Meditation for mindfulness
If you thought meditation was all about shaving your head and a bunch of “Ommm” chants, we've got news for you. Meditation has become a key tool in the busy, stressful lives of many professionals. Used to rebalance, relax and de-stress mind and body, it's one of the best ways to clear your mind. Combine meditation with a healthy diet and exercise regime and you'll have a healthy body and mind in no time. But what does meditation involve, how can you get started and what can it do for you? Trust us to give it to you straight.
What is meditation?
Meditation is defined as 'a way to transform the mind.' The practice comes from Buddhism, and Buddhists believe that taking responsibility for our own state of mind and changing it for the better will help us to be happier. Buddhist meditation techniques encourage you to develop clarity, concentration, calm and emotional positivity. You'll learn to see things as they truly are, let go of stress and cultivate a more positive outlook.
There are many different kinds of meditations to try, but all have similar techniques, focusing on breathing. Two of the most common are The Mindfulness of Breathing and Loving Kindness meditations.
Learning to meditate
If you can afford to (and if you live in an area where they're available), meditation classes are the best way to learn how to meditate. Whether you're looking to focus on improving your concentration, relieving stress or just achieving a calmer state of mind, a meditation class can help you to achieve this. By attending a class, you'll be less likely to pick up bad habits and more likely to commit to regular meditation practice – you'll also have a chance to meet new, like-minded friends.
If classes aren't an option for you, don't worry. You can meditate at home without any specialist equipment. Use a guided video – we love YouTube for this – podcast, CD or app to keep you motivated. The Headspace app is one of our favourites as it introduces you to the basics of meditation gently, with guided meditations for every day of the week. It's free to download and you can always upgrade to the paid version once you're hooked!
How to meditate
When you sit down to meditate, you'll need to ensure three things:
- That you're comfortable
- That you are warm enough
- That you have a quiet space in which to practice
Whilst a cushion on the floor is the best option – the ideal posture is sitting cross-legged – you could use a comfortable chair or kneel on the floor if this is better for you. Your meditation sessions should be short to begin with. There is no point starting with a 20-minute session as you'll find it impossible to focus. Start small; no more than two to three minutes a day, and build up slowly, as you would with any exercise routine.
Begin by taking a few long, slow, deep breaths, focusing on your breathing in and out as you close your eyes. Then let your teacher, app or audio track guide you. Some people worry too much about clearing their mind of all thoughts during meditation, when the trick is actually to simply relax and focus on your breathing. It's nearly impossible to completely empty your mind of thoughts and stressing about this is counter-productive to what you're trying to achieve. Instead, let your thoughts wash over you, flowing freely in and out of your mind, but refusing to focus on any of them.
What can meditation do for me?
Regularly meditating can help you to be more mindful, more connected to the present moment, and you'll experience things more fully. Because you focus all your attention on your breathing, it can also help to aid restlessness and anxiety, whilst helping you to relax. Here are a few other health benefits of meditation you probably didn't know about:
- It boosts your immune system. Relaxing can boost your immune system and strengthen your resistance to viruses
- It gives you emotional balance. Becoming more mentally and emotionally balanced can cure unhealthy emotional states and help you to have healthier relationships
- It lowers blood pressure. Meditation makes your body less responsive to stress hormones which can help lower your blood pressure, decreasing your risk of heart disease and stroke
- It reduces inflammation caused by stress. Inflammation has been linked to psoriasis and other skin conditions as well as asthma, arthritis and heart disease
Mindfulness of Breath Meditation
This is one of the most commonly taught meditations and it helps to restore balance to body and mind. You'll notice you feel more alert, refreshed and focused after your meditation; it can also boost your energy levels. Spend around three to four minutes on each stage of the meditation and build up slowly.
- Stage 1 – Using counting to focus on your breathing, count one as you breathe out, then breathe in and out and count two. Repeat until you reach ten, then begin again at one
- Stage 2 – In this stage, you count before taking a breath in, going from one to ten and then repeating
- Stage 3 – In the third stage, stop counting and instead just focus on your breath as it comes in and goes out. Many people find this the most deeply relaxing stage of the meditation
- Stage 4 – Narrow your concentration and focus (mentally) on the top of your nose, being aware of when breath enters and leaves your body
When you finish your session, open your eyes slowly and sit for another minute or two, focusing on your breathing as you gradually become fully alert. You can download instructions for the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation from the Buddhist Centre website.
When should I meditate?
There is no right or wrong time to meditate. Some people choose to meditate first thing in the morning as they feel it sets them up for a more relaxed, mindful day. But you may prefer to take a few minutes out of your day at lunchtime, before or after a lunchtime workout, or meditate at the end of a long day. Did we mention meditation can promote a restful night's sleep? Don't worry if you initially feel sleepy after meditating, it can take a while for your body to adapt.
If you're thinking, “I don't have time to meditate,” then stop right there. There are no excuses! Why not try one-minute meditation? Everyone can afford to take one minute of of their day, whether you work from home or in a busy office. You'll feel the benefits instantly and this is a great, gentle introduction to longer meditation sessions.
Meditation has a range of health benefits for everyone to enjoy, and it can be a great way to unwind from the stresses of everyday life. We challenge all of you to try it for a week – and do let us know how you get on in the comments below or on Twitter!