Meditation. The word itself gets me a little on edge. I have tried it a few times before but really struggled to calm my mind. So instead of jumping head first into a meditation session expecting failure, I thought it would be great to pick the brain of a meditation expert. I personally take a long time to fall asleep and have heard meditation can be helpful. As soon as I finally hit the pillow and all is quiet, all these creative ideas pop into my head for work or my brain suddenly reminds me to do something that I forgot. I get a massage and instead of just relaxing, my head is subconsciously rolling through my to do list. Cue Danielle Hanrahan! A meditation pro. I am such a rookie with meditation and in the past thought it was something only spiritual people do but gosh was I wrong, there are so many real, practical benefits for everyone. Danielle shares her top tips on starting out in meditation.
- How would you best describe mediation to a rookie like me?
Meditation is a practice we’ve all been told is good for our mental health. In our busy modern lives, we’ve forgotten how to effectively pause, how to be completely present and focused (hello, wandering mind!), and how to calm our restless, overthinking minds and anxious, fraying nervous systems. Enter, meditation practice.
The thing with meditation is if we can tame ourselves enough to consistently show up, sit down and focus on our breathing, the science leaves no doubt as to the incredible benefits on our overall health and wellbeing. Studies have shown meditation reduces stress, increases focus, improves sleep, and heals our inner systems.
Meditation provides a pathway of coming to accept who we are – the anxious thoughts, the uncomfortable feelings – so we may, if we want, come to better embody the person we know we can be.
- What do you need to meditate?
All you need is an interest in getting to know yourself more deeply; the courage to confront what makes you feel anxious and worried, and to do something about it; and the persistence to show up for yourself – day in, and day out – no matter how much your mind might try to convince you that Netflix is a better idea.
- What are your top tips for starting out?
Whether you’ve tried meditation before or not, see how you go with these tips in establishing a meditation practice for those starting out or jumping back in to try again.
Start nice and easy – Our brains are biologically hardwired to dislike change, i.e. new habits. Sitting down to meditate is starting a new habit, just like going to the gym; so the trick to getting around the discomfort of change is baby steps. A first step could be taking 10 deep belly breaths first thing in the morning – after your alarm has gone off and you’re about to launch yourself into your day. If you have kids and that’s just not possible, how can you make time to sit somewhere quietly and observe 10 slow breaths? The breath is something you have at your disposal no matter what time of the day or where you might be, so utilise it to bring a sense of calm in small moments throughout your day. From there, you can build up to a five-minute guided meditation. There are some great apps out there for guided meditations – like Insight Timer and Headspace.
Be consistent – One of the most important elements of meditation practice is the ability to be consistent – to continuously show up for yourself despite the ever-growing to-do list and demands on your time. My tip - tag your meditation practice onto the back of an already established habit. Do you go to the gym each morning? Once you finish and you head back to the car, do a five-minute guided meditation, or take 10 deep breaths. By tagging a new habit onto the back of an existing one, you’re setting yourself up to make it more a part of your routine than if you tried to establish it on its own.
Set up your space – Establishing a new habit is all about making it so easy to do that your brain doesn’t have time to think up all the excuses for not doing it. Similar to habit tagging is setting up a specific spot in your home, or workplace, for your meditation practice. Whether it’s a certain chair or quiet corner of a spare bedroom, having one place to continuously go to for your practice is going to make it easier for your brain to be okay with doing it.
Get into a comfortable position – It’s not about sitting on the floor in a super uncomfortable twisted pose (unless you want to). Be comfortable. Find a cosy cushion to sit on where your back is supported against a wall, or sit in a comfortable armchair. If your body is uncomfortable while you are trying to focus on your breathing or on the words of the guided meditation, then all you’re going to think about during the practice is how uncomfortable your ankle is, or that you’ve now got pins and needles! That’s not fun for anyone. Again, set yourself up for success by making yourself comfortable enough to sit well supported while being alert in your mind. So, on that note, I wouldn’t recommend lying down. It’s too easy to nod off – I’ve done that so many times.
- Ditch the judgement, and get curious – Meditation practice is all about noticing when our minds have wandered away from where we’re trying to direct our attention, which in mindfulness meditation is often going to be on your breath. It’s noticing that your mind has wandered – ‘Oh, what am I going to prepare for dinner tonight? Oh wait! I’m meant to be meditating!!’ – and bringing it back to refocus on your breath. No judgement. No resistance. Just noticing it has wandered, and gently bringing it back… again, and again, and again. You’ll likely repeat that process 1000 times, but that’s where you’re starting to build your mental muscles. And, if you notice your mind is particularly busy one time, or you can’t stop thinking about one thing that happened at work, once you’ve finished the meditation practice, get curious. Try to see what’s beneath those thoughts – “Why can’t I let that conversation go?”, “What is this feeling that keeps coming up?”, “What helpful thoughts could replace the really unhelpful ones I seem to be having today?”.
Meditation practice is challenging but the beauty of it is, it allows us to reconnect to our inner worlds; our inner selves. For one moment of the day, you can turn off all the external noise – news, emails, to-do lists, expectations, pressure, general busyness – and come home to yourself, inviting peace and calm into your being.
Danielle Hanrahan is a psychotherapist, counsellor and coach based on the NSW Central Coast. She spent the past four years seeing clients, teaching meditation, and facilitating workshops for The Indigo Project, a progressive psychology practice in Surry Hills, NSW. Following the impact of Covid, she decided to re-align her life. In April 2020, she moved to Ettalong Beach on the Central Coast for a slower life and opened a lifestyle store and wellbeing space called Slowwell. You can find her at @slowwell.co and @slowwell.wellbeing, as well as her website.