Meditation for beginners – 7 top tips
If you're new to meditation or not quite ready to join a week-long retreat, you can start reaping the benefits of this exercise now, right in your lounge room.
How long should you meditate for?
You don’t need to meditate every waking hour, seven days a week – let alone in silence – to experience tangible brain changes that benefit mood, outlook and capacity to cope with life’s vicissitudes.
Emotional resilience is among the greatest perks. While the optimal daily dosage for meditation is still being researched, most controlled studies demonstrate measurable positive changes in brain functioning, mood and behaviour from those practising a minimum of 20 minutes per day. Meditation can also act as a micro holiday, restoring perspective.
What are the health benefits of meditation?
“It is getting to the stage that just to function well, and to keep functioning well, we need to enhance our mental functioning, which helps to reduce stress (mental, emotional and physical) and the main way to do this is through meditation,” says John Barter, psychologist and meditation teacher, who has produced an at-home guided meditation CD.
If you’re thinking all this is fine for ‘those people’ (you know, the ones whose minds won’t blag on from the moment they sit on the cushion; the ones who aren’t as busy or outgoing as you; the ones who…), stop selling yourself excuses. Fact is, we are all able to meditate and deduce immense, measurable benefits, says clinical psychologist Dr Paula Watkins.
“I believe we are all natural meditators, in that it is a basic function of the human mind to pay attention,” she says.
“We can all train our mind and shape our brain in ways that enhance our wellbeing.” If the thought of sitting alone with your mind sounds just enough to drive you mad, it’s likely you’re misunderstanding the science and purpose behind meditation.
“People are often put off or avoid starting a meditation practice because they think their minds are too busy, which is kind of like not going to the gym because you think you’re too unfit,” Dr Watkins says.
“People who have started also give up because they can’t stop their minds from thinking. All of this makes me very sad because it is a natural function of the mind to think. No one can stop his or her mind from thinking. It thinks involuntarily in much the same way the heart beats involuntarily; it’s just what they are supposed to do,” Dr Watkins says.
Meditation cheat sheet
1. Practise regularly
“Meditation training is just like physical training; the more regularly you do it, the stronger you’ll get.”
2. Create a routine
“Find a spot that fits well with your life and daily routine.” Plan ahead to make it work for you.
“Discipline is important, but remember, discipline does not mean you need to sit for an hour. Discipline means that if you choose to sit for 10 minutes, then you do indeed sit for 10 minutes.”
4. Suck it up
If you feel a bit uncomfortable, stick with it. “It’s important to accept that meditation won’t always feel good. Our ever-changing physical, emotional and mind states means that our meditation practice will be different every day,” Dr Watkins says. That said, if it’s physically intolerable, you may not have understood the technique correctly.
5.Just do it
Don’t think there’s no point meditating if you can’t spare 20 minutes. “It’s not an endurance test,” says Dr Watkins. Taylor agrees: “If you choose to meditate for less than 20 minutes, it’s unlikely you will experience the same physical benefits, but this can still be helpful on an emotional level. You’re still calming yourself down, getting centred, looking at the world a bit differently, responding calmly, not attacking yourself and being able to nurture yourself.”
6. Meditate all day
We’re not talking 10-day Vipassana retreats, but infusing simple activities with mindfulness. “The kind of daily momentary thing like making your food or doing the dishes and actually feeling the warmth of the water on your hand while you’re doing it…daily mindfulness activities of just noticing and being aware of your five senses,” Taylor says. The freeway is also fair game. Next time you get aggro with the traffic while driving, focus on the colours and sounds around you. That way “you’re not getting wound up and generating cortisol and stress hormone and impacting on your immune system. You’re not torturing your own mind,” Taylor says.
7. Check KPIs
Done correctly, meditation will quickly yield tangible results – particularly if you’ve returned from a Vipassana course and are attempting to recreate the technique at home. “The practice starts to work immediately. You start to notice changes in your life and you become calmer and happier. If there’s no reduction in your feelings of anger or other negative emotions, that’s a pretty sure sign that you’re not meditating properly. If that’s happening, we recommend contacting your teacher or the centre just to find out what’s going on and get some guidance.”
Author: Amelia Barnes