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Meditation is the ancient practice of focusing the mind and breath to achieve a state of calm and tranquillity, originating in Buddhism. There are many meditation styles, but the most well-known is mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation involves sitting quietly in a comfortable position while you observe your thoughts without engaging or judging. Instead of forcing the mind to be still or quiet, it’s about learning to notice, accept and let go. It’s been compared to watching clouds drift by overhead, except you’re observing your thoughts instead.
Meditation means consciously deciding to tune out of our thoughts. This stems the flow of information to the brain, giving them a temporary rest, and long term can give us greater control about how we choose to let information affect us.
The frontal lobe is particularly affected by meditation, which is responsible for planning, emotions and language among other things. It has a similarly calming effect on the parietal lobe, which processes sensory information, and the thalamus, which regulates our alertness.
The long-term effects of this are scientifically proven to help us have better control over our stress, regulate our attention, increase our compassion for others and a plethora of other benefits.
There are so many different ways to meditate – from mindfulness meditation to regularly checking in with yourself throughout the day, to immersing yourself in nature.
If you’d like to dive straight in, here’s a simple step-by-step to your first mindfulness meditation.
Put on something comfortable and find a quiet space in your home, garden or local park where you won’t be disturbed. Get into a seated position. For some people, this might be cross-legged, for others a relaxed kneeling pose. You can even sit on a chair or the sofa.
Before you start, check-in with yourself – how do your muscles feel, what sounds can you hear, how does the ground feel against your skin? Then, start to notice your breathing, without changing it. Is it shallow or heavy? How does the air you’re breathing feel against your nostrils?
Set your timer for a few minutes and gently allow your eyes to close. When your mind begins to wander, let it go and return your focus to your breathing. Repeat this as often as you need to. Try not to have any expectations of yourself, and be patient.
Natural sounds and fresh air is wonderfully soothing for stressed out minds, and some find being outdoors makes meditating easier and more rewarding. Meditating in this way can also help us reconnect to the natural world through our senses.
Try sitting in a short mindfulness meditation in your garden or park, or go for an early morning walk around your neighbourhood, paying particular attention to things like birdsong, trees, the smell of the air, and the colours of the sky.
Or, If you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, grab your headphones, find a quiet spot and listen to this guided meditation which which will immerse you in a relaxing, natural soundscape. Researchers from University of Derby have found listening to this can deepen your connection to nature.
Thiền Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh writes: “If you see something that you want to stop and appreciate—the blue sky, the hills, a tree, or a bird—just stop, and continue to breathe in and out mindfully. If we don’t continue to breathe consciously, sooner or later our thinking will settle back in, and the bird and the tree will disappear.”
Outside of regular practice, there are many other ways that you can build meditative moments into your daily life.
For instance, when we’re hanging up wet clothes on the washing line, we can clear our minds to focus on how the birds sounds, the damp feeling of the fabric in our hands, the smell of the grass, or the way the wind rustles through the trees, while also focusing on our breath. This attentive focus can bring remarkable moments of calm and peace throughout your day.
Try meditating for just 60 seconds to begin with, before working your way up to five minutes, then 10, then 20. It might not feel like much, but even a few minutes a day is dramatically better for you than zero.
It’s a myth that you can only meditate cross-legged on the floor. In fact, when your body is uncomfortable, it’s harder to relax your mind, so put on your comfiest clothes and use as many props or cushions as you need to feel supported and relaxed – you can even sit on the sofa if you like! Just make sure you’re sitting upright to help curb any desire to fall asleep.
If you’re finding mindfulness meditation particularly difficult, there are plenty of other styles you can try. There’s walking meditation, where you focus intently on each step you’re taking, loving-kindness meditation, mantra meditation, transcendental meditation, and lots more. See if another type of meditation might work better for you.
Be patient, and remember that the more you practice meditating, the easier it gets. It’s called ‘practice’ for a reason! Some people say that the more difficult you find meditating, the more you’re getting out of it, and that even the simple act of deciding to meditate can bring benefits in and of itself.