Stay in the moment with these seven different ways to try meditation, for each day of the week
Meditation has come a long way since it was first considered a hippy fad where people sat cross-legged and thought deeply. Nowadays, it’s a routine part of keeping feelings of anxiety and stress at bay, with a celeb following of the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah. And, its popularity has only risen. In 2014, the question: ‘how to meditate’ was the fourth most-searched term powered by Google. Plus, 72 percent of GPs consider learning mindfulness meditation skills helpful for patients with mental health problems, according to NHS Mersey Care. Here’s how you can try it for yourself.
“Meditation is a practice that helps you control your mind and focus on the present moment,” explains David James Lees, taoist monk and meditation teacher (wuweiwisdom.com). “There are thousands of different forms of meditation and many have their roots in ancient eastern philosophical, religious or healthcare practices. Many meditation techniques are simple to learn and are great for beginners. There are also a large number of non-religious forms of meditation that anyone can practice, regardless of their background, faith or beliefs. Mindfulness is a popular form of meditation, which involves intentionally focusing on the ‘here and now’. Other meditation techniques use the breath, visualisations, repetition of affirmations and mantras, and even physical movement.”
“A big part of meditation involves training your mind to slow down, so your thoughts get quieter,” says Jody Shield, meditation ambassador for Lululemon and author of Self- Care for the Soul: Power Up Your Brightest, Boldest, Happiest You (£9.99, Yellow Kite).
“This is achieved by giving your mind something else to focus on, such as your breathing, or a certain point in your body. When your inner world slows down, your outer world does too, and you become more present. One of the benefits is that you become more productive. This might sound counterintuitive, but it means less time wasted, more focus and faster problem-solving.” Plus, Jody points out that there are many scientifically proven benefits of meditation too, including:
• Reduced reactivity of the amygdala – the fight-or-flight response – as meditation calms your brain and reduces the dangerous side effects of chronic stress on the body.
• Increased activity in the prefrontal cortex: this helps to regulate your emotions and reduce stress.
• Increased compassion: meditation alters the parts of the brain responsible for empathy.
• Increased focus and sharpened concentration.
• Decreased anxiety: the parts of the brain responsible for regulating thoughts about yourself are altered.
“Everyone struggles to concentrate,” reassures Martin Alyward, mindfulness expert (martinaylward.com). “It’s the mind’s nature to be active. Thoughts flow by habit and by stimulation. In meditation, we’re not trying to stop that flow, but rather to step back from it. It’s not that you shouldn’t get lost in thought, but rather that meditation allows you to notice when you are caught up, and to step out of the loop. With practice this gets easier, but with regular practice, you’ll very quickly notice differences in your mind, and in your decreasing levels of anxiety and distraction.”
1. Breath meditation
“Sit somewhere comfortable with your feet flat on the floor, your back straight and your hands resting on your lap,” says Justine Curlis, mindfulness coach (thelunahive. com). “With your eyes closed, notice where you can feel the sensations of your breath most vividly (usually your abdomen, chest or nostrils) and rest your attention on feeling the sensation of each breath, in and out. When your attention wanders from your breath to a thought, notice the thought’s content and without judging this, bring your awareness back to your breath. Do this for a few minutes a day and gradually increase the duration until you can sit for 10 minutes, or more.”
2. Walking meditation
“Choose a suitable location, such as your hallway or garden, where you can walk several steps in a straight line,” advises Justine. “Before you start walking, take a moment to breath in and out and feel the sensations of your feet making contact with the ground. Breathing in, take a slow step forward and feel how the sensations change in your feet and legs as your heel lifts off the ground. Do the same with your next foot, feeling into the sensations of both feet and legs. After taking several steps, pause, breath in and out, turn around and repeat these steps as you walk back to your starting point. When you get used to this, you can bring the same awareness to walking at a regular pace when out and about.”
3. Ch’an meditation
“Ch’an combines Buddhism with Daoism (Chinese philosophy) and the teachings of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, but it’s not a religion,” explains Shifu Shi Heng Dao, a Shaolin Buddhist master (shihengdao.com). “The aim is to cultivate a life free of complication, and develop wisdom and compassion toward all sentient beings. To try it, start with a breathing meditation and mentally count your breaths in rounds of 10. Focussing on counting gives your rational, analytical mind a task so that your thoughts don’t wander. In time, move on to following the breath into your body. Practitioners gain calmness, good focus and of course, the ultimate goal is enlightenment.”
4. Gratitude meditation
“When you wake, stretch your arms and think of one thing you are grateful to have,” advises Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness (FT Publishing, £14.99). “Stretch your legs and think of one person you are grateful to know. Finally, stretch your whole body and think of one thing you are looking forward to today. This keeps you focused in the here and now.”
5. Language-focused meditation
“Instead of seeing things as good and bad, right or wrong, tell yourself this can all be dependent on context,” says Dr Audrey. “Rather, by looking at an action as effective or ineffective in the pursuit of your desired outcome, you’ll become focused on what you want to achieve, as well as removing unnecessary, emotional weight from your behaviours.”
6. Inner-smile meditation
“Smile to yourself and then imagine extending this warm smile to every organ and muscle of your body,” says David. “Hold your attention on each part of your body until it begins to relax and soften.”
7. Loving-kindness meditation
“Imagine sending love and kindness to yourself,” says David. “Then extend this feeling of compassion out to a good friend, a neutral person, and someone you are having difficulty with, and then finally send it out the entire universe.”
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