LIFE AND ADVICE

Hang Zen: A Beginner’s Guide To Meditating Like A Pro

And the apps to get you started!
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There’s no doubt we’re all facing some challenging times right now, and anxiety among us seems to be at an all-time high.

Between ever-evolving lockdowns, the stress of home schooling, and the fact that, in some states, we might not even be returning to classrooms before the end of the year, it’s hard to find anything normal to hang onto right now.

WATCH BELOW: Karma Kitties – Using cats to help you meditate

Meditation is a helpful practice that is almost guaranteed to help soothe your anxiety, and can be an incredible tool when it comes to fighting periods of high stress, such as a lockdown, or an upcoming exam period.

But, as is often the case with meditation, you might find you’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work for you.

Before you give up on meditation and sling it in the “too hard basket”, give yourself a gentle pat on the back for trying and give it another go. In the ancient Pali language, the word meditation actually means “begin again.” So, if you’re ready to reap the benefits of a regular practice but haven’t been able to make it stick, keep these six things in mind:

1. Get comfy

Sitting still to meditate can be challenging, so find a position that helps you relax. It’s not vital to be sitting cross-legged on a mountain in Bali and it’s not illegal to prop your back up against a wall. If you’re brand new to meditation or are refreshing a lapsed practice, get comfy and put any judgement of what it should look like to one side.

2. Give it time

Studies say it takes anything from 18 to 66 days to form a lasting habit, so set yourself a goal to practice every day for at least three weeks and do your best to stick to it. However, don’t stress if you do miss a day. Shamatha, a form of Buddhist mindfulness, considers there to be nine ways of “resting the mind”. The sixth of those nine ways is called “pacifying” which, as Buddhist Nun Pema Chödrön explains in her book The Wisdom of No Escape, recognises that “a letdown feeling accompanies good practice.” 

So when you find yourself wanting to give up, pacify yourself with a short pep talk because, hey, even Buddhist nuns feel this way sometimes. You got this!

3. Keep it short

Set yourself a goal of two, five or 10 minutes a day and build from there. By setting an easy goal you’ll be more likely to stick to it. And when you’re starting out, it’s about cultivating the habit. A Harvard study has shown that we can reap the benefits of mindfulness meditation in just 10 minutes a day.

Burke Lennihan, a registered nurse who teaches meditation at the Harvard University Center for Wellness says, “Start with 10 minutes, or even commit to five minutes twice a day.” She adds that it’s preferable to meditate at the same time every morning. “That way you’ll establish the habit, and pretty soon you’ll always meditate in the morning, just like brushing your teeth.” Voila!

4. Buddy up

A study by RMIT University found that shared goals strengthen your commitment, and accountability can be the difference between sticking to your goal and giving up. Team up with a pal and agree to text each other when you’ve completed your meditation for the day. A simple ‘done’ or thumbs up emoji will suffice. 

A 2016 study by the American Society of Training and Development found that your chance of completing a goal is 65 per cent if you have an accountability buddy and that number soars to 95 per cent if you arrange a specific appointment. So if you want to up the ante, pencil in a catch up (even if it’s just a quick Zoom call!) so as to further improve your chances of success.

5. Thoughts will come

Knowing this helps – a lot. Because once you’re expecting them, you’re less likely to get even more stressed out when those thoughts arrive. The trick is to let them come (because they will) but not to get involved in them.

Think of it like this: your phone is ringing (thought is on line #1) but you don’t answer the call (thought hangs up). It still came but you didn’t invite it in, see? 

Another simple way to manage your thoughts is to use labelling. When you realise you’re thinking, gently pause and say to yourself “thinking” then go back to focusing on your breath.

6. Chant Om 

Silently chanting the word ‘om’ over and over has been indicated in deactivating the limbic region (our emotional control centre). Over time, this deactivation results in a strengthening of emotional regulation which translates to being more in control and therefore, more calm. And that’s why we’re doing this, right? And hey, it doesn’t have to be the word “om”. Any word – “peace”, “love” or “happy” will do.

https://gph.is/g/4oydmO0

Some apps you can try

Guided meditations are the easiest way to start when it comes to your practice, so you’re not left sitting alone wondering how to stop your brain from racing. A soothing voice will tell you where to focus your energy, and often how to structure your breath so as to get the maximum benefit from your meditation. Although there a many guided meditations on YouTube, you might also want to try one of these free apps.

Insight Timer

Insight Timer is a free app that holds more than 100,000 free guided meditations and talks. It can be a little overwhelming to start with, but if you search terms like “sleep”, “body scan”, “stress”, “anxiety”, you’ll very quickly be able to find a short meditation that suits.

Smiling Mind

This not-for-profit app also has hundreds of free meditations, organised into structured programs such as Mindful Foundations, Sleep, Digital Detox and Stress Management. Most of the Smiling Mind Meditations range from five to 15 minutes, but you can also find a few two to five-minute meditations to get you started.

Healthy Minds Program

Founded by neuroscientist Dr Richard Davidson, Healthy Minds uses neuroscience and research-based techniques alongside meditation to help you with your wellbeing. It follows a four-pillar approach, and has meditations and wellbeing training categorised under Awareness, Connection, Insight and Purpose. If that all sounds a tad too complicated to start, they have 27 free mediations outside of the wellness framework, some of which are as short as one minute!  

Using each of these techniques, with the help of these apps, can not only help you form a regular practice but showing yourself some kindness when it doesn’t go the way you thought it would is where the deeper wisdom lies. So, sit back, relax, practice these six simple techniques in a guided meditation and simply begin again. And again. And again.

Hannah Hempenstall is a meditation facilitator based in Sydney. For information about her courses and classes visit hannahhempenstall.com

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