Life can be hard. There's no two ways about it. Whether it's relationships, work, keeping your goldfish alive or paying the bills, adulting brings with it its own special kind of stress. Thankfully, there is a way to take back control.
Stats show that meditation is one of the most popular forms of wellbeing therapy, with 26% of UK adults claiming to have tried it. Look closer, and the figures are skewed more towards men, with 30% of guys attempting to find their zen, compared with 18% of women.
With a never-ending stream of classes, apps, YouTube guides and even a couple of Netflix specials, it's never been easier to get your ohm on.
Never tried it before? Don't worry, there's a first time for everything. In fact, as a beginner, you have a whole exciting journey ahead of you.
Worried you won't do it 'right'? Well, don't be. There isn't a 'right' way to meditate – the aim is just to try. Ready? Take a deep breath, and let's begin.
What Is Meditation?
In films and on TV, meditation is usually depicted as some out-there idea where people sit around crossed legged chanting while listening to whale music. And while that is meditation, it isn't the only form.
"Meditation has a lot of definitions, but it's widely understood as the practice of enabling a particular, usually clearer, state of mind," explains Will Hargreaves, CEO of UK Therapy Guide.
There are various types of meditation – from mindfulness to yoga. But, similar to journaling, one thing they all share is the aim of providing a small break from the tensions and stresses of the world.
Meditate regularly, and you'll begin to build a quiet place to retreat to where you can calm your body and mind, and then reap all the benefits that come with your new-found zen.
Benefits Of Meditation
Increased Focus And Attention
Mind always wandering? Some quiet time could be the answer. "Practicing mindfulness and paying attention for short periods of time enables you to take this into daily life," says Hargreaves. It has been shown that mindfulness enhances general concentration levels, and there's even evidence to suggest that the practice can help change the brain's architecture for the better.
Taking time out of your day to clear your mind allows you to recharge and reset, but only if you do it right. "Though taking breaks at work or during other busy points in life is encouraging, thoughts often follow the person into the break, meaning you're not fully relaxing," says Hargreaves. If you can, carve out time just for you in a space where you can be calm, quiet, and comfortable.
Greater Emotional Control
Learning to be aware of how you feel enables you to process moods and move on from negative ones more efficiently. "A compassionate view of one's feelings, increases self-awareness, objectivity and control," says Hargreaves. Some of the most important findings on the topic show that mindfulness can benefit people's regulation and acceptance of emotions. Handy if you find yourself becoming angry over the constant flow of work emails.
Best of all, getting distance from your thoughts allows you to react to them in a more considered manner. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction, you can choose how to respond. "Daily meditation helps the mind's response to stressful events, allowing for objectivity and choice of coping mechanisms," explains Hargreaves. "A recent study of two groups showed that those who meditated had greater control over their stress than those who didn't."
Boosted Productivity And Creativity
We all know taking a quiet moment is vital for stopping the creeping feeling of burnout. What many don't realise, though, is that doing less is, in fact, an untapped way of getting more done. "Studies have shown that meditation can quite literally open someone's mind to new ways of thinking and concentrating, which in turn means they can be more productive."
Types Of Meditation
Body Scan Meditation
A simple one for beginners, this technique requires you to 'scan' your body from head to toe, making a mental note of the different sensations you feel. "These can be physical, such as aches and pains, or stimuli, such as the heart-gripping feeling of stress," says Hargreaves. Practicing body scan meditation teaches you to better identify your feelings and turn your observations into actions that positively impact your life or mood.
Best for: Meditation newbies
Whereas body scan meditation focuses on the internal, mindfulness usually focuses on the external, allowing the mind to become more present. "Mindfulness is the practice of becoming a silent witness to sights, noises, and even thoughts and feelings. By observing without reacting to what passes through your consciousness, your mind becomes still and calm."
Best for: Long-term enlightenment
Meditation is hard. Give yourself a helping hand by letting someone else talk you through it. "Either by an app or a pre-recorded podcast or Spotify track, a meditation practitioner leads you gently into a meditative state," explains Hargreaves. "Both concentrating on the person's voice and taking the directions help. The practitioner will give you simple things to focus on or notice to still your mind." In other words, all you have to do is press play, do as you're told, and try not to let your mind wander.
Best for: Guys on the go
Sometimes our mind is so full of thoughts that we need something to snap us out of it in a hurry. Focusing on a mantra or an environmental stimulus can quickly draw our attention from our thoughts to something else. "This can be achieved by either repeating a word (a 'mantra') or focusing on a simple sound, often your own breathing," says Hargreaves. "By diverting the mind purely onto one particular thing, you remove other thoughts from your mind, allowing the mind to clear." Stick with it if it doesn't happen straight away, this one takes practice.
Best for: A quick calm-down
The best thing about meditation is that you can do it anytime, anywhere. You can even incorporate it into your daily activities like hoovering or going for a run. The best way to combine mindfulness and movement is through yoga, with stretches and breathing work used to calm the body and release muscular tension. "It involves performing simple motions with the body that focus the mind on the activity in a calming way," says Hargreaves. In-person and online classes are a great way to begin. Like all forms of meditation, you'll gain an increasing sense of satisfaction as you master both the movements and the breath.Best for: Releasing bodily tension
Basic Meditation For Beginners
Hopefully, none of what you've read so far seems overwhelming. Yes, there are many different ways to meditate, but no one expects you to memorise them all, or be a pro.
It took the Buddha years of meditating under a tree to achieve a state of enlightenment, so cut yourself some slack if your mind keeps wandering to what you're having for dinner.
At its core, meditation is about taking a few quiet minutes (or even 30 seconds) to focus on the thoughts and feelings in your head and body.
To help you get you started, Hargreaves shares his favourite meditation routine.
- Find somewhere quiet to sit or lie down and close your eyes.
- Deeply breath in and out, counting each breath. Breathe in on one and out on two, in on three, etc.
- Count to ten without letting your mind wander. If it does, go back to one. After a couple of goes, you quite quickly learn to stay focused.
- When you reach 10, ask (in your head), 'I wonder what my next thought will be?' and wait for a thought. It's tough for the mind to create a thought on the spot, so it gives you space to keep your mind clear.
- Once you are in this state, enjoy it, and try to stay there as an observer.
- Watch for thoughts and feelings by being interested in what will come next. Imagine you are on top of a mountain looking down on your mind from above, letting thoughts and feelings go without interacting, or often not thinking at all.
Keep In Mind
Like journaling, there's no right way to meditate. And because there's no right way, it's impossible to do it wrong, too. By slowing down and taking a few minutes to check in with yourself, you can reset your mind and calm your body. This will benefit you in a number of ways, from improved sleep and concentration to a general feeling of wellbeing and having 'recharged your batteries.' Just remember, meditation is practice. Don't beat yourself up if your mind wanders or if you find it difficult to concentrate – you'll get there eventually.