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What is meditation?

With so many Instagram influencers and YouTube wellbeing guru’s raving about the miracle practise of meditation, it begs the question; what the hell is it? The concept of meditation is simple: it’s the mindful practise of bringing yourself into the present moment. But being present in the mind and body is a skill and although the theory is easy to grasp, the practise takes patience. 

Think of it like your first trip to the gym, exercising a muscle for the first time to build up strength. It’s all about patience. A meditative state is achieved by using a range of techniques to help focus on the here and now, for example, breathwork, focusing on a particular object, thought or sensation or simply bringing your awareness to your movements. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not about completely turning off your thoughts or feelings, it’s about learning to observe them from afar without judgement and allowing them to pass through.

The benefits

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Enhances self-awareness
  • Increases self-efficacy
  • Lowers blood pressure 
  • Lengthen attention span and concentration
  • Aids sleep

Types of meditation

Most commonly meditation is associated with mindfulness but there are many different types of meditation to try depending on what you are aiming to achieve as different methods give different benefits to the mind and body.

1.  Mindfulness meditation 

Mindfulness meditation, originating from Buddhist teachings, is the most practised form of meditation in the western world. But how is it done? To practise mindful meditation, you must pay attention to your thoughts, watching them from afar as if watching the clouds drift by in the sky above. Don’t judge these thoughts or associate them with your being, you are not your thoughts, and they are not you, simply observe. Usually, people focus their attention on a sound or sensation to anchor themselves into the present moment, this could be the breath or scanning part of the body to notice any sensation.

2. Focused meditation 

Focused meditation may sound simple but is so effective in lengthening the attention span and clearing the mind of mental clutter. As the brain Is a muscle, building concentration takes training. Using tools to access the five senses can help sharpen the minds focus, counting mala beads or listening to a gong, and if at any point the mind wanders to a thought as silly as what ever happened to those spotty socks I used to wear years ago, refocus the mind and come back to your anchor. The more you practise, the easier it becomes.

3. Movement meditation

Typically, when people hear the term ‘movement meditation’ their mind often associates it with yoga, however, there are other methods to develop body awareness, such as, walking, tai chi and gardening. The theory is that the movements help you to connect deeper with the body, feeling the sensations of the movement and anchoring into the present moment. Movement meditation is gentle exercise that also promotes wellbeing and is proven to boost your mood. Next time you go out for a dog walk practise movement meditation by staying present with the gentle exercise, scanning the body and enjoy the process.

4. Mantra meditation

Mantra meditation is an alternative to mindfulness meditation for those who don’t enjoy the silence of a breathing anchor. Allow the one-syllable word or sound (must people use “om”) to vibrate through your core, connecting your mind and your body through gentle movement and deep awareness. The use of a mantra can also promote peacefulness as the sounds can be really relaxing. And when thoughts arrive, let them come and go and refocus on your mantra.

5. Transcendental meditation

Founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, this type of meditation has been widely researched and is designed to quiet the mind and relax the body into peacefulness. Unlike mantra meditation where the sound is spoken aloud, the mantra is repeated silently in your head. You can choose a phrase or sound to repeat whilst you close your eyes and relax into the present moment. This phrase could be to enhance your mood or increase motivation for the day.

6. Progressive relaxation

Also known as the body scan meditation, progressive relaxation is designed to relax and alleviate the mind and body of tension, and therefore a great way to kick those restless nights of tossing and turning! Progressive relaxation is carried out by slowly tightening one muscle group and then relaxing the muscles one at a time throughout the body. Oftentimes people visualise a gentle wave flowing through the body to aid the freeing of tension.

7. Loving-kindness meditation

This meditation is great for those who wish to develop personally or spiritually by strengthening their feelings of love, kindness, acceptance and compassion either towards themselves or others. Typically, this involves thinking of someone and sending them love and your best wishes, then extending this to other family members, friends and acquaintances until eventually extending to all other living beings. This help relieves negative feelings towards others, perhaps jealousy or anger and resentment. In turn, this helps relax the muscles of tension caused by holding onto bad feelings.

8. Visualisation meditation 

Visualisation meditation is a technique designed to lift a person’s mood, reduce feelings of anxiety and enhance peacefulness. This is achieved by visualising a positive scene, going deeper into the scene by imaging the 5 senses, what can you see, smell, hear, feel, taste? In some cases, people visualise a person whose qualities they wish to embody. Alternatively, another technique is to visualise yourself achieving a goal, with the intention of going into as much detail as possible and feeling the positive emotions that the visualisation stimulates. This is done to increase your motivation towards achieving your goals and boost your mood.

Beginner’s Guide

The beauty of meditation is that it doesn’t require anything to get started, just yourself. It all starts with you. It may be easier for beginners to listen to a guided meditation or follow a teacher, but this is not compulsory to get started.  Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable spot, maybe under the old apple tree in your garden or on your favourite beanbag in your room. Set a time limit, it may be that as a beginner 5 minutes is plenty, in time you can then work this number up to 10, 15, 20 once you master your practise. Close your eyes, scan your body and become aware of the present moment, using your breath to anchor yourself if your mind wanders. 

The action of coming back to the present moment is what trains your mind, so don’t be disheartened if at first, you find yourself wandering into the past or worrying over the future. Breaking negative habits and thought patterns takes time.