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Why it comes in all forms and really is for everyone
Like reformer Pilates and becoming fluent in French, meditation was on the list of things I felt I should be doing but just never got around to. When I was diagnosed with burn out nearly five years ago, my naturopath prescribed only two things: no cardio for a month (I had been a devout runner), and a regular meditation practice. Needless to say, I was not impressed.
Despite my scepticism meditation did make a difference although not in the ways that I expected. Sure, the practice itself was (generally, although not always) pleasant. But the really exciting part was seeing my everyday life transform. It was like I had suddenly found a personal trainer for my mind. Meditation made me more patient, more compassionate and more resilient. It improved my relationships, and helped me navigate the intensity of the fourth trimester and beyond when I became a mum.
I also quickly realised I could practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime, just by paying attention to what I was doing, noticing how it felt and concentrating on just one thing. The revolutionary act of not multi-tasking, double-screening and juggling all the things, all the time – something I find myself doing constantly, especially as a mum – creates a small space for wakeful meditation. Chopping an onion, drinking a coffee, walking outside, standing in line at the supermarket – anything at all can be turned into an act of mindfulness, by simply stopping, tuning in to physical sensations and paying attention. I call it “single-tasking”. Even when I don’t get time to meditate (yes, I miss days too!) I can always find time to single-task.
The changes I experienced in everyday life inspired me to become a mindfulness meditation teacher. If it’s something you’ve thought about but never quite gotten around to, or maybe you just haven’t gelled with the styles you’ve tried (guided meditations are not for everyone!), take this advice from a reformed, non-meditator.
Truly, anyone can meditate, and anyone can become a regular meditator. If you’ve tried but haven’t been able to establish a practice yet, don’t be discouraged. It’s definitely not you! You just haven’t found the right style or teacher. Keep trying!
Actually finding the time is one of the biggest challenges but it is possible – start by committing to five minutes a day. That’s less than one per cent of your waking moments assuming you’re getting eight hours of sleep a night (as if, right?!). Any time you’re in a situation where you reach for your phone to pass the time – when you wake up, waiting at the doctor’s surgery, getting into bed at night – is an opportunity to find your five minutes. If you’ve got a baby, try meditating for five minutes whenever you feed them (doesn’t matter whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding).
Some things are easier in numbers – planting a veggie patch, being a bridesmaid, taking kids to the movies. Meditation is much easier if you’re doing it with friends. Like exercise, meditating in a group has loads of benefits. Not only does it hold you accountable and more likely to show up, but it also helps develop a sense of belonging and community which are essential ingredients for good mental health. You don’t have to meet up in person, just set a recurrent Zoom meeting and jump on together every morning or whenever suits your schedules.
So many people (myself included) are put off meditation early on because they think they’re “doing it wrong”. You worry you can’t switch off your mind, or panic that you feel restless/frustrated/generally not Zen while you’re doing it. One of the biggest misunderstands is that meditation is about achieving some kind of heightened state beyond thoughts and the everyday chatter of our mind. With mindfulness meditation, there’s no need to “get” anywhere, “master” anything or achieve a certain feeling. Thoughts are A-OK. When you get distracted by doing your shopping list or mentally composing an email, that’s totally fine! You aren’t failing, you’ve just noticed when your mind has wandered off. This is a moment of mindfulness aka meditation.
The breath is one of the foundations of mindfulness meditation. No need to go to a quiet room, light incense or roll out the yoga mat. Just notice your breathing and let your attention rest just there for a minute or two. Pay attention to its rhythm, how deeply you’re breathing and the sensation of your breath in your belly, chest, and nose can help bring you back to the present moment. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, infuriated or just totally tapped out, just keep coming back to the breath. This is especially useful when you’re stuck in traffic, kids are throwing tantrums, or all of the above.
Once you’ve got your bearings, you can experiment with different styles of meditation. You can mix and match them depending on what you’re dealing with at that moment. Compassion practices for exhaustion and anxiety, Loving Kindness for anger and forgiveness, gratitude for joy and sadness. Whatever you’re feeling, there’s a practice that can support you exactly where you are right now. An introductory course can arm you with a selection of different styles you can take away and use depending on your mood.
Emma teaches regular courses in mindfulness meditation in person and online. Her next in-person course takes place in Sydney on 1 November, 2020. You can join the wait list here or sign up to hear first about her next online course here. Click here for more information about single-tasking and how you can join the #30daysofisingletasking challenge.
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