Cover photo by Cally Johnson-Isaacs
We take time to clean our rooms, desks, e-mails and schedules – yet we often overlook cleaning the most valuable tool we have – our minds. When it comes to meditation, getting started is the hardest part - just like with any new habit. What’s very helpful is that you get to see its benefits after just a short while; just a few sessions in and you’ll notice that setting aside as little as 5 minutes every day to sit still with your body and mind goes a long way. Meditation clears your mind of any stress, fear, anxiety, worries, repetitive thought patterns or any other bugs flying around your head, and this makes it so worth the effort!
We usually get recommended to put our phones down so that we relieve daily stress but with this one you can actually reach to your phone for a bit of help. Meditation apps such as Headspace help bring your mind to a state of stillness, quietness and relaxation by quieting the noise in your head and helping you become more self-aware. Headspace provides guided meditation – you turn it on and a soft voice starts speaking to you and recommend areas where you can direct your thoughts so that you achieve self-awareness.
Don’t be afraid to use some other tools to create a little meditation mood in the space around you, perhaps by lighting some candles, switching off your gadgets, dimming the light, playing some relaxing music, using essential oils – you name it. Like many others, you may find that the time you take to set the mood before you meditate (for instance, the time you take to light the candles) helps you relax even before you start being physically still.
Illustration by Rahel Oertli
Social media, blogs and articles are full of photos of people meditating – sometimes in poses that for many of us are difficult to maintain for more than 3 minutes (if we can get into them in the first place!). Make sure you choose a position that you will be comfortable in for at least 5 minutes – otherwise you will find your mind drifting away and focusing too much on the areas of pain and discomfort in your body rather than being channeled towards achieving a deeper sense of awareness.You can always make small adjustments to your chosen posture that will help you relax – perhaps by opening your shoulders a little bit more or making your fingertips touch each other (and there’s a whole literature on that).
Why not try some breathing exercises that you can use to help you relax: inhale while slowly counting to 6, then exhale while slowly counting to 6; cover one nostril with your index finger and take a few deep breaths through the other nostril – then switch or just take a deep breath then sigh to relieve the stress accumulated throughout your day. These breathing techniques and many more help you shake off stress and enter a state of meditation with a mind that is closer to a clean slate than an overflowing bag of worries. Try doing a little breathing exercise each time you find that your mind is too busy to ease into your meditation session.
Illustration by @littlearthlings
A way to become more self-aware while meditating is by slowly focusing your thoughts on different areas of your body, and stopping on each particular area for a few deep breaths. It's like taking your mind on a field trip around the physical body it controls: first direct awareness to the tip of your toes, then work your way up while slowly focusing a little bit longer on those areas that you feel have accumulated stress over the day or where you experience a little bit of discomfort. If you’re not sure what areas to ‘stop’ at, perhaps you can choose points such as your joints, your pulse points or your Chakras.
A way of quieting your mind down and easing into meditation is by closing your eyes and mentally listing 3 things you detect with each of your senses. The way you can do that is by slowly focusing on each one of your 5 senses and thinking of 3 things you can see, 3 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 3 things you can taste and 3 things you can touch or feel.
Illustration by @littlearthlings
You may have ended up sitting still in your meditation pose and instead of quieting your thoughts you've made them roam aimlessly instead - here's when you may end up thinking of what you’ll have for dinner or who you’ve forgotten to text back. It's just not easy to clear your thoughts completely when they choose to bounce around in your head, so we won't tell you to focus on completely shutting them down. Instead, focus on keeping that same train of thought (yes, you can think about dinner!) but instead try to make the voice in your head 'speak' more slowly, with pauses that increase in length from one word to the next. You may find that after a few sentences the pauses will be longer and more frequent and you will be one step closer to achieving mental stillness (hopefully before dinner time!).
If you found that your thoughts have drifted off and you’ve lost your focus or that you are struggling to hold the same posture, please remember to be kind to yourself. The idea here is to make adjustments incrementally from one meditation attempt to the next, without any frustration over having interrupted your meditation session. There are absolutely no right and wrong ways to meditate and remember that the ultimate goal here is not to achieve the ability to be still or not think of anything for 5 minutes, but to feel more relaxed and peaceful in your daily life.
After a couple of meditation sessions you may find that you are better able to control your thoughts and not let your mind wonder aimlessly in a way that influences your mood or productivity.
Hopefully by trying out these little tips you will be able to build a meditation routine that helps you in your daily life. If you have any other tips it would be wonderful if you could share them in the comments below – all the recommendations in this article have been gathered from the yoga community we’re so proud to be part of and as such this list – just like all things Yoga - is forever open ended.