It feels like these days, everybody and there dog is preaching about mental health and how we all should be a little more mindful. I’m right up there with them, I love a bit of cheeky mental health awareness!
With this increasing focus on mental health and meditation apps being released left right and centre, I’ve heard more and more people say how they just don’t get it because they can’t ‘silence their mind’ or they just don’t have time to sit there and do nothing. This stems from those people just not really knowing how to do meditation, because let me tell you something, there are loads of ways you can meditate and you’re definitely capable of finding a way that works for you.
The Ancient Myth of Silencing the Mind
This is the thing I hear most from my non-meditating friends. This idea that you have to sit cross legged on a cushion, thumb and index finger pressed together and the words ‘ohm’ escaping your lips. The ill-conceived notion that the only way to meditate is to not think, like at all, completely eradicate all thought and feeling and then somehow you’ll find inner peace.
Meditation is not about pushing away every thought that pops into your head, it’s about calming the mind and giving you clarity, not gagging it into submission.
So, How to do Meditation?
There are many different ways you can calm and tame the mind, some of which require you to sit, eyes closed in a place you feel comfortable, but there are some you can do on the go! I thought I’d throw together a few of the main ways you can start to explore meditation and start to figure out how you can fit it into your busy schedule.
Focusing on the Breath
This is my personal favourite and it’s gotten me out of a fair few public anxiety attacks over the years. Focusing on your breathing is one of the easiest and more popular ways to meditate. You can do it anywhere, anytime and you don’t even need to close your eyes if you don’t want to!
Apps like Calm are amazing for this technique as they can offer either a guided exercise or you can go free range using the ‘timed meditation’ feature. Simply focus all of your attention on how your body feels breathing in and how it feels breathing out. Do your shoulders rise when you take a big breath in? Can you feel your rib cage drop when you breath out? Where can you feel the breath strongest? In the back of your throat, nostrils or belly?
Tip: Keep your eyes open if this is your first time and simply watch your chest rise and fall as you breath in and out. The visual aid might make it a little easier to focus!
Where can you do it? – Anywhere, excellent for on a commute, in the office, in school or university, in a restaurant. Many times, people won’t even notice you’re doing it!
Another favourite, this is great if you suffer with insomnia or you’re just looking to get to sleep a bit easier. This type is best to do with a meditation app that offers body scanning meditation, as it just keeps you on track.
The idea is that you scan your body, from head to toe, noticing how each body part feels. For example, you will start at the very top of your scalp and make a note if you can feel any sensations, such as tingling or slight pressure. You then move down to your jaw, your face, throat, neck, shoulders etc. At every new body part, stop and think about how it feels.
You can choose whether you just want to notice how you’re feeling, or relax each part once you’ve finished analysing, to fall into a deep relaxation.
Tip: Apps that are great for body scanning are Headspace and Calm. You can also do it without a guide, just move down slowly and make sure there isn’t an area on your body you haven’t focused on.
Where can you do it? – This one is best to do somewhere quiet, either lying down or sat up straight in a chair. It’s a lot easier to do with your eyes closed, so choose somewhere you feel fairly comfortable.
Daily Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness and meditation are pretty much the same, with a few tweaks here and there. Mindfulness is not about silencing the mind, it is about noticing how busy it is and trying to tame those thoughts, so you can gain a better sense of clarity.
If you’re someone who sits down to meditate and instantly has about 700 thoughts bombard their brain, then mindfulness will help you sort out that jumble of crazy and put things into perspective.
Daily mindfulness practice has a whole world of benefits, from making you happier and more energetic, to helping you appreciate the little things and not sweat the bigger things. Simply making a mental note of what you’re grateful for every day, eating mindfully or even taking some time to meditate and sort out hectic thoughts, can all have a dramatic effect on how you feel within yourself.
Tip: A few ways you can practice mindfulness within your normal day are:
- Eating slower and noticing all the flavours within your food.
- Turning off your music during a commute or walk and simply listening to the natural sounds around you.
- Limiting your social media usage to certain times of the day.
- Creating a journal to sort through the days thoughts and feelings.
- Make a note of how you feel in the morning and then again before you go to bed. Then, think back over your day and try and pinpoint the things that have happened. What has contributed to how you feel at the end of the day? Compare it to how you felt at the beginning. This is a great way to start to notice the things in our lives that have either a negative or positive effect on our wellbeing.
Fitness and Exercise
This is often one that nobody wants to hear, yes, working out actually does improve your mental health, I’m sorry, you’re gonna have to get your exercise game on guys.
I was in denial about this for a number of years, but through mindfulness I’ve noticed that if I skip my workouts for a week or even 2 weeks, my mood is low, I’m more irritable, I’m more bloated and as a result I have more negative thoughts.
Finding a workout that you genuinely enjoy is the most important factor in building a successful workout regime. If you hate what you’re doing, A) it’s actually going to have a negative effect on your mental health because you’re not enjoying your life as you should and B) you probably won’t workout as hard as when you’re doing something you love.
You don’t have to stick with that one workout for the rest of your life, you may go through stages where you love running, then you get bored and decide spinning is your jam. That’s ok! You don’t have to do the same types of workout every single week. As long as you’re challenging your body and getting your heart pumping, you’re working out.
Tip: Create a few different playlists, all with different tempos and different genres. For example, when I’m lifting weights, I prefer rap or hip-hop because it makes me feel powerful. When I’m running or doing high intensity cardio, I go for something a little faster in tempo like dance or house music.
Meditation is so much more than what many people perceive it to be and yes, it really does make a huge difference to your mental health. All it takes is 10 minutes a day and if you can’t fit in a full 10 minutes you can always break it up into 2x 5 minute meditations.
Download a few apps, try different techniques and read up as much as you can on meditation and why it works the way it does, you’ll be sure to notice a massive difference in no time!