The other day I stumbled upon this short video which begins with an interviewer saying to Bill Murray:

“Tell me what it is that you want that you don’t have.”

His answer is surprising and meaningful. I’ve long been a huge fan of Murray as a comedy actor (who isn’t?) and I was pleasantly surprised to hear him talking about the power of mindfulness and being present. I won’t speak for him so I’ll say no more on his intriguing answer, you can see for yourself.

– If you can’t watch the video I’ve posted some quotes below.

  • N.B. The volume is low on this video so you’ll probably want to crank it up a little.

Without using the word mindfulness, Bill is clearly aware of the benefits of raising your consciousness and being more aware and present, and I hope someone recommends him to start meditating. If anyone knows Bill please send him over to my page 😉 – Why You Should Start Meditating Today

Quotes

‘Are you here? And most of the time you’re not’

‘That’s not me there, that’s what I’m doing now, but that’s not necessarily me’

‘I’d like to just be more here all the time and I’d like to see what I could get done, what I could really do, if I were able to not get distracted, to not change channels in my mind and body – so I’m my own channel, really here, and always with you. You could look at me and go ‘OK he’s there, there’s someone there…”

‘This is not a dress rehearsal, this is your life’

‘You kill a man, you kill every opportunity he ever had’

‘It resonated, it rang a bell inside of me, a bell that rings a lot that says “Remember Bill, come back, remember, remember. This is your life, this is the only one you’ve got”‘

 

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Do you know of any other famous people speaking about meditation or mindfulness? We’d love to share it too, send us a message or leave a comment!

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Guided meditations are one of the best ways to get started. Just like a class, an experienced meditator will walk you through it and tell you what you should be doing. Before you know it you’ll remember the instructions and will be able to meditate without a guide. If you’ve already tried meditation but found it didn’t quite click with you, I’d suggest trying different styles or techniques – I’ve tried to include a variety in this list. If you’re not using guided meditations and are finding it hard to maintain focus during your sit, they’ll help in gathering your attention.

So, I’ve scoured the web and tried a host of different meditations from different resources, made this list of the best ones, free of course. For beginners and ease of trial I’ve put a direct link in green to a short meditation from each resource so that you can dive right in.

UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Centre

screenshot-2A great place for beginners to start, the site has a few different meditations ranging from 3-20 minutes, all of them straightforward and easy to follow. You can stream the tracks direct from the site or download them for later use. All of them are by the same woman so if you’d prefer a male voice or a different accent, perhaps try one of the others (if you’d like a British accent – scroll down to Mental Health Foundation).

Stream/download: Yes/Yes
Podcast in iTunes store

Recommended meditations for beginners:
Body scan meditation [3 mins]
Breathing meditation [5 mins]

The Free Mindfulness Project

Screenshot (3).pngThe Free Mindfulness Project has a wider variety than UCLA in a selection of different types of meditation ranging between 3 and 45 minutes, they have meditations with a few different teachers, so you should be able to find someone with a style that you like. The only downside is that you can’t stream the tracks directly from the site, they need to be downloaded first and then played.

Stream/download: Yes/No

Recommended meditation for beginners:
Breathing w/ Peter Morgan [3 mins] – Direct download link

Tara Brach

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Tara Brach has a massive selection of meditations. She adds a new meditation each week and for ease of use you can subscribe to her podcast channel and access them that way. She also has a page on her site specifically for those new to meditation where you can find shorter basic meditations – a fantastic place to start – as well as some talks and a lovely letter welcoming you to the practice of meditation!

Stream/download: Yes/Yes
Podcast in iTunes store

Recommended meditation for beginners:
Ten-Minute Basic Meditation Practice (10 mins)
A short introductory meditation with a body scan, bringing focus to the breath, sounds, then resting in awareness. Click here for direct download.

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As well as meditation and mindfulness, this UK-based organisation also has materials on topics such as relationships, nutrition, and exercise. If you’re only after meditations and mindfulness, you’ll find most of the stuff on this part of their soundcloud page, but you’ll have to poke around their podcasts page to find everything. If you like a British accent, give them a go.

Stream/download: Yes/Yes (from soundcloud)

Sample meditation:
Mindfulness Practice Exercise [10 mins]
This relaxation exercise is narrated by mindfulness expert, Professor Mark Williams, and features a series of breathing and visualisation techniques. Direct download link
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/17058507″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

F*ck That: An Honest Meditation

[Youtube – 2 mins]

  • Tip: When using guided meditations from youtube, turn off autoplay. This’ll stop some other video playing immediately after, leaving you in peace after your meditation.

This meditation may sound like a joke but that doesn’t stop it from being calming as well as damn funny. If you are in need of a smile, go for this one. The creator Jason Headley said that the meditation was created for the realities of today’s world and it’s certainly connected with a lot of people – it’s been massively popular collecting over 8 million youtube views. Many people have reported they find it difficult to meditate to because they are laughing so much – but laughing is healthy and relaxing, and coming out of a meditation with a smile on your face can’t be a bad thing.

  • Due to the popularity of the video, Jason created an app for $2 with longer meditations called H*nest Meditation – iTunes app store / Google Play

If you like the ‘F*ck That’ meditation, maybe also try Inner F*cking Peace: A Guided Meditation (youtube – 5 mins). It’s in a similar comical vein and a couple minutes longer.

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I hope that you’ve found something useful here or better yet a teacher with a style that you like and can regularly meditate with. I am always interested in finding more resources, so if you know of any good ones I’ve missed, please leave a comment. All the best and mindful meditating 🙂

Still not sure if you should be meditating? Check out this infographic on the science behind how meditation makes you happier.
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Want to meditate in silence without a guide? Check out the How To Meditate: A Beginner’s Guide

In search of some motivation? – Why You Should Start Meditating Today

Best Free Guided meditation online beach

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Looking to deepen your meditation practice? Here are 10 ideas…meditation salar de uyuni salt flats bolivia

1. Make It a Daily Practice

If meditation isn’t yet a daily practice, make it one. I can’t emphasise the importance of consistency enough. Making it a daily habit is the best thing you can do for your practice over the long term. Make a 100% commitment to it and don’t leave it as a choice, make it an obligation. If you struggle to find time, then you should actively schedule time for it.

If a day comes thats just full of obstacles, then shorten the meditation, just don’t skip it. If it’s that desperate just sit for 2 minutes (but really, you can’t spare 10-20 minutes?). This way you will still retain the habit of sitting down and taking the time for yourself. It will become a habit rather than a chore and will become a regular part of your day. When you have to brush your teeth, do you ever think ‘but I don’t have time today’ or ‘I’m too tired’ – no, you just do it because you always do it. Make it so with meditation. The best way to form the habit is commit to a month without skipping a day.

  • When you do miss a day… don’t miss the next!
    If you do miss a day – because hey, you’re human – make absolutely sure that you don’t miss the next day. The next day is crucial to make sure you get straight back to it and don’t allow a run of missed days to form. Accept the missed day and just like you’d bring yourself back to your point of focus during a meditation, bring yourself back to your practice: calmly and smilingly.

2. Have a Meditation Buddy

Having a friend that you meditate with is a tremendous way to support your practice. When I first started meditating in China I was lucky enough to have a close friend who was also just starting to learn at that time. We went to classes together, exchanged tips and shared our experiences on the learning curve. We lent each other books on the topic and meditated together after work before going out for noodles. At the time we were both working as teachers at the same school and when we both had a long enough break between classes we’d take an empty classroom and sit for 20 minutes. We turned out to be a great support to each other and both of our practices were strengthened because of our influence on each other.

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  • Alternatively, your meditation buddy doesn’t have to be someone you physically meditate with, it could be an accountability buddy. You can check in with each other regularly to make sure you are both keeping it up.

3. Create a Dedicated Spot For Meditation

Set up a ‘meditation space’ in your home. It could be anything from a small spot with cushions on the floor to a particular room with an altar. Ideally this space will be used exclusively for meditation and you will not do any other activity there. The physical segregation will create a ‘safe haven’ and this will help your mind to settle down more quickly and allow you to go deeper with each meditation.

4. Read a Book About Meditation Or Mindfulness

Each time I read a book about meditation or a related topic my awareness gets a little boost because I’m getting reminders and calls to awareness whilst reading – and I could be doing this anywhere (commuting, in the park, before bed). I’m generally more aware of the mind and its wanderings and I ‘catch’ and therefore place my mind, far more often. When reading you also learn new techniques and get new insights into the practice of meditation, deepending your understanding and expanding your practice. Thich Nhat Hanh’s books have been hugely influential in extending my mindfulness from my formal meditation to daily life and everyday tasks.

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Photo by Amber Metcalfe

Two Books I’d Recommend

5. Do a Course Or Silent RetreatIMG_2869 (3)

Doing a course is a surefire way to boost your practice. You will get the time and mental space you need to do serious meditation. Escaping the distractions and frenzy of the modern world will enable you to develop your level your focus and you will almost certainly learn something new about the technique of meditation as well. Moreover, after an intensive period of meditation it seems much easier to extend the duration of your daily meditations and integrate it further into your life. I have done temple stays and meditation courses and if you are serious about meditation then one course I’d happily recommend is the 10 day vipassana meditation course – I even convinced my Dad to do one. They’re available all over the world and there’s lots of info online. You can read my advice about how to make the most of a 10 day course here.

6. Join a Weekly Group

Like meditating with a friend, meditating with a group can be a superb boost to your practice. It’s a great way to meet other meditators and a place where you can share your experiences and receive support. Having a weekly appointment in a set time and place is a great way to make meditation into a fun and sociable event on your calendar and mixes up your practice helping to keep it fresh.

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Meditation groups can be found almost anywhere- I’ve attended meditation groups while I’ve been based in China, Spain and Korea and they’ve helped me in many ways. I’ve often found the quality of my meditation was improved when sitting with a group and others said the same. Groups are great for learning different techniques of meditation and meeting new people in the process. Search online for a group and if you can’t find one, try starting one yourself, all it takes is setting up a facebook group.

7. Meditate For Longer When You Can

Yes, I’ve banged on about the importance of consistency and cementing the habit. Shorter and daily is better than longer and less frequently. But it doesn’t always have to be shorter, meditate for a little longer when you can. If you normally meditate for 5 minutes a day but on Sundays have more time and an easier schedule, then meditate for 20 minutes. You’ll likely notice a difference in the meditation.

8. Integrate Mindfulness In To Your Life

The aim of meditation isn’t to become skilled at watching the breath for 20 minutes a day, it’s to become more aware of our minds and lives. Mindfulness is basically meditation in a non-formal setting and is the practice being aware of where your mind is when you aren’t sat down in a quiet spot with your eyes closed. While mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and anytime, it will be much easier in the beginning to practice during activities that are done alone and that can be done slowly: taking a shower, brushing your teeth, taking a walk, eating. Choose one or two of these, and everytime you do that particular activity, make it an exercise in mindfulness, a mini-meditation if you will.

Mindfulness really can be extended to anything. Just like meditation, it is the practice of choosing one thing, your anchor in the present moment, and being totally conscious of it. Simply do as you would do with a sitting meditation, but rather than using your breath or mantra as an anchor you will use the activity you are doing. Focus on the thing that you are doing, taking care to do it calmly and with all your attention. This will keep your attention in the present moment and not swept up in unrelated thoughts. Every time you notice your mind has wandered off, calmly bring it back.

9. Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You Do Miss it

When you’re meditating and realise you’ve drifted off in to ‘thought-land’, it’s important to retain your equanimity and calmy, smilingly bring yourself back to your point of focus. The same is true when you miss a day or fall out of rhythm with your meditation practice; it’s the same teaching on the macro level. When you realise you’ve let your regularity of practice slip or skipped a few days, don’t be annoyed at yourself or feel guilty. Calmly accept the reality and return to your practice, just as you would return to your point of focus.

10. Don’t Keep It a Secret: Come Out As a Meditator

When I first started I was a bit timid about sharing the fact that I was a meditator; I was worried about being judged and seen as a weird hippy. Despite its growth meditation still isn’t the most commonplace practice and for many people conjures images of ascetic monks and brings to mind religious practices of exotic Eastern religions. Whilst there’s no real easy way around this until perceptions change, it’s better just to be honest and open that you’re a meditator (isn’t that the case with most things?). You may be surprised to find that someone you know is interested and may even want to learn – you could even find yourself a meditation buddy.

Housemates, friends and those close to you will understand that you need that quiet time alone and it will be easier to make time to sit without worries of distraction. If your boss knows you could even ask if there’s somewhere at your place of work where you can meditate. By ‘coming out’ you’ll identify yourself as a meditator and this shift in mentality will help you to maintain your continuity of practice.

In this way you can also break the stereotype that meditation is only for buddhists and hippies. A former work colleague of mine was surprised when it came up that I meditated regularly and went to a local meditation group. It turned out that he’d already read a few articles about meditation online and was curious to try it. Upon finding out about my practice he seemed relieved and said ‘well… if normal people do it too’. (!)

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These methods have all helped me along the way and I’m sure will help you too. Do you have any tips for how to improve a meditation practice? Or maybe you can recommend a course? Post a comment below.

10 Day Vipassana meditation courses are available all over the world. This post is intended to give you an idea of what to expect on the course and, if you decide do one, to make the most of your 10 days.  Read more

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Photo by Zoe Kerslake

You’ve heard about meditation and have an idea about all the apparent benefits, but you’re not sure exactly how it works and if its really worth doing. I’ve been meditating for a few years now and credit it with lots of positive changes in my mindset and life, so I wanted to share how it might help you too.

Science Backed

Research shows tonnes of benefits to consistent meditators – studies at Harvard have shown that regular meditators grow grey matter in key areas of the brain associated with self-awareness and compassion, and shrink matter in the areas associated with stress. Yes, meditation actually changes the physical structure of the brain. The stereotype that meditation is just for buddhists and hippies is dying and thats why its drawing in people from all sorts of high profile arenas, from professional athletes to workers at google. This is because it can benefit people from all walks of life.

“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it?
The pill exists. It’s called meditation.”
Jonathan Haidt – The Happiness Hypothesis

Sounds to good to be true right? Well, here’s the kicker- it requires patience, commitment, time and practice. But so does anything that is truly worthwhile. A crucial foundation when embarking on any new journey of learning or discovery is motivation. With more and more research being done it’s becoming clearer by the study that meditation offers numerous benefits to the consistent practitioner. So here’s a few examples to kickstart that motivation and get you keen to start meditating…

Be More Present

The past is already gone and the future never comes – the truth is that the present moment is all we ever really have. If you spend all your time in thoughts of the past or future you will miss the amazing world we live in. Meditation is the practice of tuning in to the present, leaving thoughts of past and future behind – being aware and in the moment and really alive. This is powerful in many ways, not least of which is how it helps to clear your mind which as well as being rewarding in itself will…

Improve Your Focus and Concentration

Being able to focus your mind is one of the most powerful tools you can have at your disposal. Meditation is a continual practice of retaining your attention and sharpening single pointed concentration. When you meditate you practice being conscious of your thoughts and where your mind is, and when you realise it isn’t where you would like it… you bring it back. A formal practice trains this awareness ‘muscle’ and with it comes a greater capacity for focus and attention.

It improves not only performance but efficiency too. And this can be applied to anything, to whatever it is you want to put your energy into. You will be more precise and able to work with less distraction and greater proficiency. You will upgrade in everything that you do. With increased efficiency you will save time. Less time spent in useless and unproductive thoughts and more time for you to think about what you actually want to think about. Less time spent procrastinating and more time doing what you actually want to do. Less actions through habit and more through conscious will.

Less Stress, Fewer Worries

Meditation triggers what psychologists call the ‘relaxation response’ which lessens stress and hypertension. This is because it trains us to let go by calmly observing our current reality without reaction or resistance. Rather than getting wound up or agitated, meditation helps us to accept the reality of any situation. In meditation we practice accepting things we cannot change and this helps to stop us from worrying unnecessarily.

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is someone whom I suspect has clocked up his fair share of meditation time. Of course we can understand intellectually that worrying is not helpful but we all still have times when we do it. Meditation as a practice helps us to embody this understanding and to accept the unexpected and sometimes undesirable twists and turns as an inevitable part of life, rather than resisting them and creating stress and tension. We observe our thoughts and feelings and learn to let them pass. As we become more conscious of our anxieties and troublesome thoughts we have more ownership of them and are less affected by them. Meditators find it easier to relax, they’re practiced at it.

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Gain a Greater Understanding of Yourself

So often we think something and we are that thought. We don’t recognise it as a thought, we just think it before thinking something else and continuing in a series of thoughts. These thoughts grow into opinions and inform our actions. They form the basis of our belief system and define our truths. They shape who we are.

With meditation we learn to observe thoughts and see them from a greater perspective. This increases awareness and clarity of the mind’s habits and thought patterns; what occupies your mind and how you think. In this way meditation gives you the opportunity to know yourself better and also to gain insight into why you are the way you are.

With an improved self-awareness you’ll have a clearer perception of your strengths and weaknesses, your personality and your emotions. A clearer perception of your strengths allows you to use them more effectively and the ability to be honest with yourself about your shortcomings reveals room for growth. With a clearer understanding of the unique traits of your personality you will become more aware of how other people perceive you, and of how you perceive others. Relationships will improve and social situations will feel more natural, whether it’s meeting new people, making friends or collaborating with others in creative pursuits and business ventures.

Improve Your Health

Meditation doesn’t only improve mental health but physical health too. Enjoy being healthy? Another reason to start meditating. Your body’s response to potential illness improves with meditation: it boosts antibodies, stimulates immune system brain-function regions and with its reduction of stress increases oxygen uptake and blood flow. This is why meditators take less sick days and why meditation is now being prescribed as a preventative medicine for all kinds of ailments. It boosts your immune system. Research has linked meditation with a long list of health benefits and this shouldn’t really be surprising given the link between physical and mental health and the correlation between stress and sickness.

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These are just a few of the benefits meditation can offer; if you’re still hungry for more there’s a heap of literature online about the topic… go dive in. Hopefully by now you’re ready to set up the pillows on the floor. It’s something I think anyone can benefit from. In twenty years I reckon it will become like how eating vegetables, exercising and brushing your teeth are today; a complete no-brainer. So get on your ass and start the habit today.

Have no idea how to meditate or where to start? Head over to How to Meditate: A Beginner’s Guide.