Wellbeing: New to meditation? Here's how to learn

Meditation is a great way to boost mood, combat anxiety and relax body and mind, especially useful at times like these. Here, Jo Darking - who runs Satyam Yoga Centre in Cambridge - gives us a step-by-step guide on how to meditate at home

Meditation restores calm and combats anxiety (35681306)
Meditation restores calm and combats anxiety (35681306)

When we practice meditation, we learn simple, accessible tools that support us to manage the workings of our mind, to learn to slow down, step back and get some perspective on the ever-changing fluctuations of our thoughts and feelings. The practices are accessible to everyone - no special conditions are required. It can be done sitting, lying down or even walking. Essentially the process of meditation is the process of becoming aware, and this is something that anyone can access at any time.

Here's how to begin:

1. Whatever you are doing, stop, and begin to notice how your body is feeling

If you are sitting then gently scan through your body and notice any areas of tension or discomfort. You could gently roll your shoulders or stretch your neck to each side, maybe take a stretch to the side or a little twist one way and then the other. Take your time with this, it is important that you make sure you are as comfortable as you can be.

2. Notice the sounds around you

Close your eyes (or simply drop your gaze and focus on something close by if you prefer). Start to notice what you can hear in your environment. Don't analyse the sounds, just observe them coming and going in your awareness. Notice the sounds furthest away and notice the sounds close by. Notice all the sounds together. Continue for a minute or so.

3. Now notice your breath

Become aware that you are breathing. Just notice the natural breath in the body. Feel your belly gently move as you breathe. Feel your rib-cage gently move as you breathe. Feel the breath moving in and out of your nostrils (where possible, otherwise breathe through your mouth). Continue with this simple act of noticing for up to one minute.

4. Connect with your breath

Now start to consciously slow your breath down. You might place your hands on your belly to do this. Keep the breath very gentle, no strain at all. Take your time. Allow the breath to get slower and deeper and bring it under your conscious control.

5. Notice thoughts and feelings arising

As you sit here focusing on your breath, you will notice thoughts or feelings arising. Be aware of thoughts coming into the mind. Don't get caught up in the content of the thoughts, just notice that the thoughts are there. Some come and some go and some come back. Take on the role of an observer. If you find yourself getting caught up, notice when that happens, and then come back to your breath. When a thought or feeling arises, notice your reaction to it - this is a thought too. There is no such thing as a good or bad thought, they are just thoughts arising in the mind and you observe it all. Continue for a few minutes, continually coming back to the breath every time your mind wanders.

6. Intensify your focus

Bring your attention to the breath moving in and out of the nostrils. Start to count your breath. As you breathe in, say to yourself, "1" and as you breathe out, "1", then "2" and say on. How high can you count without becoming distracted or losing count? Each time your mind wanders, come back to the beginning and start again with "1". Come back to the beginning as many times as you need to, this is part of the practice. See if you can get to the count of "10" without becoming distracted.

7. Bring your attention to one point

Now bring your attention up to the space behind your closed eyes. Feel your attention here, just for a few seconds. Be present in this moment. Take 3 final deep breaths with your focus here and then feel your whole body once again and open your eyes.

Remember, it is the nature of our minds to be busy and to actively seek out things to engage with. So please don't feel that you need to have a calm mind to begin meditating. Just bring yourself to the practice, as you are right now. It is all about the process, and the process begins just by becoming aware.

About Jo

Jo Darking of Satyam Yoga Centre (35681282)
Jo Darking of Satyam Yoga Centre (35681282)

Jo Darking runs the Satyam Yoga Centre in Cambridge, teaching Yoga and Meditation classes suitable for all abilities and levels of experience. She is currently teaching an online weekly meditation session, on Fridays 7.30am – 8am, which is open to all, either free or by donation. She regularly runs both Yoga and Meditation for Beginners courses. More info can be found at joannadarking.co.uk or satyamyogacentre.co.uk

Meditating Mum

Since lockdown began - with my two lively little ladies (aged 2 and 4) to entertain 24/7 - I’ve spent an inordinate number of hours playing princesses (see picture above), begrudgingly watching the annoying pig (Peppa), moulding playdoh into unicorns (badly), blowing up paddling pools, painting wonky rainbows, baking malformed biscuits, dreaming up scavenger hunts. . . you get the idea. And it’s been fun no doubt; precious time.

Louise and daughters (35681294)
Louise and daughters (35681294)

But it’s been exhausting too – especially when you factor in the excessive snack consumption. Most days, my kitchen is like a drive-thru, such is the constant and insatiable demand for food from the hungry mites. I can’t blame them mind; my waistband attests to the tantalising appeal of calorific treats during these stressful times.

Love them I do, but I also love a little bit of me time – which has understandably been in scant supply. So one Saturday, girls entrusted to Daddy day-care, I barricaded myself in the bedroom and gave Jo’s step-by-step meditation guide a whirl.

Unsure at first if I’d be able to block out the gleeful giggles of my girls getting soaked with the sprinkler in the garden, I soon relaxed into it. Tuning in to the sound of songbirds warbling in the trees, set against the faint howl of the wind in the distance, I luxuriated in the joyful sound of Mother Nature’s orchestra. And as I moved on to the breathing section, my shoulders visibly dropped and my arms and legs took on a new heaviness. At one point I felt so zoned out, I could feel myself drift off. In fact it was almost a rude awakening to retreat from that moment of complete calm.

I admit I was shocked at how quickly you can transition from coiled-spring tense to contentedly Zen, with just a few simple exercises. I’ll certainly be practising meditation a few times a week to hush my whirring brain, reset my mind, and momentarily rescue me from the world of princess dress-up, the squeaky-voiced pig, and playdoh splodging.

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