Written by Maria Locke Mortensen
This new pandemic life has brought a lot of focus on mental health and how to deal with the various effects of lockdown. And as we celebrate University Mental health day this week, the 4th of March, one question that arises is, why are we so intimidated by meditation when we know it can be an efficient wellbeing tool?
The oldest documented evidence of the practice is wall art showing people in meditative postures 5,000 BC in the Indian continent, later becoming common in China and Japan.
This thousand-year-old practise is now widespread in the western world, and with social media, it has evolved to us seeing young slim white girls in perfect yoga outfits, sitting on idyllic beaches, telling us to clear our minds from thoughts. Is this wrong? No, but is this level of perfection and overachievement intimidating? Yes.
Let’s start by looking at why meditation works. According to the article “The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation”, not only does meditation show changes in the brain structure, but it is also associated with increased grey matter density in the brain stem. And neuroscience tells us that regularly meditating benefits us by enhancing self-regulation, attention control, emotion regulation, self-awareness, chronic-pain and reducing stress.
Who doesn’t want this?
Meditation is not an end goal; it is about being present. No matter how cliché this sounds. Meditation is basically about training our attention.Maria Locke Mortensen
We do not need to become enlightened human beings and meditate for hours. What we do need is to be comfortable in our skin and do what makes us feel good. But, like all things in life, it takes time and a little patience.
Here are some steps and suggestions on an imperfect meditation practice:
- Step number one: We start by not caring about what we wear, and at this point, it will probably be our pyjamas or the sweatpants we use for class. Wear something comfortable.
- Step number two: Now, we choose one of the many free apps out there, a YouTube video or music that makes you happy. There are many options of guided meditations, meditation music, classical music, whatever rocks your boat. Explore and see what works for you, and when that gets boring. Explore again.
- Step number three: Find a place to sit or lie. There is no “right” way. Again, be comfortable.
- Step number four: Set the timer for 1 to 3 minutes. You heard me, 1 to 3 minutes. Sitting in your thoughts can be challenging, and this way, it is almost impossible to find an excuse not to do it.
- Step number five:
- Press play on the media you chose.
- Keep your eyes closed or focus on an object and try to breathe slowly.
- Count your breaths or repeat in your head “breathe in – breathe out”, “exhale- inhale”, and do your best to focus on your breath.
Thoughts will come, lots of them. Don’t get frustrated about this. Look at your thoughts, accept them and focus on your breath again. Acknowledge whatever comes to mind—negative, stressful or positive thoughts. The idea is to practice shifting your focus to your breath.
Meditation does not have to be this enormous, unnerving process. And if you think that three minutes of meditation sounds like it won’t alter anything, remember that three minutes a day is twenty-one minutes a week, an hour and a half a month and eighteen and a half hours a year. Aim for consistent practice, and keep in mind that you will skip days, and that is ok.
Make it a priority to always take care of yourself.
Maria Locke Mortensen is a MSc Museum Studies student with a healthy obsession with Japan and contemporary art. She is also passionate about inclusion and environmentalism in museums and is a proud lazy yogi and meditator. You can find her on Instagram here @_enfanterrible_