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Beat Stress! Meditation for beginners

5 October 2020
6 minute read

Woman sitting on couch relaxed

By Eric Chowles

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Meditation is quickly becoming one of the most popular and versatile ways to manage stress and take care of both your mental and physical wellbeing.

It’s no longer a mystical ancient practice limited to religious or spiritual contexts. It has become a simple, practical and effective way to manage the stressors of our modern lives.

Companies like Apple, Airbnb, Google, Goldman Sachs, HBO, Intel, Linkedin, Nike, and Twitter all have in-house meditation and mindfulness practices for their employees.

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In fact, Google’s Head of Mindfulness (Chade-Meng Tan) explains his optimism for modern meditation by saying that, “it’s become scientific, it has been demystified. It’s going to be seen as fitness for the mind.

Meditating, even for as little as 1-2 minutes per day, is something anyone can benefit from. It’s a scalable and versatile health habit that you can use on-demand to improve your life and grow your wellbeing.

Benefits of meditationAndy Puddicombe does a great job of inspiring you to see the benefits of meditation and mindfulness in his TED Talk: All it Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes.

Research on meditation is extensive and growing every day. It’s been shown to reduce levels of stress and anxiety, and improve emotional health by creating a more positive outlook on life. It’s also been shown to improve sleep, self-awareness, focus, memory, and feelings of compassion towards others.

How to get started with meditation for beginnersMeditation can be as simple as going for a walk, listening mindfully to music, paying attention to your breath, repeating a mantra, or simply listening to a guided meditation that tells you what to do every step of the way.

Method 1: Use an appOne of the most beginner-friendly ways to start a meditation practice is to use a meditation app such as Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, or 10% Happier to guide you through the process.

Method 2: Do a body scanIf you’d like to do so some quick, easy, beginner-friendly meditation then doing a body scanis a great strategy to start with. It’s simple enough to do without much instruction and interesting enough to keep you engaged in the process.

The body scan technique involves doing a mental scan of your body, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.

The goal is to notice any physical discomfort, tension, aches, or unusual sensations. Very often our mental and emotional stress can show up as physical symptoms without us realising it, even long after that stress has disappeared. By paying more attention to the physical sensations in your body, you can begin to work through both the physical tension as well as mental and emotional stress.

Here’s how you can give the body scan a try:

1) Start sitting or lying down comfortably with your eyes open.

2) Take a deep breath in through your nose and then slowly breathe out through your mouth, gently closing your eyes as you do so.

3) Bring your attention to the very top of your head and mentally scan all the way down to your toes, almost like you’re a photocopier gently scanning the length of your body.

4) Focus on each main body part for about 10-30 seconds, starting with your head, then your neck, then your shoulders, then your arms and your hands, then your chest and back, your stomach, your hips, your legs, your feet...

5) Notice which body parts feel relaxed or tense, comfortable or uncomfortable.

6) When you encounter areas of tension or discomfort, don’t fight it. Keep breathing gently in through your nose and out through your mouth while you focus your attention on that area.

7) Visualise each body part relaxing more and more as you scan through it.

8) If thoughts arise or you get distracted, take a deep breath in through your nose, breathe out slowly through your mouth, and bring your attention back to the area of your body where you last left off.

You can do this once for a total of 1-3 minutes or you can repeat the scan over and over again, slowing down on tense or uncomfortable areas, focusing on feeling more and more relaxed.

If you’re feeling adventurous you can even do it in reverse, beginning with your toes and working your way up to your head - this works especially well if you’re lying down and preparing to go to sleep.

Method 3: Focus on your breathA more traditional style of meditation is the focused attention technique, where you use your breath as an object to focus your attention on.

Other than being a great meditation strategy, breathing exercises are also highly relaxing and have been proven to provide almost instant relief.

Here’s how you can give the focused attention technique a try:

1) Get comfortable by either sitting or laying down, whatever seems the most convenient and relaxing.

2) Set a timer for 5 minutes and then forget about it. Let the timer take care of you by keeping track of the time and announcing once your session is done.

3) Close your eyes.

4) Take a deep breath in through your nose, observing how the air flows into your body and pushes your belly out.

5) Breath out through your mouth, observing how the air flows out of your body and your belly falls into a more relaxed position.

6) On the next deep breath in, begin to count to 10. So that’s 1 in, 2 out, 3 in, 4 out… Observe each breath and focus on how the air flows in or out of your body.

7) When you reach 10, start again at 1 and keep going until your 5-minute timer goes off.

8) If you get distracted, start with the number that you left off with. Try to stay mindful and focused enough to notice when you reach 10 breaths and need to restart at 1 again. If you overcount or lose your place, it’s not the end of the world. Simply start back at 1 again.

9) Allow your thoughts to come and go, kind of like they’re clouds drifting across the sky. There’s no need to chase them away or get annoyed with them, simply notice that they’re there and then gently bring your attention back to your breath.

10) When your timer goes off, open your eyes, take 3 good deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to end off the session.

Notice how you feel physically and mentally after each session. Are you calmer and more relaxed? Do you feel different to when you started?

This exercise can be shortened to 1-minute session or lengthened into 10, 20, or even 30-minutes sessions. If you have a smartwatch, like the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, you can also pair these exercises with its built-in Stress Tracker feature.

Use meditation as a tool in your toolboxIf you’d like, meditation can be done as a proactive daily practice to help you stay in a state of calm and mindfulness. But it’s also extremely powerful and effective as an on-demand tool that you can call on whenever you feel stress or emotions start to overwhelm you.

The more tools that you can collect in your toolbox, the better you’ll be able to take on the challenges of life and grow your wellbeing.

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