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16.05.2020

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Meditation 101

Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not all about sitting cross-legged for hours, chanting or humming. If that’s your perception, know that you’re in for a treat.

Read on.

Simply stated, meditation is training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. It’s not about trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. Instead you’re learning to observe them without judgment. 

Before we dive into the ‘how’ to meditate we should talk about the ‘why’ to meditate. Aside from the fact it just feels ‘good’ (and it does!), there are lots of science-based benefits of meditation. We’ll touch on the Top 3 for now.

  1. Stress Reduction – let’s face it, for all the amazing opportunities the modern world offers most of us, it brings with it a level of complexity and chaos that causes most of us elevated levels of stress. Normally, mental and physical stressors cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This is known to produce many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals that can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue. In an eight-week study, using a meditation style called ‘mindfulness meditation’ a notable reduction in the inflammatory response caused by stress. Other studies have also shown that many styles of meditation can help reduce stress
  2. Improves Sleep – Did you know that nearly half the global population will struggle with insomnia at some stage in their life. One study compared two mindfulness-based meditation programs by randomly assigning participants to one of two groups. One group practiced meditation, the other did not. The results showed that the participants who meditated fell asleep sooner and stayed asleep longer. Those who did not meditate did not see any changes in their sleep patterns (no surprise!)
  3. Increased Attention Span – you can think about ‘focussed-attention’ meditation as ‘cerebral weight lifting’ for the focus and attention span. Like lifting weights does for your muscles, this type of meditation helps to increase the strength and endurance of your attention. For example, one study looked at the effects of an eight-week mindfulness meditation course and found it improved participants’ ability to recalibrate and maintain their attention. A similar study showed that human resource workers who regularly practiced mindfulness meditation stayed focused on a task for longer. These workers also remembered details of their tasks better than their peers who did not practice meditation

So if one or more of these outcomes are remotely desirable and relatable to you, we next tackle the main barrier for getting started. That is, knowing where to start.

There are so many different meditation techniques and traditions to try, it can feel overwhelming, and confusing. For some, it can also make them feel a bit ‘silly’ at first. This is all totally natural and understanding. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Whether you’re a first-timer or just a bit out of practice, we’ve tried to lay out the basics so that you can give it a go.

Meditation 101

Most meditations begin by sitting (on a chair is fine!) in a quiet place. You simply close your eyes and start calming the mind; focusing on your breathing. That’s it? Not quite.

When you meditate, you are essentially trying to cultivate awareness and compassion; you are training the mind to stop being easily distracted and instead be more focused in the present moment. This is waaay harder than you may think. The idea is to use your breath as your anchor in the moment. You simply sit and gradually learn to let thoughts and feelings come and go.

It’s often quite confronting for people when they first try to meditate and realise how active their mind is – jumping between ‘things to do’, what’s for dinner, was that my phone ‘pinging’ and so on. It’s also confronting to realise how ‘hard’ it can be to control the mind. 

But, it’s completely normal when you start to meditate for your mind to jump around. What else is the mind supposed to do? It’s job is to ‘think’, so that’s what it does. So importantly, meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. Instead you learn to sit and observe your thinking without getting wrapped up in the thoughts and emotions that are bouncing around. 

Now, the modern attention span is compromised by the bombardment of ‘stuff’ and the complexity of life. Therefore, it’s entirely normal when your mind wanders off, it often happens without realising. But that’s part of the point. Through meditation you learn to tame your cerebral restlessness and instead develop an awareness of the process. Each time you notice you’re becoming distracted (and it happens a lot!), you learn to bring your attention back to the ‘anchor’ that is your breathing. It’s through this process that your mind becomes more at ease with this idea of just sitting still.

So how do you start meditating?

Great question. You can of course find a local expert to help you on this journey but, there is a great resource called Headspace that provides guided meditation via an App. We are not affiliated in any way with Headspace and there are no incentives for us to mention them (financial or otherwise) but, we are motivated to as we use it and we love it. 

In fact, much of this article was inspired by the amazing resources they make available to the world. One of the founders, Andy Puddicombe was featured on Ted Talks and we can highly recommend you invest 9 minutes of your life learning more about how your mind works. You can watch Andy’s Ted Talk on YouTube, ‘All it takes is 10 mindful minutes’ HERE

So let’s take a look at getting started with meditation. It’s a fairly straightforward process and you just need to follow these four steps:

Step 1: Be deliberate – think about (and lock in) a time and place that works for you. 

In terms of time, it can be as little as 5 minutes so, c’mon, nobody is that busy that they can’t find 5 minutes to themselves! There’s no best time of day to meditate other than when you can commit to it. If you want to make behavioural change then its best to aim for ‘same time, same place’ every day.

In terms of where, the best place is anywhere that you feel comfortable and will not be distracted. One member of our team parks the car in a quiet spot after training each day and meditates for 10 minutes in the car. Another makes time to meditate each day after getting up and feeding the fur kids. Whatever works for you!

Step 2: Decide on ‘how long’ you want to meditate for. Especially when starting out, starting with small, bite-sized chunks of time (e.g. 3, 5, or 10 minutes) is key, so you ease into it and find your sweet spot. If in doubt, start small and increase the time after you’ve settled into a routine.

Step 3: Are you sitting comfortably? That’s more than a random throw back to your childhood… As mentioned above, there’s no need to sit on the floor, cross legged (unless you want to). Instead, just sit on a regular chair with your legs and arms uncrossed, feet flat on the floor, and hands resting on your lap or by your side. Find a position where keeping your back straight is comfortable i.e. nothing that requires ‘effort’.

Step 4: Let’s assume you have decided to use an audio guided meditation approach such as the Headspace App, then it’s as simple as picking your starting point (if you’re new, start at the beginning!). It will explain how your mind behaves during meditation and lead you through the meditation technique. Importantly, it will finish by suggesting how to integrate the technique into your everyday life.

And there you have it. Just four simple steps stand between you and your first meditation session. Remember, there are loads of science-based benefits to daily meditation but, there’s also the ‘it feels good’ aspect too. And like any new skill, the more you practice it the better you become. 

Enjoy!

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