Meditation is a practice that has grown in popularity over the last few years, and it’s not hard to see why when you consider the increasingly fast-paced lives we tend to live.
“The number one benefit from meditation is deep rest and relaxation,” says Tim Brown, one of Australia's leading meditation and mindfulness teachers.
When you’re spending your days running between meetings, trying to fit in a social life, and using every inch of your willpower to not tuck into a burger after a long, stressful day, meditation – it turns out – is a pretty useful tool to manage stress, rest your mind and let your body recoup. “20 minutes [of] meditation is equivalent to three to four hours of sleep. That deep rest and relaxation for the brain and body allows the body to shut off the fight-or-flight chemistry and [it] activates serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, which allows the body to rest, relax, repair; that’s a really important thing in this day and age,” says Brown.
Relaxing the mind, reducing stress and anxiety, and finding inner calm sound pretty good. But for a lot of people, taking the first steps to a regular meditation routine can be daunting. Uncertainty about how to even begin and feeling like your mind is too active to get into it are some of the biggest concerns and challenges. But don’t worry because we cornered Brown to get his advice, tips and insight into some of the things every meditation beginner should know.
#1 / It’s completely normal for your mind to wander
Don’t worry if you struggle to get into meditation at first. If your mind wanders, it doesn’t mean you’re not built for it. “ [A wandering mind] is the number one issue and the key to this is understanding what’s causing that. The active mind – off on to-do lists or little dream sequences or lines of thinking – is not [a] naughty, mischievous monkey. It’s not your mind; it’s your body releasing stress and tension, which is activating your thoughts,” says Brown.
Even better than knowing that it’s just your body releasing stress? You don’t need to feel like you should make it ‘stop’, but rather finding a gentle way to re-focus.
“The mind being active is not something that you need to control or you need to negate. If you get taken away by thoughts or noises or body sensations or images bubbling up in the mind, don’t be concerned about that. As you realise what’s happening, instead of getting annoyed and frustrated just smile inside and [focus] your awareness back to [your] breath. Then you’ll be with the breath for a little while and at some point you’ll head off on a little tangent again. Don’t worry, don’t get frustrated with yourself, and don’t get concerned. That’s not a bad thing, that is in fact a really important part of meditation. The mind wants to go into that deep restful state, the body wants to put out the mental, physical, emotional garbage.”
#2 / Technology can help you get into meditation
Don’t know where or how to start your meditation journey? Just turn to your app store, says Brown. “Apps like Headspace, Smiling Mind, the Fitbit app are all great… they’re set up to allow people to take that first step into practice and have an experience of it rather than being philosophical or conceptual. They allow people to meditate anywhere, anytime, and they’re free. I’m a massive fan of those resources.”
#3 / There’s no perfect time or place to meditate
Think that to meditate means to find a special place of solitude at a certain time of day? While some conditions are more ideal than others, Brown says that with some practice, you can develop your meditation skills so that you can do it anywhere, any time, because otherwise you’ll make excuses for not doing it.
“I encourage people to give it a go on the train or ferry, if that’s where your window is. Sure it’s nice to be in a nice place, close the door and be quiet, but we’re never going to get silence. There’s nowhere silent; there’s always birds or a construction site. So don’t worry about that, just sit and practice.”
As for the time of day, you can be pretty flexible with when you choose to meditate. “We’ve got to work it in with our lifestyle. The whole point of meditation is not the time meditating, it’s the benefits that accrue afterwards. That’s what we’re looking for; that’s the whole point,” says Brown.
#4 / You don’t need to meditate for very long
While some people could easily sit and meditate for an hour, others may find it difficult to engage with the practice for that long – especially when starting out. And that’s okay. According to Brown, you only need 10 minutes to get a worthwhile session in. “Ideally, [you’ll want to meditate for] no less than 10 minutes and no more than 20; it’s [the body’s] natural rest rhythm,” he says.
#5 / It’s not a quick fix solution for stress or anxiety
Can meditation help reduce stress and anxiety? Absolutely! But one 10-minute session isn’t going to make those feelings disappear immediately – you need to stick with the practice to take advantage of the long-term benefits.
“In the short term we’re switching off that adrenaline and that fight-or-flight response, and activating the serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. That will immediately reduce the stress. Then as someone continually and consistently meditates, they find themselves less and less inclined to go into the fight-or-flight response.
The goal is to develop that inner quietness, that inner stillness that cannot be overwhelmed by anything; that’s what we’re looking to achieve. But we’ve got to hit the pressure valve and fill up our tank on a daily basis. This whole idea of a holiday one or two times a year is just not enough in this day and age. It is not enough to allow the mind and body to repair, restructure, reorganise and operate at peak levels consistently.”
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Do you have any tips for first-time meditators? Please share with us in the comments section below
Main image: @doutzen