Have you noticed how often your answer to the question “how are you?” is “busy”? Or the different-but-same “good, but busy!”
Busy is our new normal. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
It’s easy to fall into the cycle of wake up, check your emails, go to work, come home, scroll through social media in bed, and rinse and repeat.
When did our lives become on autopilot by default?
Meditation is the practice of training our minds to switch off from outside distractions and focus. Its aim is to develop mindfulness – bringing you attention to what you’re doing in the present moment, instead of thinking about what’s already happened or what could happen in the future. It leads to greater concentration, clarity and calmness.
And it doesn’t need to be complicated or stressful or something you need to ‘learn’ to do. It’s about the practice.
[Block quote] Meditation is like yoga – you don’t need to learn to do it, you just do it.
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Starting to meditate
The first thing to know is there is no “right” way to meditate. There’s no set amount of time, or pre-determined pose you need to sit in. You can do whatever feels right. As time goes on, you’ll naturally develop a style that suits you.
It may seem daunting when you hear some people say they meditate for an hour every morning. If that works for them, that’s great. But that’s probably taken them years to work up to, and is not realistic for many people.
The best way to start is with five minutes a day. In the beginning, this will seem like hours. But start small, increasing a few minutes every week or month until you reach a length of time that feels best. Although everyone is different, 15-20 minutes is a good aim.
If you want to know when you should meditate, the short answer is: whenever is easiest for you. It may be mornings that work for you, but if you’re not an early bird it could also be on your lunch break, when you get home from work, or in the evening before bed.
How to meditate: a 4-step guide
- Find somewhere quiet and sit comfortably.
Find a place where you won’t be disturbed, and sit in a way that is comfortable for you. This could be on the floor, on a chair or upright on your bed. Set a timer for the length of time you want to start with.
- Close your eyes and relax.
Allow your eyes to close and rest your arms in your lap or on your legs. Mentally scan your body and release any tension you’re holding – start with your head then move through to your neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, chest, stomach, hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet, checking in with each body part.
- Focus on your breath.
Start breathing low and slow. Breathe in slowly through your nostrils, then out through your nostrils. The aim is to do “belly breathing” instead of “chest breathing”. This means breathing in deeply so your stomach expands out, instead of up. It can help to count to four slowly while you breath in, then again as as you breathe out.
- When your mind wanders, return to your breath.
Quite quickly, you’ll notice you’re thinking about something else. This might be what you’re going to have for dinner, a noise you hear outside, or anything on your mental to-do list. When this happens – and it will, repeatedly – just return to your breath, breathing in, breathing out.
And that’s it! That’s really all it is.
“Help – I can’t focus!”
As mentioned, your mind will wander. But as soon as you notice this, bring your awareness back to the breath. If certain noises or disturbances occur, let them pass and return to your breathing.
You might find it frustrating how often it happens – and it could be 20, 30 or even 50 times during a five-minute period. But don’t be annoyed. This is actually a good thing – noticing distractions then returning to the present moment via focusing on your breath is what helps you to strengthen your mind and focus more deeply within. As you continue, eventually your mind will wander less and less.
Remember, the focus is not to think nothing – it is to practice coming back to the present moment.
Benefits of meditation
Initially the benefits of “just sitting still” may not be obvious. But it doesn’t take long to understand the deep, powerful benefits of this practice.
With regular meditation, you’ll notice how you start applying its techniques to your everyday life such as being aware of yourself and your surroundings, breathing deeply, focusing on one thing at a time, and being less distracted.
This prevents you from making rash decisions, getting upset over something small, or becoming irritated when something doesn’t go your way. This leads to more stable moods, greater compassion and tolerance, and a more positive outlook on life. It can help us to transform how we feel in any situation, from negative to positive, just by being aware of the way we act and react when situations arise. From this, willpower, confidence and success all follow.
Consider meditation an act of self-love and self-care. Taking the time to mediate – even for just five minutes – demonstrates to yourself that you’re worth the time and effort to improve how you feel, how you act and your outlook on life.
Physically, the health benefits are well documented and backed by research. These include reduced blood pressure, improvement of asthma and other respiratory problems, depression and anxiety management, improved skin condition and even anti-ageing benefits.
It’s suggested 10-15 minutes of meditation is worth an hour of sleep. The body relaxes so completely that afterwards we ‘awaken’ feeling refreshed – and if done before bed, meditation can improve the quality of your whole night’s sleep.
- Meditation improves every aspect of your life, as it changes your awareness, perception and reaction to situations and people.
- There’s no secret formula and you can’t do it wrong. Find a length of time, location, sitting position and breathing style that works for you.
- Your mind wandering and becoming distracted is not only normal but a good thing, as this helps to strengthen your mind by encouraging you to focus more deeply within.
- Like anything, with practice it becomes easier and more enjoyable as you continue.
Do you have any techniques that help you meditate, or any burning questions? If so, let us know in the comments.