These days we are see-sawing wildly between hope and fatigue, making it challenging to chart our way forward. As we move out of lockdown, so many of us may feel overwhelmed about opening up our social calendars and starting to head back to the office after living quietly for so long. So how do we find a way to handle all of this new stimulation whilst getting back to our old way of life?
Well, studies have shown the changes in brain activity in subjects who have learned to meditate hold steady even when they’re not meditating, enabling them to maintain a balanced emotional state. There are many mental health benefits of practicing meditation and some of these include better focus and concentration, improved memory, self-awareness and self-esteem. Lowered blood pressure, lowered levels of stress, anxiety, PTSD and depression. Improved tolerance of pain, improved sleep and an array of health conditions can improve such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and psoriasis.
So, what is meditation? It is an ancient tradition dating back as early as 3000BC with religious ties to Egypt, China, as well as Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and, of course, Buddhism. Still practiced around the world today, it isn’t all about faith or religion; it’s about achieving a state of consciousness and becoming more aware of your mental and physical patterns. The word “meditate” means to “ponder”, so by turning one’s attention inward and focusing on your breath or a point of reference (a mantra or word) you will create a sense of peace and calm in your mind and your body.
We all need to achieve a happy and balanced state of well-being given our busy, multi-tasking and at times, stressful lives. So which type of meditation is right for you?
Movement Meditation is an active form of meditation that guides you to peace. Yoga is the most common form of moving meditation, “the inward breath takes you into each asana (yoga pose) and the exhalation takes you out of the asana”. Other types of active mediation include walking, running, tai chi, qigong or even gardening.
Short on time? This type of meditation can be especially useful if you walk to work or if you take 30 mins at lunch for a walk nearby the office. It's all about being at one with the moment and your breath, trying not to focus on your mental list of things to do after you finish.
Spiritual Meditation not dissimilar to prayer, when you seek spiritual growth and a deeper connection with your god or universe. Basking in the silence around you, essential oils are commonly used to heighten the experience, practiced at home or place of worship. Perhaps heading out at lunchtime for a drop in meditation class at your local Buddhist or yoga centre could be the perfect way to manage stress levels Monday to Friday.
Mindfulness Meditation is when you are present in the moment observing your thoughts non-judgmentally, with kindness and compassion and just allowing them to pass you by. This type of meditation can be practised not only in the quiet surroundings of your home but also on your commute on the train or bus, bringing you to a sense of calm before your work day begins.
Mantra Meditation is used to deepen your levels of awareness by repeating a mantra such as “Om”. Chanting (repeating) this mantra out loud or quietly in your mind for a period of time will allow you to become more in tune with your environment and at one with the universe. Well suited to those who don’t like silence and enjoy repetition.
Visualisation Meditation is where you visualise positive scenes or images to help calm your mind and enhance feelings of loving kindness. This technique can also be used to help you succeed at a goal (like getting a new job) or get you over the finish line.
Progressive Relaxation also known as scanning your body is aimed at reducing physical and mental tension. Slowly tightening and then relaxing body parts will bring an awareness to posture and tension you are holding onto so you can let it go. This form of meditation is excellent prior to sleep time.
Metta or Loving-kindness Meditation will help with acceptance toward yourself and others by strengthening feelings of love, kindness and compassion. As Buddha said ‘unless we treat ourselves with love and compassion, we cannot reflect the same on others.’ It is one of the most flexible forms of meditation and can be practiced anywhere and at any time. Take a few minutes each day and repeat praise words like “May I be well,” “May I be healthy,” “May I be at peace,” repeating the mantra 3 or 4 times. Once you get the hang of this then try and direct the same love and kindness to others. The practice has a long-lasting impact on our mind and our body and kick-starts a ripple effect of joy and positivity that is truly empowering.
Focused Meditation involves focusing on something, remaining in the present moment and slowing down the internal dialogue. For example; focusing on your internal breath or something external like a flickering candle, gong sound bath or counting mala beads.
Transcendental Meditation is popular and the subject of many scientific studies and really does require an instructor. In short, this type of meditation uses a mantra or series of words repeated over and over focusing only on the words not on the breath. Good for those who enjoy repetition.
So where do I start?
Your first experience with meditation will show you how quickly the mind gets caught up in other tasks. That's ok! It just helps reaffirm the importance of practicing mindful behaviours and the benefit of slowing down. For in this moment, we are learning to return to and remain in the present. Meditation will teach you to be anchored in the here and now without judgement or expectation.
Step 1. Find a quiet, comfortable and clutter free spot in your home, a place you can build up a relaxing vibe over time. Sit in an upright and comfortable position,”using a cushion or yoga block”, as this will help tilt your pelvis forward allowing your hips to relax. Wear comfortable and warm clothes, as sitting for longer periods can cool down your body temperature.
Step 2. Unless preferred, don’t worry too much about placing your hands and fingers into a mudra (a symbolic hand gesture). Just place them comfortably on your lap or knees.
Step 3. Allow for 2-5 minutes to begin with. “Perhaps set a timer?”, so you can see how the time frame feels, or if your schedule is tight, so you can fully relax and not check your clock during the meditation.
Step 4. Keep your mouth closed and try to breathe through your nose. Try and relax your facial muscles including your tongue.
Step 5. “Focusing on your breath, begin to relax, breathing in and out through your nose”. Just breathe, relax and allow your thoughts to pass you by. Adjust your posture if you feel any niggles in your body and when your mind wanders, just come back to the breath.
Step 6. Repeat daily and after a week or two, see if you are comfortable increasing the time by another 2-5 mins? Building slowly, in increments of time, until you reach 30 minutes to one hour meditation. You will start to see results over time if you remain committed. So please be patient with yourself and most importantly don’t judge yourself. Everyone experiences the inner chatter, even Buddhist monks.
While meditation won’t cure it all, it certainly provides much-needed mental space in our lives. Sometimes this is all we need to be able to make better choices for ourselves and our community. Allowing ourselves to mentally declutter and become more mindful of our behaviours can make space for setting the right intention in all we do.
Happiness really is a state of mind. Namaste.