Meditate: It’s the home workout for your mind

Meditation feature image

Holistic health in lockdown is as much about your mental state as it is about your physical shape and fitness.

In this regard, meditation is to the mind what exercise is to the body. And more people have embraced mindfulness and meditation during lockdown as a means to improve their mental well-being, manage anxiety and calm their minds.

Meditation app downloads surge

A Sensor Tower Store Intelligence report showed that mental wellness app downloads increased 24.4% in April, compared to January 2020, when most countries were under lockdown.

That equated to two million more downloads, with meditation apps Headspace and Calm recording 1.5 million and 3.9 million downloads respectively in that period.

Becoming mindful the first step

Although there are many forms of meditation, it is primarily a practice of mindfulness where you focus your mind on a particular object, thought or activity to achieve a clear mental and calm state, and to become aware of and observe your thoughts, feelings and mental state.

Meditating isn’t simply sitting in a quiet spot with your eyes closed – if only it were that easy. Meditation is a skill that you need to develop, which means you need to practice it every day to become better at it and to fully reap the benefits.

The mental benefits

People who meditate experience a variety of health and wellness benefits, including improved stress tolerance, less anxiety and depression, better mental clarity, concentration, focus, calmness, and emotional positivity.

How to meditate

Step 1: Choose a quiet, comfortable and peaceful environment where no one will interrupt you. Sit in a comfortable position on the floor, your bed, on a cushion, or on a chair or bench, or lie flat on the ground. Rest your hands comfortably on your lap, on each knee or next to you on the ground, with palms facing up if you are lying down.

Step 2: Close your eyes and turn your awareness inward.

Step 3: Start slowing your breathing in a deliberate, intentional way. Inhale slowly for three counts, and exhale for another three counts. Keep this breathing pattern and only focus on breathing in and out deeply.

Step 4: Notice where your mind starts to wander to as you try to focus on your breathing. Your mind will continuously wander throughout your session, and you will feel like you cannot control it – this is normal, especially for beginners. Meditation allows us to slow down enough to realise and notice where our mind wanders. The key is not to try to fight it, but to merely recognise and acknowledge that your mind drifts, then bring your concentration and awareness back to your breathing. Instead of focusing on your breath, you can also repeat a mantra or word, or visualise an object. Every time your mind drifts, merely refocus on your mantra or object for the entirety of your practice.

Step 5: End your meditation session with a few deep breaths and a smile.

The key to mastering the practice of meditation is consistency. Some days will be easier than others. As long as you return to the practice, you will improve and become healthier, happier, more focused, less anxious and more at peace.

Your meditation guide

  • Your meditation should take place in a comfortable, calm, peaceful environment with zero external distractions. Switch off the television, radio and your phone. Subtle noises are okay – it doesn’t have to be completely silent. Just quiet enough for you to focus.
  • Make sure that you wear comfortable clothing for your meditation session.
  • Choose how long you want to meditate. It could anywhere from 2-20 minutes. However, longer is often better, at least at first.
  • Try to meditate at the same time every day. Early mornings before everyone else gets up and the house gets too busy is ideal as this also creates mental clarity and calmness for the day ahead. Otherwise, use whatever uninterrupted time you have available during the course of your day, like a midday recharge over lunch, or just before going to bed at night.

By Mariska du Plessis and Pedro van Gaalen

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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