“Meditation? Really?” The guy across from me raised an eyebrow and looked like I’d just asked him to join me in a séance. We’d chatted through the ins and outs of his anxiety for nearly an hour and now it was time to talk about what might help. Meditation, I’d told him, might just be a winner.
Before you run for the ironically sunlit meditation-ready mountains, we need to chat. Meditation is now modern medicine, and it turns out it’s got some big benefits for both our physical and (especially) our mental health. From heart health to chronic pain, to depression and stress management, practicing a daily meditation is solid science. So press pause on Netflix, throw down a cushion and set Spotify to “Whale Sounds” (it’s a thing and, you’re welcome) because here’s a run-down on a modern day meditation to get that mind back on track.
It’s All In The Breath
One of the most common and simple forms of meditation to start with is a breathing meditation. Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind completely or reaching some out-of-body bliss state. The key is to focus our mind’s eye on the now, and gently bring it back when it wanders. The breath is a great way to do this, but for those who find it a bit claustrophobic or an anxiety trigger, this might not be the one for you. Instead of a focus on the breath, gentle attention to sounds in the room or the details of a chosen object can bring benefit too.
Practice Makes Perfect
The mental gains from a daily meditation are in consistency. Even a few minutes can offer benefits, but it’s something that needs to be done daily. The time to feel a difference is individual, but even a few weeks often helps reduce stress levels, improve sleep and help alleviate anxiety. The very start or end to a day can be a good time to make sure it’s done, but pick a time, lock it in and get going.
The Right Spot
I know when I said meditation you immediately thought of lotus pose on a cliff top at dawn. Well, luckily for us (because my legs just won’t bend that way) these things are added extras, not necessary ingredients, when it comes to meditation. It can help focus the mind and body to sit up straight at the edge of a couch or chair if you need to, but the position you’re in or how you do it is less important.
Chose a quiet space that’s free from distractions where possible – some calm background music helps, but for most, silence is the way to go. Aim for comfortable clothing and a room temp that won’t have you sweating bullets or goosebumps interrupting your zen. To start with, even two minutes is a good place to be – set an alarm on your phone and know that this will be hard to start with. Thankfully, your meditation muscle will grow over time and it’ll get easier (and longer) as you go.
The key to a basic breathing meditation is just that, breathing. Slow the breath and relax into its natural rhythm – it’s important to not make controlling or forcing it part of the practice. Breathing in through the nose is a trick that often works to slow things down and calm us, but whether it’s in through the nose and out the mouth or any other combo the key here is make it comfortable. Track each breath in and then out, with a light focus on how it moves and feels. A tip is to rest your attention on the feel of the air as it moves past the tip of your nose or lips.
Now that you’re comfortable and breathing gently, the meditation part begins. Keep this gentle focus and track the breath over and over as it moves gently in and out. When a thought, mental image or distraction comes your way (which it will) it’s not about shoving it from our mind or feeling we’ve lost the flow – all it takes is a gentle reminder that we’ve wandered away from tracking the breath and to direct attention back to it. This, my friend, is meditation, and its key to mental benefits we get from it.