Aug 2022 Issue | The Benefits of Going Deeper into Meditation
By Kate Orson
Meditation is a powerful practice that can transform your state of mind within a few short minutes. There are meditation apps like Insight Timer and Headspace that offer short mindfulness meditations to squeeze into the morning routine, or relax after a hard days work. But what are the benefits of meditating for longer? What happens if you meditate for an hour or more?
Over a decade ago I became a marathon meditator. It happened one summer just before finishing college. I had become stressed during my exams and developed a severe backache. I could only sit down for 15 minutes at a time. I visited a chiropractor and an osteopath and although the sessions helped me, the pain quickly returned.
A friend recommended meditation to me, and I began to practice long sessions, taking my time to gradually unwind the tension in my back. After practicing like this for a few hours a day over the course of the summer my backache disappeared and I took a seven hour journey without any pain.
Over the years I’ve meditated on and off whenever I had the time. I found that short regular sessions were good to keep me present and in the moment, but that deeper, longer sessions allowed me to work through physical pain, and mental turmoil.
This process wasn’t always easy. Sometimes a meditation session would leave me feeling calm and at peace with more loving feelings towards the people around me. At other times meditation would dredge up difficult feelings that I’d need time to process in the form of journal writing, or in conversation with a therapist.
My meditation practice almost completely stopped for years after becoming a mother. I found that I was so preoccupied with life in the ‘physical realm’ that I couldn’t quite make time for the spiritual side of life. However gradually I have eased back into meditation, building up by a few minutes each session, and using yoga stretches to help me get more comfortable with sitting for long periods.
As someone who has dealt with chronic pelvic pain I found inspiration in the memoir Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks. Parks is an author who dealt with chronic prostatitis, which he was recommended surgery for, even though the doctor could find no organic cause for his pain. He used daily, hour-long sessions to release tension, and went on meditation retreats for more intensive practice.
An hour a day may seem like a long time to dedicate but as meditation expert and author of Art of Stress-Free Living, Dr. Sukhraj Dhillon says, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday — unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Meditation is a way of investing time. You may find that it enables you to think more clearly in daily life, thus make life go more efficiently and smoothly. I even find that I sleep less when I meditate regularly.
If you’d like to try some long meditation sessions it can be good to start with a class to learn a basic meditation technique. The one I have used for years is basically focusing on my breathing and noticing the inhale and exhale of breath through my nostrils after each breath I count from 1-10. If I lose concentration I go back to the beginning.
Build up gradually to a long session, and listen to what you need on a particular day. Hanna Milton, mindfulness and wellbeing instructor at A Little Mindful says that ‘’If an hour-long meditation fills you with dread and you spend the whole hour waiting for it to be over, you’re not going to get a lot out of the practice.’’
Milton recommends building up by five minutes each week until you find the length that feels right to you. It’s important to remember that although long meditation sessions can be incredibly beneficial, a regular practice is the best way to sustain these benefits. Milton also suggests scheduling regular mini-retreats. She says ’’Labelling it a ‘mini-retreat’ makes it feel surprisingly special and indulgent. It gives you the opportunity to fully commit to self-care and feel justified to do so. To make it feel like a mini-retreat incorporate props which differentiate it from just meditation – candles, incense sticks, music, cozy blankets, and cushions. Set your props up slowly and delicately, turning this into part of the self-care ritual. You can also incorporate self-care practices beyond meditation, like starting with a relaxing breathing exercise, mindfully enjoying an immune-boosting tea and finishing with a gratitude practice.’’
One final thing to note is that long meditation sessions can bring up strong feelings. So, if you find yourself experiencing this it can be a good idea to talk them through with a therapist, and or seeking guidance from a local meditation teacher.