• Francesca Matteoda

Meditation aids

Thank you for your patience. I was so busy with work last week that I completely forgot to post something last Sunday!

We've been living through difficult times, what with covid-19, lockdowns, travel restrictions, etc. and there are more difficult times ahead. Here in Madrid, the city I've been calling home for almost 20 years now, partial restrictions are back in place due to a huge surge in new cases. I am lucky enough to live in an area that has not been locked down (yet), but I cannot help a growing concern for all those around me and a feeling of uncertainty regarding the present moment and mid-term future. I was scheduled for surgery this coming week, but the operation was postponed at the last minute due to the risk of coronavirus; the hospitals are almost full; my local hospital (the military one) has set up field hospitals in the parking lot... it's not looking good.

Anyway, in these times of tribulation, what better than to practise your meditation skills? It has long been known that meditation helps calm the mind and reduce stress, so why don't we all do it more often? That's a rhetorical question, no need to answer :-)

For me, the main reason is lack of time and because it's difficult! I posted an introduction to mediation a long while back, so I think it's time to talk about mediation again. I want to introduce you to three mediation aids that may help you get back onto the path of mediation. No one has paid me to write this and I am not benefitting from advertising these products in any way!

The first is an app called Calm (™). You can download it for free for Android and iOS. It has basic 7-day introductory programmes, which are free of charge, and then has paid meditation programmes. I haven't tried the paid versions as I was not particularly impressed with the free ones, but it could be a starting point for those who have never meditated or have no experience at all.

The second app I'd like to recommend is Insight Timer (™). IT is great as it's available in several languages, has relaxing musical tracks, podcasts, long or short mediations and even courses. Some (many!) are free of charge, and some are paid. What I like most about IT though is the timer that forms part of its name. You can set the timer to however many minutes or seconds you like, you can choose a starting tone and an end tone and you can even add a half-way sound if you like. It's great because you'll have probably heard that you should meditate for at least 20 minutes a day - but that is a lot if you are inexperienced!! With IT, you can set the timer to 1 minute, close your eyes, sit comfortably and just concentrate on your breath. That's the start of mediation. When you're comfortable, you can increase the time in intervals that suit you.

Finally, the third is Muse(™). Muse is, in my opinion, simply amazing. It is not free, in fact it is very expensive, but worth every penny in my opinion. Muse comprises a brain sensing headband and an app that you download onto your phone. You connect the app to the headband via bluetooth, choose the sound you want (desert, rainforest, beach, etc.), the duration and whether you want instructions or not. Then you sit down comfortably, close your eyes, allow the device to calibrate and start concentrating on your breath. If you've chosen to hear instructions, then you follow them; if you haven't you just concentrate on breathing. When your mind is calm for a certain amount of time, you'll hear bird song; however, if your mind is allover the place, you'll hear background noise. I have the rainforest option on mine, so my background noise is really loud rain. I love this system because it's really encouraging and motivating. At the end of your session, you get points, it tells you how many birds you heard, how long your mind was in a state of calm, how long it was going nuts, etc. It also sets goals for you, so you are motivated to carry on. However, the price tag is rather high so best to ask for it as a gift :-)

Happy meditating, however you decide to do it.

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