Even if it’s something you don’t currently practise, you’re probably aware that meditation has the potential to positively impact your mental, emotional and physical health. But with many studies proving this to be the case, why aren’t more of us meditating regularly? Chances are, it’s due to an already packed schedule and the sense that you just don’t have time to meditate, or perhaps you simply don’t know how to do it.
We spoke with Sarah Romotsky RD, director of healthcare at Headspace, to find out why meditation can be such a powerful tool and how you can get started with mindfulness meditation if it’s all new to you…
Why learn to meditate?
Meditation has numerous far-reaching physical and mental benefits, all of which can enhance your life. What’s more, these benefits are often backed by research studies, which is important if you like your wellbeing practices supported by a healthy dose of science.
‘Dedicating just a small fraction of every day to self-care can have a huge impact on your wellbeing, personal development, relationships, sleep, focus and productivity,’ agrees Romotsky.
When should you meditate?
Deciding on your own meditation routine is highly personal. The best time and place to meditate, of course, is whenever and wherever works for you.
‘The morning is a great time to meditate, as it helps to encourage the habit of mindfulness, release feelings of fogginess, set the day up on a positive note, and help your body and mind feel crisper and clearer for the day ahead,’ suggests Romotsky. ‘It’s also a great way to prepare yourself to cope with stressful situations that may arise throughout the course of the day.’
However, she agrees this may not be for everyone.
‘It can be tricky to fit a morning meditation into a busy lifestyle, which may include getting the kids ready for school or rushing into the shower after your alarm goes off,’ she says. ‘This is why the best thing to do is to incorporate meditation into your life when it’s best for you.’
Where should you meditate?
As for where to meditate, when you first start out, a quiet place where you’re not going to be disturbed is best.
‘For beginners, we recommend finding somewhere quiet with few distractions and sitting comfortably in a chair or on the floor with your hands resting on your lap or knees,’ says Romotsky. ‘But again, choosing where to meditate is completely down to the individual. You can mediate in so many places – some of them pretty “out there!”
Meditation can in fact take place anywhere and everywhere, so perhaps try one or all of the following ideas:
‘If you’re used to meditating, you may wish to meditate while on the move,’ says Romotsky. ‘Walking is fantastic for this, as while moving, your attention is focused on the act of doing, and the sensations your body is experiencing out and about. By being present in the moment, you step away from the thinking mind and experience mindfulness with the body.’
While in nature
The natural world is probably one of the easiest places to slow down and become mindful of all that’s around you. If you can, sit for a while – in a woodland or by the sea shore, for example – and focus on each of your senses in turn, everything you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste.
Your morning or evening commute to work might not seem conducive to mindful meditation, but actually, it provides a set time where you can turn your attention inwards to your breath, and will likely help you stay calm and grounded at a time that is often associated with stress.
Benefits of meditation
Benefits of a regular meditation practice include:
In one 2014 study of more than 3,500 participants, researchers found that following a meditation program can result in a reduction of psychological stress.
Lower anxiety levels
A 2012 review of 36 randomised controlled trials found that meditation therapies were effective in helping to reduce anxiety symptoms.
Improved focus of attention
Find yourself getting distracted regularly throughout the day? This 2007 study found that participants had a better attention span following an eight-week meditation course (which makes sense, given that meditation involves focused attention).
Better quality sleep
This 2015 study of older adults found that formalised mindfulness meditations helped to remedy sleep problems.
Decreased blood pressure
A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that participants who followed a program of Transcendental Meditation had lowered blood pressure.
How to meditate: a simple meditation for beginners
Now you know the benefits of meditation, let’s begin!
Meditation is simply focused attention. Often, sessions are gentle breathing exercises, which introduce you to the foundation and fundamental techniques of mindfulness and meditation.
Romotsky recommends this simple meditation to help you become more mindful:
1. Find a quiet spot: close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath.
2. Don’t alter or rush it: allow it to continue at its own rhythm, and simply observe the rising and falling sensation that it creates in your body.
3. Focus on the quality of each breath: ask without judgement – is it long or short? Deep or shallow? Fast or slow?
4. Begin silently counting each breath: ‘one’ as you inhale, ‘two’ as you exhale, ‘three’ on the next inhalation and so on, up to ten. Then start again from the beginning, at ‘one’.
5. If your mind wanders, don’t worry: it’s completely normal. Notice new thoughts, but then let them go, bringing your attention back to your breath.
6. You did it: once you have completed 10 minutes, congratulate yourself, recognising how the process made you feel.
Starting a meditation practice can sometimes feel a little daunting, which is where an app can help. As well as helping to gently guide you through each meditation, it will also often send you a daily reminder to meditate, which can help you to build meditation into your daily routine.
‘Having an app to assist with meditation gives simple access to guided meditation sessions that can fit around your schedule,’ says Romotsky.
Too busy to meditate?
Time is often the biggest barrier to starting a regular meditation practice – but ask yourself whether you really don’t have a few minutes each day to calm your racing mind.
‘Most of us will have three minutes a day where we’re scrolling on social media, sitting in traffic, or travelling on a train,’ says Romotsky. ‘Try to think of moments where you could utilise this ‘empty’ time and meditate instead. If you treat meditation as an essential part of your day, like brushing your teeth, it will become embedded into your daily routine.’
Last updated: 29-07-2020
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