Meditation is a powerful practice that is useful for everyone — whether corporate professionals, homemakers, athletes or influencers. We are living an epidemic of stress, fatigue, overwork and declining cognitive health. Meditation gives us a self-healing tool that can help us reshape our brain, transform our behaviour and improve our quality of life. Through it should be an integral part of our daily routine just like eating, brushing or bathing.
However, meditation can be intimidating as it can be very esoteric, making it hard for people to know what they should do when they sit to meditate or how they should respond to thoughts and feelings that keep distracting them from their practice. In this article, I will be sharing five ways in which beginners can start their mindfulness journey with interesting and engaging exercises that are not only effective, but also easy to follow and understand.
But before that, I want to address one common myth around meditation — that meditation means stopping all thoughts. It is nearly impossible to stop your thoughts if you have just started meditating. It is hard for even the most seasoned meditators. Expecting to stop all your thoughts on day one of your meditation practice is like expecting to finish a full marathon on the first day of your running practice. Such an approach to meditation takes too much effort and is highly demotivating.
Instead, the goal of meditation should be to bring attention back to your object of meditation each time you get distracted. It’s this repetitive ‘coming back to our meditation object’ that over time trains our mind for better concentration and focus. Just like we lift weights at the gym to develop muscles, we also keep bringing the mind back repeatedly each time it gets distracted by thoughts. Here are a few techniques that can help you develop mental resilience and get you started on your meditation journey.
Find a comfortable sitting position and allow the body and mind to settle down for a few moments. Once ready, pay attention to your breath. Don’t change the pace of your breathing or try to influence the breath in any way. Simply observe as you inhale and exhale. Try to focus on the sensations you feel when you inhale and exhale — almost like you are studying your breath in great detail.
There will be moments when your focus will shift from your breath and you will get lost in thoughts. That’s fine. But as soon as your awareness returns and you have that ‘aha’ moment where you realise you were supposed to be meditating, return to your breath. This way you will keep alternating between getting lost in thoughts and coming back to the breath. This is your meditation practice and with training you will realise that you get less distracted as your ‘concentration muscle’ becomes stronger. To reap these benefits, meditation should be done consistently for 30 minutes a day.
You can also practice mindfulness by focusing on the body. A body scan can even be done as soon as you wake up, while you are still in bed. To do this practice, you move your awareness through the entire body, part by part. You can start with the fingers of the right hand, moving on to the palm, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, armpit, shoulder, and so on. This way, you cover the entire body by spending a few moments on each body part, simply to become ‘aware’ of it, to notice it with your mind’s eye and to note sensations that you may feel without any judgement.
This practice is best done when lying down on your back and maintaining complete stillness throughout the body scan. If self-scanning is not comfortable, you can do a guided body scan where a teacher or facilitator guides you through the entire process.
Five senses exercise
While this is not a traditional meditation practice, it is effective for those who may struggle with concentration due to anxiety or extreme stress. It is often used as a coping mechanism and can be done by anyone. Here’s how to do it:
— Notice five things that you can ‘see’.
— Notice four things that you can ‘feel’.
— Notice three things you can ‘hear’.
— Notice two things you can ‘smell’.
— Notice one thing you can ‘taste’.
Also known as the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise, it is a great way to bring your mind to the present moment. It can be used anytime you are going through extreme stress or emotions to bring the nervous system to a baseline state.
Three-minute mindfulness capsules
If finding time in the morning is difficult then you can break down your meditation practice into mini capsules of three minutes distributed throughout the day. You could take a quick three-minute mindfulness break as soon as you wake up, the next one could be before breakfast, and so on. Try and take at least three such breaks during the day and set your simple goal as follows — ‘three-minute break, three times a day’. It will help you get more comfortable with meditation and will also help you see after even a short burst of mindful breathing can improve your mood as well as your productivity levels.
If you are sitting at your office desk, unable to go someplace private, or feel awkward about closing your eyes and sitting in meditation, you still have a way of working on your mindfulness practice. Choose one object around you and notice it for three minutes — it could be a pen, a wall, a table. Observe it intently, try to notice things about it that you may have missed before. Maybe the wall had a painting that you never noticed before, or the pen had a scratch that you missed till now. Don’t do anything else for these three minutes. Notice the colour, shape, texture of the object you’re focussing on. It will help you feel relaxed and bring your attention to the present moment, away from anxious and stressful thoughts.
Meditation helps the nervous system relax, which in turn improves our health in several ways. Because a relaxed body is a body that heals and recovers.
A stressed body is more prone to disease and mental fatigue. We need to consciously make time to reset our nervous system and meditation is a simple, effective, and powerful practice that does just that. So, find a practice that works for you and focus on consistency, not intensity!
(The author is a Yoga and Ayurveda Lifestyle Specialist, Founder — Yoganama)