmen from the city and family men. There was nothing weird about it or any cult feeling about it. Which made me wonder why more people aren’t doing it?! If you can just close your eyes for 20 minutes and feel a benefit… why wouldn’t you do it?*
Continue to follow my blog to keep up to date with the first few months in my meditation journey!
*Critics insert a long list of excuses here!