You don't have to be a pro (or an orange-robed Buddhist monk) to tune out and find inner peace. Here's how to master it the easy way.
For many of us, the idea of turning our brain off is as foreign a concept as turning down Ryan Gosling. Much like that dried-up antioxidant face mask you swore you'd use every Sunday or the organic market shop you did that one time, meditation, despite its health-rich rewards, often finds itself in the too-hard health basket.
Believing we either can't do it or don't have the time to do it is becoming common place, even with the rising interest in a holistic yogi lifestyle (we're looking at you, Miranda).
But here's the thing, more and more studies have found what
spiritual leaders have been saying for centuries - meditation is a
highly effective (if not one of the
most effective) in-built tools we have for relieving physical and psychological ailments, such as stress, anxiety, muscle tension, concentration… the list goes on.
So, if it's so good for our general wellbeing and can significantly lower stress levels, why do so many women find it difficult to quiet the mind?
"Much like trying to force sleep onset ensures you're awake for
hours, so too
with meditation. Attempting to achieve a meditative state through effort and force will always inhibit you from achieving deep relaxation," explains Vedic meditation teacher Gary Gorrow (garygorrow.com). "This method will typically leave you feeling mentally exhausted and frustrated."
The good news? Meditation isn't hard: if you can breathe, you
can meditate. Now that doesn't sound so difficult, does it?
THE INS AND OUTS
If you're an absolute novice, or have tried meditation only to spend most of the time cursing your inability to switch off, start with this simple breathing exercise. Sit in your most comfortable position, or lie on your back and close your eyes. Breathing through your nose, focus on the tip of your nostrils, visualising the air passing as it goes in and out. If you start thinking of other things, don't worry - just come back to it, slowing your breath if it has quickened.
Try to imagine the air coming deep down into your diaphragm and let it out as slowly as you can. Otherwise, simply remain concentrated on the nostril. Do this for as long, or as short, as you like. "In times of physical or emotional stress, overbreathing or hyperventilation can become a habit," says breathing retraining consultant Mary Birch.
"Comfortable nose breathing is best with no obvious chest
movement, good posture and a gentle rhythmic breath. This kind of
breathing helps improve stress, anxiety and panic disorders."
Zoning out internal chatter can feel like hard work, but trying to block out external distractions can border on impossible. If your phone is constantly beeping and dinging with message notifications, or you reside in the city suburb soundtrack of honking horns and noisy buses, try audio visualisation.
Audio meditation does a lot of the work for you - a soothing voice and spa-esque music takes you through the paces of breathing, muscle relaxation and visualisation exercises to ease your zen-blocking vices.
Generally theme-based, the audio can focus on anything from
positive thinking to abundance and sound sleep, and is found online
and even on a good old meditation CD. So grab some headphones and
maybe a room with a lock and let your personal meditation coach
drown out the day and give you (and your head) some space.
It's a time-keeper's nightmare - you think you've been meditating for half an hour, only to see the minute hand has moved a whopping three notches. Try adopting the same time-warped logic that finds its way into a task-filled day (hours pass unnoticed because you're focused on getting the job done) by concentrating on your body, moving from the tips of your toes right up to the ends of your hair.
Lie down on your back, with hands by your side and palms up.
Allow your feet to fall where they're comfortable and close your
eyes. Starting with your toes, focus on how they feel (they'll
probably tingle a little), and then slowly work up, relaxing each
muscle individually, over your feet, ankles, calves, knees… Take as
long as you can to cover your entire body. Once you reach the top
of your head, take a few deep breaths and slowly open your eyes -
two minutes ten-fold, well done.
Heard the old 'practice, practice, practice' rule? Well, meditation is no different. Add it to your morning routine - get dressed, brush your teeth, do your hair, meditate. Thinking of it as an added extra will have it drop off your to-do list when life gets a little too hectic, so designate a time when you're least likely to be interrupted, whether that means waking up 15 minutes earlier or taking a moment before bedtime (just don't fall asleep!). Once you make it a daily habit, you'll start to find your sessions become a little longer and deeper. Plus, your anxiety levels will come down.
"In addition to the physical benefits, the slowing of the mind
results in better mental clarity, improved decision-making and
lowered stress," adds GP Dr Claudia Lee. "Any method that serves to
calm the mind will inevitably calm the body, too, leading to a
reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and circulating stress
hormones, which we all need on a daily basis."
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