For many people, even before coronavirus began, meditation was a great way to try and find some balance. And now, during the pandemic, even more of us are turning to it as a coping mechanism, to help reduce stress and anxiety.
If you’re keen to try, it’s easy to get started, say experts.
Dr Megan Jones Bell, chief science officer at mindfulness and meditation app Headspace says: “Overall, Headspace downloads have doubled, with certain courses seeing an increase in users of over 1000%.
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What is the best meditation for beginners?
“With regards to specific sessions, we have recently seen ten times the number of users starting our stressed calming meditation. Specifically, in the UK, this has been a six-times increase. Our reframing anxiety home workout has also had a ten-times increase in the amount of UK users trying it out.”
How to meditate for beginners – why now?
“This is an unprecedented time for all of us. As the world collectively takes steps to safeguard physical health and wellbeing, it’s also important to take care of our minds,” says Jones Bell.
“During this challenging time, it’s normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed. While we work from home, we can get easily distracted from tasks and feel less motivation to be productive.
“By being apart from family, friends and loved ones, our relationships with others may also feel strained. This stress is also exacerbated by the anxiety we may feel about what the future holds.”
“Mindfulness is proven to help people better manage difficult emotions by recognising these feelings and accepting that they are transient, helping you to let them go. Dedicating just a small fraction of every day to self-care can have a huge impact on our wellbeing, relationships, sleep, focus and productivity,” adds Jones Bell.
Dominique Antiglio is trained in a type of dynamic meditation called Sophrology. She explains: “This is a modern type of meditation, a practice for body and mind where we combine relaxation, breathing and body awareness work.”
Antiglio has found a lot of beginners are coming to join her Instagram Live guided meditations during the pandemic. She encourages people to start the day with a practice – instead of going straight for your phone, try meditating instead, she adds.
She’s also a fan of adding in stretching, so you’re aware of your body, and any negative emotions which you can begin to work through.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Meditation offers a way of calming down your body, catalysing your nervous systems to go into a very deep, profound, restful state, says Will Williams.
Williams was a self-confessed party boy. Working in the music industry, he lived a hedonistic lifestyle, fuelling his life with caffeine by day and drink by night, before he discovered meditation nine years ago.
He spent a couple of years travelling the world to meet the masters in meditation and now he’s on a mission to bring the practice to everyone through his meditation school, new book The Effortless Mind: Meditation for the Modern World, and the introduction of World Meditation Day.
“It’s about sitting down, closing your eyes and getting yourself into a de-excited state, whereby your mind, body and nervous system can process everything occupying it,” he says. “Once it’s burned off the immediate stuff into the archives, it can then move onto your greatest hits of pain, memory and trauma, process it, and then let it go. When you calm yourself into this very deep, almost hibernating state, you begin freeing yourself of all the painful memories you accumulate in your life which don’t really belong.”
By being more in the moment, and not being pulled into past memories, Williams says your experience of the present will stop being overshadowed by the past, and you won’t feel so anxious about the future.
“The other thing is you will very quickly start sleeping better, giving you more energy and a can-do attitude,” he says. “Then you find you have these amazing creative answers to problems, you respond better to situations, rather than react. You just generally feel more capable, and if you feel more capable, you welcome additional challenges because you want to fulfil your potential life.”
Why practice meditation?
“It’s a practical, everyday tool for everyday people,” Williams says. “When you think about it, most of the things people would bracket as ‘spiritual’ in terms of personal qualities, most of us would like to feel. Do I want to be more compassionate? Definitely. Would I like more love in my life, to feel more love myself and for myself? Absolutely. Would I like to feel more connected to people, to nature, to the world, and to feel more human and more like myself? Definitely, yes.
“I feel like I have a nice complement of the material side of life and the spiritual side of life and it feels very complete.”
Who can do it?
“Mindfulness and meditation can be practised by anyone at any age, for any amount of time they want to spend on it, even if it’s for as little as three minutes a day,” says Jones Bell.
“You can also introduce meditation to children, which helps allow them to be present in the moment and free from any external thoughts or pressures.”
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Where and when should you meditate?
“While meditation can be done any time of day, the morning can be a good time, as it helps encourage the habit of mindfulness, releases feelings of fogginess and gives the mind clarity, and sets the day up on a positive note,” says Jones Bell.
If you have outside space, that can be a lovely place to meditate.
“You could start with just five minutes,” says Antiglio. “You can meditate standing, lying down. If you breathe properly for five minutes a day, three to four times a week, it’ll start to add up to a transformation in your consciousness.”
Finding quiet time can be tricky at the moment for some people, Antiglio acknowledges, particularly parents at home with children. But she suggests: “Even if the kids are around, you can ask them to play for a moment and take five minutes. They’ll learn from that, seeing you breathing and closing your eyes – you’re setting a great example.”
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How to meditate for beginners – practical tips
Get started today with this breathing exercise from Headspace
- After finding a quiet spot, close your eyes, and focus your attention to your breath.
- Don’t alter or rush it, allow it to continue at its own rhythm and simply observe the rising and falling sensation that it creates in your body.
- Focus on the quality of each breath, asking without judgement: Is it long or short? Deep or shallow? Fast or slow?
- Begin silently counting each breath: 1 as you inhale, 2 as you exhale, 3 on the next inhalation and so on, up to 10. Then start again from the beginning at stage 1.
- If your mind wanders, don’t worry, that’s completely normal. Notice new thoughts, but then let them go, bringing your attention back to your breath.
- Once you have completed 10 minutes, congratulate yourself, recognising how the process made you feel.
How to meditate for beginners – making it work
Here are tips for how to meditate for beginners from Williams that will help form longer-term habits and approaches that can ensure meditation becomes a regular part of your approach to wellbeing.
Find a platform that works for you
Apps like Headspace and Calm, as well as countless guided meditations on YouTube will help you dip your toe in the meditation pool, but for Will, there’s nothing like doing it face to face. “If you have a teacher who is trained well, they can tailor their guidance around your needs and profile,” he says. “Everyone has different psychological make up, physiological needs and lifestyles. A lot of what I do is helping people navigate their particular life circumstances to get the most out of it.”
Don’t take meditation too seriously
“All of the big masters I’ve ever met are very playful and cheeky, with a glint in their eye, having a great time and not taking life seriously,” says Will. “Trying too hard with meditation quite often proves to be counterproductive, so be relaxed and light-hearted.”
Step outside your comfort zone
“It can feel strange to be in this environment, but stepping out of your comfort zone is the only way to make progress in something new,” he says. “Rather than keep hitting your head against a brick wall with stuff that doesn’t resonate, keep looking around and find those things that do.”
Try different meditation techniques
“Try as many different things as possible,” says Will. “If the first thing you go for doesn’t necessarily work for you just keep having a look, because the benefits are so profound. Make that time for a little bit of investment into yourself.”
Do your research
“If we look at look at TripAdvisor or Airbnb for reviews before we go on holiday, why shouldn’t we read reviews before we join a meditation class? As they say, it’s about different strokes for different folks, so be curious.”
Don’t be scared
Don’t be afraid of giving it a go. As Will says: “The only thing to fear is fear itself. Full stop.”
The Effortless Mind by Will Williams is out now, published by Simon & Schuster. Available from Amazon.
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