A beginner’s guide: Meditation for calming the mind
It’s fair to say that the last year has left us all facing extra anxiety and uncertainty. It’s also left many of us asking: how can we keep our emotions in check and avoid full-blown panic?
If you’re struggling to cope with the stress, you may find meditation can help calm your mind and emotions.
And we know what you’re thinking here - ‘How can I possibly prioritise this when I lead such a busy life?’ But meditation doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming.
Simply follow the tips and advice below to help you feel instantly calmer, collected and more focused.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a simple practice that can reduce stress levels, improve sleep quality and help a person find more joy in life.
There are many different types of meditation (for example mindfulness) but essentially they all involve focusing on the breath to bring the body into a state of relaxation while bringing the mind into the present moment.
Evidence shows that it can help with a number of problems, such as recurrent depression, anxiety disorders, addictive behaviour, chronic pain and many more mental and physical problems. WW has more advice on the health benefits of meditation here.
How often should I do it?
It’s best to approach meditation much like anything else in life: start small, build up slowly and find your own personal sweet spot. For some people, this may be just five or ten minutes. To begin with, the most important thing is finding a time which feels achievable and keeps you feeling motivated.
If sitting still is too hard at first, you could also try and build it into your daily routine:
1. As soon as you wake up in the morning, rather than rushing to get up, pause long enough for three whole breaths to pass quite naturally. It will only take a few seconds, but it will set the tone for the day ahead.
2. When you brush your teeth, make it an exercise in mindfulness. Rather than simply thinking about everything you may have to do that day, direct your attention to the physical sensations, such as the smells and taste. In time it can feel like a mini meditation.
3. Be mindful of your breathing when starting a new activity. Before a Zoom meeting try taking two minutes of silence and be attentive to your breathing, try taking a few mindful breaths before entering a room, or focus on your breath before starting your exercise routine.
4. Take a moment before going to bed to appreciate something good that has happened in the day. It may sound a little clichéd, but it feels really nice and immediately brings the mind into the present.
Headspace is a global leader in meditation and mindfulness. They provide curated content for WW members, available in the app, so you can meditate any time, anywhere!
You can start with meditation basics or a specific technique targeting stress, sleep or mindful eating. They’re all short and simple to fit into your busy schedule.
Where is the best place to do it?
The beauty of meditation lies in its simplicity. In theory, it can be done anywhere, although a quiet space, free of clutter, is always better.
Aim to find somewhere (your bedroom, the park, your car) where you won’t be disturbed, and where you can allow yourself to fully relax.
How should I sit?
You don’t have to sit cross-legged, repeatedly saying “ohhhmmm” out loud to successfully meditate.
While some people choose to sit like this, many simply meditate sitting in a chair with hands on their laps. Sitting toward the front of the chair will help with the correct posture: back straight, neck relaxed, chin slightly tucked in.
My house is just too noisy!
Many beginners believe a library-like-hush should greet every meditation session, which leaves them extra sensitive to every little distraction and sound.
It’s important to know you don’t have to sit in total silence; you are simply meant to settle into your environment with all its accompanying sounds, be it a busy road outside, birds chirping, or a noisy neighbour. Rather than dwelling on these sounds, or trying to block them out – allow them to come and go without resistance.
What happens if my mind drifts off?
Many people give up with meditating as they can’t stop their busy thoughts, however one of the most important things to remember, is that meditation isn’t about having an empty mind.
The moment you realize you’re lost in thought, that’s awareness, and that’s when you return to the object of focus (usually the breath). This is all you have to keep doing - return from your distracted thought to the breath, all the time honing your awareness. With perseverance, the periods between awareness and distraction will get longer and longer.
Now try it yourself
If you are interested in trying mindfulness meditation, this simple practice is a great place to start.
It takes just three minutes, making it easy to slot into your day – just make sure that whenever you choose to do it, you’re comfortable and in a quiet space.
1. Sit in an upright chair or stand and close your eyes
2. Tune into your breathing and ask yourself: ‘What am I thinking right now? What feelings do I notice? What bodily sensations can I sense (for example, a stiff neck)?’ Don’t try to change anything; just acknowledge these sensations – then let them go.
3. Narrow your focus to the sensations of breathing in your abdomen, expanding as you breathe in and falling back as you breathe out
4. Focus on being aware of your whole body and its place in the room – think of it as your whole body breathing
5. Slowly move your fingers and toes, open your eyes and continue your day, refreshed
For an alternative three-minute exercise, which focuses on the breath, visit the WW website.