Meditation is the rare wellness trend where both celebrities and experts agree on the benefits. Meghan Markle, Kristen Bell, and Oprah have credited meditation for their mental mindfulness, and in this iso-situation, we’re up for a double shot of mental clarity.
We get it, the current climate is a mental minefield: each day we are sent on a rollercoaster of emotions. We were anxious before the pandemic, but now with an added blend of coronavirus, job uncertainty, social distancing, and self-isolation, things are only getting more stressful. It’s a mental marathon for everyone, so it is no wonder that more and more people are turning to meditation.
For advice on how to start a meditation practice we called in Sydney-based Meditation instructor Luke McLeod. Luke turned to meditation in 2010, following in the footsteps of his role models Steve Jobs, Muhammad Ali, and Hugh Jackman.
Initially thinking meditation was for hippies, Luke tells Kin that it wasn’t until he had a series of personal struggles that he began to learn and experience meditation and its benefits.
Fast forward a full decade, and Luke has been practicing for just over 10 years and teaching for three.
Before we fast forward into the how, we should get on the same page: what is meditation?
Well, it’s a lot more than humming on a pillow. Luke explains that before you begin it is important to understand that meditation and visualisation are two very different practices. He describes meditation as “the act of pulling you into the present moment through focusing on one thing right here, right now. Whether that might be a mantra or your breath.”
On the other hand, Luke depicts visualisation as “exercises [that] engage the planning or imagining part of the mind.” Visualisation has many benefits, and is still a helpful mental exercise, but it's not meditation.
“It can remind you that there is still so much to be grateful for on a deeper level,” he says. “It can also bring about a feeling of connectedness so even though you might be alone there’s an understanding that we're all in this together and will get through it together.”
So what do the folks in the white coats have to say? A recent study from Behavioural Brain Research found that meditating for just 13 minutes a day was enough to boost productivity, improve attention span, and memory.
With over 10 years of experience, McLeod says that the first step is to “approach meditation from the angle of something that you want to do, and are excited to do. Rather than need to do or should do.”
It sounds simple enough, but meditation shouldn’t be a chore or just another checkbox on your to-do list. Understand its benefits but also understand why you want to practice.
“This shift in approach will certainly help you enjoy the process and want to stick with it” Luke explains.
Don’t be disheartened by the challenge: in 2015 Meghan Markle wrote in her lifestyle blog, The Tig (now defunct), “last week marked the one-year anniversary of my relationship with meditation, something I found endlessly daunting at first (the thoughts, the distractions, the boredom of it,) but soon became the quietude that rocked my world. I can't put my finger on the why or the how, but I will tell you this much, for me...I am just happier.”
Just like a workout, many approach meditation with a long list of unrealistic expectations. Luke believes this is why people get frustrated and think they are “doing it wrong.”
Luke explains that when your mind wanders off during a meditation, that is an essential part of meditation itself.
“You catching yourself wandering off is you becoming more self-aware and is something to be celebrated, certainly not criticised,” he said.
Luke’s last piece of advice is to set a goal for yourself and stick with it.
Like any new habit or practice, routine is essential. “Meditation is an exercise that takes time and discipline,” he says, “give it time and the magic will begin to happen.”
You don’t need to meditate for an hour each day: start small and build your way up.
“I really enjoy powering down for 20 minutes because it’s like shutting off light switches in my brain” Kristen Bell revealed to Live Happy Magazine in an interview about her practice. “Meditating even a couple times a week makes a big difference in my stress and happiness levels.”
There are a couple of ways you can practice at home, and if you're looking for a more techy approach you can download apps such as Headspace, Calm , and Insight Timer and be left to your own devices. These apps offer a whole bunch of guided meditations, as well as advice on how to stick to it.
If you’re looking for a more community experience try joining meditation groups, where you will be able to connect with others and complete a set-course with expert guidance.
At the end of the day, approach meditation from the angle that it's something that you want to do. Try out a couple of different apps, teachers, and varieties (of which there are many), and find what works for you.