Taking Time Out: Mindfulness & Meditation

    “I didn’t want to waste months riding out this stress, I wanted to savour life”

    Marina Fogle reveals how a meditation app helped her cope with the grief she felt for her stillborn son

    Over the last few years, the term ‘mindfulness’ has become something of a buzzword. While I could appreciate that being mindful was probably not a bad idea, I didn’t have the time to think about what it really meant and whether it could, as was claimed, significantly enhance our lives.

    But in the summer of 2014, it all changed for me. My son was stillborn, suddenly and tragically one August morning, and immediately my brain was tested like it had never been before. In the months that followed, lost and overwhelmed, I got to know stress, panic and anxiety very well. And amid the deluge of advice was a suggestion that I download an app called Headspace. My friend, who had lost his brother some years ago, said that spending 10 minutes a day in guided meditation made him feel infinitely stronger, calmer and clear-headed.

    Because I didn’t download it straight away, it remained on that list of things ‘I’ll do tomorrow’. The weeks went on, and the relentless carousel of questions, concerns and fears that had permeated my mind suddenly rose to a crescendo that was hard to ignore. I found myself getting stressed and losing my temper, with my children, my dogs, myself.

    My acupuncturist told me to slow down. “You need to take a few minutes every day, just to stop,” she said. But I couldn’t. I was terrified of stopping, because every time I did, the horror of that day tortured me. My solution was distraction; endless nights whiled away listening to Radio 4, car journeys on the phone, box sets for evenings in, Facebook for the three-minute wait for the tube.

    I knew that this was a classic manifestation of grief, but I also realised that I couldn’t live like this. Not only was it exhausting, but I wasn’t happy, and I had good reason to be happy. My youngest had died, but I still had Ludo and Iona, who at four and six years old are at the stage where they delight in all life’s rich detail; the bird poo on the windscreen, the treasure trove of blackberries in our park, their new Tractor Ted wellies. My loss had taught me that each day is precious and I didn’t want to waste months riding out this stress, I wanted to savour each minute of life.

    So one evening, as I checked my emails in bed, I downloaded the Headspace app and started ‘Take Ten’, the free 10 minutes over 10 days trial, acquainting myself with meditation in the hope it might help.

    The meditation is narrated by Andy, a man with a soothing voice that is – quite remarkably – not annoying. As your 10 minutes start, you are told what to focus on.

    I’m not into meditation, yoga or my ‘inner self’ at all. Sitting for 10 minutes doing nothing is totally foreign to me. As I lay in my bed, I did wonder whether this hocus-pocus really could work. But as the days progressed and I kept my promise to give it a go, I started noticing small changes. While I meditated, my mind wandered and I couldn’t help thinking what a terrible meditator I must be. But after each session, I started sensing a calmness – my head felt clearer. It seemed like the background noise that had increased to a cacophony had quietened. By day five, I realised I hadn’t lost my temper once.

    On day eight, I found myself in a situation that the previous week had made me feel extremely stressed. I had even woken the previous night, panicking in anticipation of my panic, so I decided to take my 10 minutes just beforehand. As I sat down, I could feel the anxiety flooding my body. But when I switched the app on, my breathing slowed and I managed to navigate the situation without the anxiety I had experienced before.

    When my trial was up, I didn’t hesitate to pay the subscription to sign up for the next stage – the last 10 days had had such a profound effect on me, and I realised why. Being constantly occupied and distracted is not natural. But we are a generation that is always switched on, always contactable. Many of us are working mothers, but are still managing our homes and family lives the way our mothers did before us.

    Then along comes a concept like Headspace, an app that makes meditation convenient and achievable even for the biggest cynics. Just when we think that technology is becoming too invasive, a Bristol-born Buddhist monk-turned-tech-millionaire called Andy creates something that simplifies our lives. It’s just ironic that it’s another thing we depend on our mobiles for. 

    Me, Myself & I: Get In The Zone With These Tips 

    • Meditate at the same time and in the same place every day where possible. Try to find a time when your partner or a friend can watch the kids for 10 minutes, to allow yourself to enjoy that period and not feel guilty about it.

    • Treat yourself to some silence, whether it be in the early hours of the morning, while outside walking the dog, or for a few minutes in the car after you’ve turned off the engine. Do your best to seek out moments of quiet, even if it is only once a day.

    • Be mindful. You don’t need to change your routine or give up any of your precious time to be mindful. Instead, really focus on the present; be it while cleaning your teeth, or making breakfast for the kids. Think about all that is going on around you, embracing all your senses – the smell of breakfast cooking, or the chatter of your children.