Having shaken off its hippy image, meditation is seriously having a moment, and everyone from Katy Perry to Bill Clinton is on board – and for good reason.
We could almost fill an entire issue of Good Health Choices with studies confirming the benefits of meditation, from lowered stress levels, improved concentration, boosted immunity, reduced pain levels, greater compassion and even diminished loneliness.
Yet despite knowing the ‘why’, many of us struggle with the ‘how’, finding the prospect of meditation just too hard.
To help you get past the barriers – including lack of time and difficulty controlling a racing mind – that are stopping you from starting, and maintaining, a daily meditation practice, we asked two meditation gurus for tips.
“I don’t have time”
“If you don’t have time to meditate for 20 minutes, you should meditate for an hour.”
This is one of Sydney meditation teacher Tim Brown‘s favourite sayings, because it sums up the catch-22 of meditation: those who feel they don’t have time for it are the ones who need it most.
“What people don’t realise is the point of meditation is not the time spent meditating but the benefits that come from it afterwards,” he says.
“All the science is showing people come out of meditation with clarity, perspective, energy and creativity. So they become more efficient and productive as a result.”
This means, in effect, that the time spent meditating earns you more time back in productivity gains. Meditation doesn’t need to take up much time, either. US newsreader and meditation author Dan Harris says five to 10 minutes is enough to boost your wellbeing significantly.
If you’re really time-pressed, even one minute is beneficial, which is why he included 60-second guided meditations on his 10% Happier mindfulness app (free on the App Store and Google Play).
“I anchor two shows on ABC News [in the US], I have a start-up, a podcast, three more books coming, and I have a kid… if I can find the time to meditate, anyone can,” Dan says.
“I’m not ‘spiritual
Meditation has come a long way, but it’s still sometimes regarded as the domain of New Age types sitting in pretzel-like positions.
This wasn’t far removed from Dan’s own perception, until he suffered a panic attack live on air in 2004 that forced him to address his anxiety and stress levels. But it was science, not spirituality, that led him from meditation sceptic to one of its biggest cheerleaders.
“The first thing [that convinced me] was seeing the science; the second thing was realising the kind of meditation that has been studied most in the labs doesn’t involve sitting in a funny position, joining a group or believing in anything.”
Tim, too, wants people to understand meditation is for everyday individuals living everyday lives.
“Meditation is very simple, and you can do it anywhere – in the car, on the train, in a bus,” says Tim, who has been teaching vedic meditation for 17 years. That’s why I’ve got my centre opposite a pub; I want to show people it’s not about heading for the hills.”
Are mindfulness and meditation different?
Essentially the two overlap, but in mindfulness you bring all your focus to the present moment or activity, while meditation is a broader term that encompasses mindfulness.
My mind is too busy
Dan has met lots of people who think meditation isn’t for them because their minds are too busy. He says this is because they misunderstand what meditation is.
“People think when they get distracted, they have failed, but in fact the moment you notice you’re distracted is the victory. Because when you see that you’re thinking about your to-do list, or you’re rehearsing some speech you’re going to deliver to your boss, that’s the moment you wake up from this autopilot in which we live most of our lives.
“You see there’s this voice inside your head that yanks you around. The reason that’s valuable is because when the voice in your head offers a terrible suggestion in the rest of your life when you’re not meditating, you may, some percentage of the time, be able to see ‘that’s just a thought, I don’t have to do it’.”
There’s also a misconception that meditation is about clearing the mind completely, which simply isn’t possible.
“During meditation, when the mind moves away from the point of reference – be it a mantra or breath or whatever it happens to be – it’s not the mind being mischievous,” Tim adds.
“It’s the mind settling and the body relaxing, then as the stress, tension and fatigue are laundered out of the system that activates the mind on the way out. All you can do is just smile and gently come back to the point of reference.”
To read the rest, pick up the February 2018 edition of Good Health Choices.