I haven’t been meditating for long – probably only since the start of this year – but I’m already feeling the benefits. I was guilty, like I suspect many people are, of assuming that it’s the kind of thing that only very spiritual, hippyish people did (and yes, that was also what I thought about yoga). Maybe there was some chanting involved, and I’d probably have to sit in lotus position, hands rested on my knees and thumb and forefinger gently touching…
It was this article over at Create & Thrive that made me think twice and give it a go. It turns out that, like with yoga, meditation at its simplest level is a great way to relax and de-stress — and it can really help to recharge the creative batteries.
It can be difficult to get into meditation, as busy brains and notifications from numerous devices don’t really allow for us to just sit quietly and do nothing. I was TERRIBLE when it came to stopping my mind wandering during my first few sessions, and that’s something that a newbie to meditation has to accept or you risk driving yourself crazy!
It still takes a fair bit of concentration but it definitely gets easier. But for this reason, when you’re starting out with meditation, it really pays to keep the sessions short to make it easier and minimise any feelings of frustration that might pop up.
So before we get into techniques for how to meditate, I want to go over a few of the ways that meditation is beneficial.
- Increase your happiness
- Reduce stress
- Ease depression
- Help with focus and concentration
- Improve memory
These benefits in turn help to boost your creativity. Think about it: when do you do your best creative work? Is it when you’re angry and stressed, or when you’re happy and relaxed?
The positive effects are mindblowing when you consider what a simple (notice I said simple and not easy…) activity meditation is. (For more benefits and the links to the research that backs them up, check out this article by Emma Seppala.)
How To Start Meditating
The first important thing to bear in mind is that it doesn’t have to be time-consuming. I know this is something that puts many people off in the first instance, because really who has enough time to sit around seemingly doing nothing? (Actually, you could probably scrape together more time to meditate than you think. I mean, do you really need to spend ALL that time on Facebook?)
Certainly in the beginning, if you try to do even half an hour of meditation you will seriously struggle. Five minutes is a good amount of time to start with, and possibly all your brain will allow. Practice most definitely makes perfect here, like with yoga. With time, you’ll be able to meditate for longer, and what’s more – you’ll WANT to meditate for longer.
Guided meditations can really help when you’re a beginner, as you focus on the voice and what it tells you to do or visualise. There are various free soundtracks and videos available online that vary in terms of spirituality and woo-woo-ness (if that’s even a word). I’ve linked to a couple in the Further Reading and Resources section at the end of this post, but a favourite of mine at the moment is the Buddhify app.
I haven’t always used Buddhify, though, and in fact I got started with a really simple breathing technique. There are a couple of different ways that I know for doing this. Either way you practice, you need to be in a quiet room with no distractions (that means no phone!).
It doesn’t matter how you sit, just make sure you’re comfortable – but don’t lie down, as you’re likely to fall asleep. Set a gentle timer for five minutes (I say gentle, because you really won’t want to be jolted back to the present when you’re deeply relaxed).
Close your eyes and let yourself breathe slowly and deeply, and really focus on the breaths as your lungs fill and empty. When your thoughts start to stray off your breathing, just be aware of it and refocus. Don’t beat yourself up about it, as with time you’ll be aware of your mind wandering more quickly.
Another thing you can do as you breathe in and out is to count up to ten in time with your breaths. When your thoughts stray, start again from one. You may not get to ten at all in your five minute session, but if you do, just start again from one, or continue counting higher.
You might feel frustrated every time you have to start counting again from the beginning, but try no to let those feelings get the better of you. As with the first technique, the more you do it the quicker you’ll be aware of your thoughts straying, and the quicker you can bring your concentration back to your breath.
I find this straightforward practice really beneficial, particularly for relaxing in the evening. I sometimes have problems sleeping as my brain doesn’t know when to take a break, and I know many creatives can relate to this. I can often ease this by making sure I have a to-do list written for the next day, but when I have a lot on I tend to lie awake mentally planning and organising.
I’ve found meditation to be so helpful when it comes to quieting my brain both in the evening before I go to bed and also when I’m lying awake at 3am! If I wake in the middle of the night and my brain thinks it’s time to get to work, I use the technique above and can generally get back to sleep pretty easily. This is such a big deal for me as in the past I’ve spent half the night awake with only my own noisy thoughts for company.
Further Reading And Resources
- 10 Myths About Meditation from The Art Of Living
- Meditation for Beginners: 20 Practical Tips for Quieting the Mind
- Meditation Health Benefits: What The Practice Does To Your Body
- Meditation Timer — a fantastic tool for when you’re meditating, it chimes at the beginning and end of the time you set, and also at given intervals if you choose.
- Free Guided Meditations from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center
- 9 minute Mindfulness Meditation by Sam Harris
- Buddhify app
It was also thanks to Jess’ article over at Create & Thrive that I discovered this fantastic infographic for skeptics. Created by Dan Harris and Happify, it will answer any questions, concerns and excuses that you come up with regarding meditation!
Let me know how you get on if you decide to give it a go. If you’ve been meditating regularly for a while, feel free to share your hints and tips in the comments too.