Hurriyet Daily News
Searching for a sense of calm, peace and inner harmony? Try our beginner’s guide to meditation.
Meditation is practiced in virtually every community throughout the world. Even if it’s something you don’t currently practise, you’re probably aware that meditation has the potential to positively impact your mental, emotional and physical health. And who wouldn’t welcome a sense of calm, peace and inner harmony to help you cope with the pressures of modern life?
And yet despite the increasing bank of evidence in its favour, many of us still don’t meditate on a daily basis, or ever. Chances are, it’s due to an already packed schedule and the sense that you just don’t have time to meditate, or perhaps you simply don’t know where to start.
To help you find your zen, we spoke to Sarah Romotsky RD, director of healthcare at Headspace and Corina Pall, certified meditation coach at Heart and Soul Meditation, about why meditation can be such a powerful tool, the benefits of regular meditation practice and how to get started:
What is meditation?
Meditation has been practiced by numerous cultures and religious traditions all over the world for centuries, but lots of people meditate for relaxation and peace of mind independently of religious or spiritual beliefs too.
Meditation is best described as a relaxation technique that focuses your attention and encourages a heightened state of awareness in order to achieve a more mindful, mentally clear and peaceful state. ‘Meditation, at it most fundamental level, is quality time spent with your inner-self,’ says Pall.
The benefits of meditation
Research is ongoing, but meditation has been found to have significant physical and mental health benefits, impacting stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and enhancing well-being and inner peace. ‘Dedicating just a small fraction of every day to self-care can have a huge impact on your wellbeing, personal development, relationships, sleep, focus and productivity,’ says Romotsky.
Benefits of regular meditation practice include:
💙 Stress reduction
Stressed out and struggling to cope? In one 2014 study of more than 3,500 participants, researchers found that following a meditation programme can result in a reduction of psychological stress.
💙 Lower anxiety levels
As many as one in six people are reported to experience some form of anxiety in any given week in the UK, and these numbers are likely to be higher following the COVID-19 pandemic. But the good news is a 2012 review of 36 randomised controlled trials found that meditation therapies were effective in helping to reduce anxiety symptoms.
💙 Improved focus of attention
Find yourself getting distracted regularly throughout the day? This 2007 study found that participants had a better attention span following an eight-week meditation course – which makes sense, given that meditation involves focused attention.
💙 Better quality sleep
If you can’t fall or stay asleep and frequently find yourself tossing and turning all night long, you’re not alone. Insomnia is thought to affect around one in three people in the UK. If you’re one of the quarter of Brits clocking up less than five hours a night, you’d be wise to consider mindfulness meditation. A 2015 study of older adults found that formalised mindfulness meditations helped to remedy sleep problems.
💙 Decreased blood pressure
According to the British Heart Foundation, as many as 7 million people in the UK are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure. A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that participants who followed a program of Transcendental Meditation had significantly lowered blood pressure, so meditation could save your life!
6 types of meditation
There are many different types of meditation and knowing something about them can help you choose which one is right for you. 6 of the most popular types of meditation include the following:
- Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is a type of meditation based on the teachings of the Buddha, and focuses on paying attention to the present moment by noticing when your mind wanders off. ‘Mindfulness meditation is slowing down and becoming aware of everything that’s going on within and around you,’ says Pall.
- Spiritual meditation
Spiritual meditation can include elements of prayer, but it doesn’t have to be religious. In non-theistic traditions, this type of meditation focuses more on self-awareness. ‘Spiritual meditation is acknowledging and connecting to your inner spirit,’ says Pall.
- Movement meditation
Most types of meditation encourage you to remain in one position throughout your practice, but movement meditation focuses on the body in motion. ‘Movement meditation is becoming aware of the way you walk and feeling the ground supporting you in every moment,’ says Pall. ‘Feeling rooted in your physical environment.’
- Visualisation meditation
In visualisation meditation, an image that creates a particular feeling or quality is brought to mind and focused on. ‘Visualisation meditation is envisioning yourself in a fantasy world, a magical garden, on the top of the mountain, or near a calm lake,’ says Pall.
- Chanting meditation
Many religious and spiritual movements incorporate chanting and mantra meditation, focusing on words and melody to achieve a meditative state. ‘Chanting meditation is repeating certain words that resonate and calm the whole body and mind,’ says Pall.
- Focused attention meditation
‘Focused-attention meditation is focusing your awareness on your breath, a candle flame or object – and nothing else,’ says Pall. By focusing exclusively on the task at hand, advocates report improved concentration and a newfound appreciation of being present, which is something we often lack in this hectic modern world.
When is the best time to meditate?
Deciding on your own meditation routine is highly personal. The best time and place to meditate, of course, is whenever and wherever works for you. Having said that, first thing in the morning is a strong contender.
‘The morning is a great time to meditate, as it helps to encourage the habit of mindfulness, release feelings of fogginess, set the day up on a positive note, and help your body and mind feel crisper and clearer for the day ahead,’ suggests Romotsky. ‘It’s also a great way to prepare yourself to cope with stressful situations that may arise throughout the course of the day.’
The morning is a great time to meditate, as it sets the day up on a positive note, and helps your body and mind feel crisper and clearer for the day ahead.
However, morning meditation may not be for everyone so experiment and see what works best for you. ‘It can be tricky to fit a morning meditation into a busy lifestyle, which may include getting the kids ready for school or rushing into the shower after your alarm goes off,’ says Romotsky. ‘This is why the best thing to do is to incorporate meditation into your life when it’s best for you.’
Where is the best place to meditate?
In theory you can meditate absolutely anywhere and experienced gurus have been known to find inner peace in some pretty far out places, but when you first start learning how to meditate it’s best to keep it simple. Find a quiet place where you’re not going to be disturbed such as your bedroom or living room sofa, and don’t forget to switch off your phone.
‘For beginners, we recommend finding somewhere quiet with few distractions and sitting comfortably in a chair or on the floor with your hands resting on your lap or knees,’ says Romotsky. ‘But again, choosing where to meditate is completely down to the individual.’
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you might like to try meditation in new places to see if it fits around your schedule:
🔷 Walking meditation
If you’re used to meditating, finding inner peace on the move can be surprisingly calming. ‘Walking is fantastic for this, as while moving, your attention is focused on the act of doing, and the sensations your body is experiencing out and about,’ says Romotsky. ‘By being present in the moment, you step away from the thinking mind and experience mindfulness with the body.’
🔷 Meditation in nature
The natural world is one of the easiest places to slow down and become mindful of the world around you. If you can, sit for a while – in a woodland or by the sea shore, for example – and focus on each of your senses in turn, everything you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste.
🔷 Meditation on your daily commute
Your morning or evening commute to work might not seem conducive to meditation, but actually, it provides a set time where you can turn your attention inwards to your breath. It can also prove helpful for keeping your cool during a time that is often associated with stress.
How to meditate: a guide for beginners
Now you know the benefits and types of meditation, let’s begin! Meditation is simply focused attention. Often, sessions are gentle breathing exercises, which introduce you to the foundation and fundamental techniques of mindfulness and meditation.
Romotsky recommends this simple meditation to help you become more mindful:
- Find a quiet spot: close your eyes and focus your attention on 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: ask without judgement – is it long or short? Deep or shallow? Fast or slow?
- Begin silently counting each breath: ‘one’ as you inhale, ‘two’ as you exhale, ‘three’ on the next inhalation and so on, up to ten. Then start again from the beginning, at ‘one’.
- If your mind wanders, don’t worry: it’s completely normal. Notice new thoughts, but then let them go, bringing your attention back to your breath.
- You did it: once you have completed 10 minutes, congratulate yourself, recognising how the process made you feel.
Too busy to meditate?
Time is often the biggest barrier to starting a regular meditation practice – but ask yourself whether you really don’t have a few minutes each day to calm your racing mind.
‘Most of us will have three minutes a day where we’re scrolling on social media, sitting in traffic, or travelling on a train,’ says Romotsky. ‘Try to think of moments where you could utilise this “empty” time and meditate instead. If you treat meditation as an essential part of your day, like brushing your teeth, it will become embedded into your daily routine.’
Try these meditation apps
If you’ve never tried it before, starting meditation practice can be a bit daunting, but fortunately the tech world has joined the zen brigade and there are a number of great apps available to help you on your journey. Take your pick from our round-up of the best apps to gently guide you through each meditation and help you build zen into your daily routine:
- Headspace: an easy and straightforward approach to mindfulness, Headspace offers short guided meditations so you can easily fit it around your life.
- Calm: guided meditations, music mixes, sleep stories, breathing exercises and masterclasses to help you find your zen.
- Beeja: aimed at the veteran meditator, Beeja encourages its users to learn how to find inner peace on their own steam without constant guidance.
- Aura: guided meditations available in various lengths, plus a selection of short stories to help you escape the rat race.
- Buddhify: a unique meditation app that tailors itself to your activity and your current mood, so it’s easy to meditate on the move!
- Waking up: neuroscientist, philosopher, and best-selling author Sam Harris combines guided meditation and mindfulness techniques with practical wisdom.