So much has been written about the benefits of meditation, so we won’t go into that here. Instead, let’s fast track to the reason you must meditate: the brain, like any physical muscle, benefits from rest after excessive exercise. So, if your mind is in thinking mode all the time without resting (from high stress work environments to navigating personal demands), and your brain is never in a relaxed non-thinking state, health problems lurk around the corner. Universally, people’s excuse is that they’re too busy with a demanding life. But here’s the big “Meditation AH HA! Moment,” it’s only when the brain is in a relaxed meditative state that breakthrough ideas and solutions are generated. Boom! Take that in.
In today’s hyper-competitive, high-performance fast-paced world you cannot afford not to meditate. Your life literally depends on it: the American Journal of Cardiology completed an 18-year study that concluded regular meditation reduces death by 23 percent!
Meditation is a way to practice cultivating attention on the things that matter to us, it’s a practice that trains your awareness, with the aim to free the mind of tight constraints and distorted interpretations of reality. Not only can you gain clarity, peace and relaxation from meditating regularly, you can even lengthen the span of your life.
You don’t need to join a group, sit in particular postures or hold specific spiritual beliefs, it can be done anytime, anywhere without any resources other than the willingness to try.
A few tips to help you stay motivated to continue the practice of meditation.
Begin by identifying your aim, is it to reduce stress, stay on track with your goals, find balance, rest the brain, or simply slow down? Understanding your aim and keeping it in the forefront of your mind will help you stay motivated throughout the 15-days it takes to create the habit.
There are a multitude of different types of meditations, below is a list of meditation practice if you are new to meditating, find what resonates with you (and there are countless online resources to support you; see the list of resources at the end of the article).
Guided vs Unguided
Meditations can be either guided by a teacher or non-guided “silent” meditations. Start with guided meditations first if you are new to meditation as they provide a format to follow and help you get the most from the experience with audio prompts.
Focused Attention & Mindfulness Meditation
This type of meditation focuses your attention on something, like a physical sensation, gazing at an object or a sound to anchor your focus and awareness. It’s a great tool for relaxation and stress relief. The most common form of this meditation is breathing awareness, once you notice your mind start to wander, don’t berate yourself, bring your attention back to breathing.
This type of meditation focuses your attention on mental imagery. Visualising may come easier to some than others, it could be visualising yourself in your favourite place, with your favourite person or reliving fond memories.
Body Scan/Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This type of meditation aims to bring attention to the sensations in the body by using the breath to dissolve tension and relax the muscles. When we are stressed we experience aches and pains in the body, not realising the pain is caused by emotional stress. By noticing the sensations and breathing into them we sync and strengthen our mind body connection.
Common Misconceptions and Mistakes
“My mind should be blank when meditating, if it’s not then I’m doing this wrong”
- This is one of the most common misconceptions about meditation, thoughts are natural. We are not trying to completely empty our minds but shift into observing the mind (focus on an object, mantra, or physical sensation) versus replaying the same negative narrative and problematic stories we tell ourselves.
Meditation is a spiritual practice
- Meditation practices are ancient; they have connections to all kinds of religions; however, meditation is not only for those wanting to strengthen their faith, it’s useful in counteracting the stress response, finding mindfulness and awareness of thoughts, and ultimately finding peace.
Don’t put too much pressure on meditation being a certain way, accepting that each day will be different, some days your mind will be bursting with constant chatter, and others you will drift into a moment-by-moment trance.
Meditation duration is one of the common mistakes beginners make (it’s the same as a new runner attempting to go on a long run). You are more likely to find success in your meditation practice by starting slowly and doing short meditations frequently. Start with 5-10 minutes a day for seven days and build up from there. Once you notice the lingering calm after a meditation it will be the motivation to continue. Meditation apps like Insight Timer help you track your progress and remind you how consistently you are meditating.
Support yourself by removing distractions, such as loud noise, uncomfortable clothing, bright light or just anything that you know will interrupt your meditation session. Creating a space in your home or office that you reserve for meditating will assist with the relaxation process, the familiar soothing space will allow you to find peace and comfort quicker.
After reading this you may realise you already have moments of informal meditation in your daily life. These instances are not planned and don’t require any preparation. For instance, while washing the dishes you may be completely immersed in the task, feeling the warm water wash over your hands, the smell of lemon-scented dish soap, carefully inspecting that the dishes are clean; all these sensations create a relaxed mindful awareness of the present moment and are a form of meditation, relaxing the mind. After practicing meditation consistently you are more likely to slip into these ‘informal’ types of meditation while going about your everyday life.
HeadSpace has hundreds of guided meditations from mini meditations to meditations for kids. https://www.headspace.com/
Insight Timer is a meditation app that has a library of thousands of free meditations, you can search by type, length and teacher, so you can easily find the right meditation while on the go. This app has a free and subscription offering.
Breathing Zone: another great app that uses visual and audio cues to slow down your rate of breathing and assist with meditation. Subscription fee.