It's no longer a taboo, alternative therapy. Meditation is now very much part of the modern mainstream. It's a wellness practice that is recognised to have real and measurable benefits to both our mental and physical wellbeing. To the point that doctors are prescribing it to their patients to improve health.
But how exactly do you start? And what exactly is meditation? If you've ever been curious as to how meditation works, how to do it, where to start and how to make it part of your routine, we've got the answers. We connected with the team at mindfulness app Calm to find our more about meditating - and to get the answers to our key questions around this practice. Below, find the details of everything you've ever wanted to know about meditating and meditation according to Calm.
What is meditation? How do you actually do it?
Meditation, most simply, is a practice to calm the brain by paying attention. And most often, what we’re paying attention to is our breath.
When starting out, it can be hard to know if you’re “doing it right.” You might feel weird, awkward and sometimes a bit silly. On your own, you might think your wandering mind means you’ve messed up or that you’re not focusing enough. All of these feelings are normal when you’re just getting started.
To kick start your meditation journey, we recommend listening to a guided meditation, such as The Daily Calm, or try Calm’s How To Meditate series. Designed for beginners — a guided meditation is where an instructor talks you through each step — they offer you direction, coaching, and encouragement that will reassure you that you are indeed doing it right.
How can meditation benefit our wellbeing? What sort of mental health benefits does it have?
With almost half of Aussies (45.5%) experiencing a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime (Department of Health), we can all benefit from learning how to be more mindful and recognise mental health is health.
Meditation is scientifically proven to help people, which is why it’s recommended by top psychologists and mental health experts all across the world.
Meditation has been proven to help reduce everyday stress, burnout, insomnia, anxiety, addiction, depression and chronic pain. In addition to feeling relief, people are also noting the benefits of cultivating compassion, gratitude, focus, joy and self-love through their meditation practice.
Mindfulness teaches you how to build awareness, pay attention, face discomfort, be present, and manage life’s ups and downs. With greater clarity, you make better choices, build stronger relationships and feel confident to take on everyday challenges.
Are there physical benefits to meditation too?
A lot of people don’t realise that meditation has great physical benefits too. With regular meditation practice the grey matter in your brain shrinks, in turn reducing anxiety and stress. This lowers blood pressure and enhances immunity and the body's ability to heal.
Cutting edge science is starting to find that meditation may also slow down the biological ageing process. Whilst it won’t stop you from getting older, several studies have found that meditation activates genes that produce telomerase. Telomerase is a natural enzyme that helps prevent telomeres (the name of the long proteins protecting our DNA when our cells divide) from shortening which can cause cell damage. That means meditation can protect us from age-related health decline at the cellular level.
Are there different styles of mediation?
While meditation can be honoured as a practice that came out of traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism, today meditation is a universal and secular practice. This is exactly what Calm aims to deliver, with hundreds of hours of original content including bespoke meditations, Sleep StoriesTM, wisdom series, natural soundscapes, music and more, so you can discover what works best for you.
Everyone’s preference is different, we recommend you try a few different styles to find what works best for you, some people find ASMR and body scans as most approachable, whereas others prefer sleep stories or guided meditation. There are also more interactive styles like yoga nidra or sound baths.
What kind would you recommend to a beginner?
For a first time mediator, we recommend trying guided meditation. Guided meditation is helpful for beginners learning how to meditate but also for experienced meditators who prefer to be accompanied through their mindfulness practice. Guided meditation can be deeply comforting because the meditator is never without support.
What's the difference between meditation and mindfulness?
At its core, mindfulness teaches us to calm the mind, develop concentration, and increase awareness. With greater awareness of our thought patterns and emotional habits, we can improve our mental health by learning to relate to our circumstances in a more objective, compassionate, and skillful way. Mediation is an exercise to learn to be more mindful.
Mindfulness has both formal and informal practices. Formal mindfulness practices include guided and unguided meditation for example, breathing exercises and body scans. These formal practices are where we really build the muscle of focused attention and compassionate insight.
Mindfulness can also be practiced informally, amidst the everyday rush of our daily lives. We practice mindfulness informally when we take a deep breath before seeing a client or washing the dishes. These moments of mindfulness are important as well. While we may not be sitting peacefully on a mountain top, we are still practicing awareness.
Do you have any tips for anyone looking to try and include meditation in their lives?
Like any habit, it's all about routine. That’s why Calm created the Daily Calm. A signature 10-minute meditation, led by Calm's Head of Mindfulness, Tamara Levitt, that offers a unique mix of meditation and inspirational content to encourage a sustainable mediation practice. It’s short, sweet and easy to squeeze into your daily routine.
Here are some extra few tips to help you find your mediation groove:
- Find a time that works for you: You can meditate anywhere and anytime. The best time of day to meditate is unique to each of us.
- Pair meditation with an established habit: The brain is brilliant at forming connections and you can use this to your benefit when introducing new practices. Building a habit is proven to be easier when you form a connection with something that you already do consistently like brushing your teeth. After a few repetitions, putting the toothbrush away becomes the mental cue that it’s time to meditate.
- Find a comfortable position: Some people sit in a chair, others prefer to sit cross-legged onthe ground or on a cushion. Others prefer to lie flat.
- Stick to it: Like any habit, starting or restarting a mediation practice can feel daunting. Justtake one day at a time.
What do you think more people should know about meditation?
Building a strong mediation practice takes consistency and patience. Think about meditation the same way you think of physical fitness: it takes more than twenty sit-ups or running a single mile to get lasting results. The longer you stick with it the easier it becomes and the more benefits you’ll notice.
When you’re learning how to meditate, you’re learning how to transform your life. So be patient and find what works for you.