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Is it just sitting around doing nothing? ...And 12 other questions I've answered following my first meditation class

Pre post disclaimer: I've taken a little break from blogging in the last couple of months as my life has gotten choc-a-block full of assembling flat packed furniture, commuting and err...watching Pretty Little Liars. Here's a post I wrote about 6 weeks ago, so some bits are a little out of date, I am now in my new flat (at last!) but meditation will still come in preeeeetttty handy, calm me down so I can get to sleep more easily on my blow up bed on the floor...

Last week, how to meditate or how to be mindful popped up on my Bloglovin feed about 6 times. And I don't even have a very big Bloglovin' feed. My favourite one was probably from the Man Repeller, "I've been meditating, can you tell?"

Well I too have been meditating.

 At the moment I am back at my parent's house, having been kicked out of Bethnal Green as my lease came to an end, and am yet to exchange on the flat I had an offer accepted on 3 MONTHS AGO. ie. I am homeless. ie. I have a need indeed to meditate and still my very frantic and stressed mind. Anyhoo, back home and even my mum and grandma are pondering dipping their toe in the old "mindfulness". I, always one ahead of the mental health trends, have been dilly dallying with mindful meditation since like 2012, however, recently I have upped my game.

I've signed up to Headspace, and recently, I even went to a meditation class at the London Buddhist Centre. I had hoped that a meditation class would be a whole class based on that last section of your yoga class where you are told to lie on the floor in "corpse pose" and relax. "Corpse" is definitely my favourite of all the yoga poses. The class said it was from 7:15pm til 9:45pm, so I sort of assumed I could drop in and drop out (because who can hold any yoga pose - even the corpse - for 2 and a half hours) but figured worst case scenario, I would burn 450 calories. (As according to my fitness pal, you burn 180 calories per hour of yoga, and as we've already clarified, "corpse" is a yoga pose).

Will wrinkled his nose (as he does with anything to do with meditation or mental health) and said if I really wanted to meditate I needn't walk 20 minutes down the road, I could do it here in my living room, and he could lead the meditation (or as he calls it, a load of hocus pocus - or a word stronger than hocus pocus). I suspected not, but to be honest, I had no flip the idea what to expect, so for all I knew, there may be no person leading the meditation class which meant I might as well be in my living room sitting alongside Will with my eyes shut whilst he played playstation with the headphones in.

So before I went, I wrote down all the questions I had before my first meditation class and now, with all the wisdom gained from the 1 class I attended, I will aim to answer them:

1. Could Will take the class? 
Errm no offence Will, but no. Although meditation can be guided or unguided the guided meditation (when someone speaks to you at the beginning, and then keeps on giving you reminder to keep focussing on your breath, and times how long you are meditating) could not be taken by any Tom, Dick, Harry or William.

I don't know who I thought would take the classes, but I guess maybe it would be people similar to the yogi's who took the all the yoga, history of yoga and meditation classes when in 2010 I stayed at an Ashram in Rishikesh, a spiritual town in India set on the banks of the Ganges and in the foothills of the Himalayas. I never made the early morning meditation classes there because I kept on being held hostage in my  room by wild monkeys (not exactly the Eat, Pray, Love moment I was hoping for) but that is another blog post. The yogis who swanned around the ashram had long hair and beards and wore all white - kaftans and fishermans pants - and were very bendy. They tried (unsuccessfully) to push a rubber tube up my nose and pull it out my mouth and there were pictures of them in the lobby doing far worse things with their sinus system (like a picture of a man pulling a hankerchief between his two ears?) Would my London mediation class be like this? Would I be greeted once again by that dreaded rubber tube?

Actually the buddhists who led this meditation class reminded me far more of my Dad than any yogi I've ever met. Middle aged, educated, with sarcastic senses of humour and welcoming, friendly and non judgemental for people living such a spiritual life. They weren't intimidating at all, explaining as the class went on why we were doing what we were doing, what to do if you were struggling and just generally seeming very knowledgable but yet approachable.

2. Is it just sitting around doing nothing?
No, and sort of yes. It isn't an aerobics class but at the same time, you do have a focus.

 At the London Buddhist Centre there are two types of meditation classes you can drop into: one that focuses on mindfulness - being present - which was the one I went to, and the second focuses on positive thinking.

In the mindfulness beginners meditation class I went to the whole session was split into 2, and then each of these sections were split into 2 too.

Before each meditation we did body scans - noticing the physical points of contact our body made - a knee on the floor, a hand wresting on a thigh - and then went into breathing meditation. The breathing meditation differed - counting 10 breathes before they passed for one session, then after they passed, then concentrating on how the breathe came into your diaphragm and lungs and then concentrating on how this breathe felt coming out your nose and across your lips.

Sound easy enough, but actually it takes a lot of concentration to keep the focus on your breathing and not let your mind wander. It also goes a lot quicker than you think as well, but as beginners after each session the man leading the meditation had us take a break from meditation whilst we discussed how it felt, things we found difficult, parts we enjoyed.

3. Will it actually last 2 and a half hours?
Yes. Well this one at least, not all meditation lasts for 2 hours, you can easily meditate using an app on your phone for just 60 seconds. But this particular class was 2 and a half hours long, it wasn't the drop in, drop out session I'd envisaged. But it wasn't just sitting in a room breathing aimlessly, as I mentioned above, we had a leader guiding us through the meditation and we broke to chat it through. There was also a big 20 -30 minute break in the middle, where everyone came out of the different meditation rooms (there was a beginners group and intermediate group meditating in different parts of the centre) to drink peppermint tea and eat chocolate brownies.

4. What should I wear?
You can wear anything you want - I ended up wearing yoga pants, t-shirt and a comfy wooly jumper which worked pretty well. You take off your shoes before entering the mediation room, but be aware of wearing comfortable clothing. It is hard enough to focus on breathing without a scratchy top, a skirt riding up or too tight high waisted jeans distracting you!

5. What happens if I need the toilet?
Obviously if you need the toilet you need the toilet, the people guiding the meditation won't make you sit there and wet yourself, but once you leave to go you can't come back in the mediation room. However, you are only in there for an hour at a time, and the centre has loos, so just make sure you go at the beginning and after that peppermint tea. Again, hard to focus on breathing when you are focussing on not pissing your pants.

6. Can I possibly sit in a comfortable position for 2 and a half hours (unless it is a sofa and a romcom is on)? Please tell me we are all meditating on sofas...
Some people were meditating sitting on chairs around the room with their feet flat on the ground, but most people - including me - meditated on cushions on the floor. A large flat cushion is set on the floor (as padding for your knees) and then 2 round cushions are arranged so that you are both sort of sitting and kneeling - kneeling with your knees on the large flat cushion either side of the little round ones which are supporting your bum. This means you are comfy, but your back is straight ie. you are less likely to fall asleep, which you definitely would in corpse pose...

7. Will I be the only person there who doesn't own fisherman's pants/have dreadlocks/who is wearing liquid eyeliner? What sort of person goes there?
A whole range of people went there: city girls fresh from working, hitching up their pencil skirts to kneel on the floor, stereotypical hippies in slouchy trousers with piercings and as I mentioned the spectacle, jeans and jumper wearing men who led the sessions reminded me of my Dad. Every type of person you could think of seemed to be there, and there were plenty of other twenty something girls in yoga pants and jumpers there so I certainly didn't feel like the only one, but even if I was, it was such a mix of people you could never feel like the odd one out.

8. Will I have to chant?
Nope, I didn't chant at my meditation class.

9. Should I be wearing or carrying some sort of beads?
Nope, no one had beads that I noticed, and we didn't use them to help focus our meditation and counting.

10. Do I have to be a Buddhist to go?
You absolutely don't have to be a Buddhist who has taken vows, and knows everything to know about Buddhism and the Dalai Lama to go, indeed, the meditation classes act as a class about Buddhism almost as much as anything else. The London Buddhist Centre does other retreats too, and I guess the more involved you get the more you might want to take vows or learn more about Buddhism itself. But, the inclusiveness of Buddhism means that possibly you can be everything else you are - perhaps including a practicer of another religion - and maybe a Buddhist too. Even the Dalai Lama himself has suggested it might be possible to follow another religion, as well as Buddhism.

11. What happens if I'm late?
The session didn't start bang on 7:15, as we had an introduction to meditation first, so you might be ok wandering in 5 minutes late. I wasn't late, so I still don't know the answer to this question, but I can imagine that depending on the kindness of whoever is leading the session, it might be a bit like the toilet issue, and you have to wait for a good point to join the class.

12. How will I feel after?
Meditation, according one of the Buddhists guiding the sessions, is about putting more life in your life. Being more present in the present, and noticing what is going on around you, how your body feels, getting yourself out of autopilot. After a little while, the crowds and business of London mean you'll sink back into rushing, into routines into autopilot and you'll need to come back to meditation again to make you feel more present. I don't know whether after one meditation class I was able to shake off my autopilot, but I guess learning the ability to sit and breathe and be present - whether that is admist a panic attack, or just sitting on a park bench appreciating how lovely the sunshine and the world is, is a pretty good skill to have, and I felt like I was a bit closer to having it after going to a class.

13. Will I want to go again?
Yes. Fitting a two and a half hour class meditating class into my lifestyle isn't easy (which perhaps demonstrates my need for it) and since the class, I've been keeping myself topped up with 10 minute meditations from Headspace, but I definitely want to go again, because putting more life in your life? What other class can offer that.

The London Buddhist Centre just asks for a recommended donation of £5-£10 for their session (and they give you brownies and peppermint tea for free!). The London Buddhist Centre I went to was on Roman Road, just 5 mins from Bethnal Green station, but there may be one nearer you - try the World Buddhist Directory, I actually couldn't find London Buddhist Centre on there, but there were another 14 in London!

PS. A different type of meditation...go swimming in a pond.

Copyright for image: Eat Live Life

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