So who's with me? You know meditating is one of the best things you can possibly do for yourself.
You've heard about the higher functioning, productivity, creativity and focus. You dream of the reduced anxiety, worrying, anger, stress, screaming at the kids, fogginess, insomnia. You yearn to be less moody, more happy and – why not, eh?! – live a bit longer. Then, you sit down, close your eyes, try to think about nothing and well, you just CAN'T.
It feels like the more you try to clear your mind, the more those pesky thoughts come wafting back, just to spite you. And you give up, because what should be the world's easiest thing suddenly seems all too hard.
But it really doesn't have to be. Just like when you exercise your body, when establishing a regular meditation practice it's best to start slowly and get some help to figure out what you should be doing. Most importantly, you need to keep at it to get results. There's a reason it's called meditation practice, because the more you practice it, the better you get at it and the easier it becomes.
There are many different ways to meditate, and one or another might be best suited for you. To help you narrow it down, Nikki Jankelowitz from Centred Meditation suggests asking yourself what you hope to achieve.
"Is it purely for stress relief, for productivity enhancement, for blood pressure reduction, or for deeper insight into yourself?" she says, adding that you also need to take into account your own preferences, experiences and levels of psychological health.
Once you've established your meditation goals, Nikki suggests some easy methods to get started.
Perfect if you: have constant racing thoughts and a fast-paced mind and want to calm it down.
In this type of meditation, the aim is to focus your attention on images known to be calming to the mind, which then have a corresponding response in the body. Typically, this means images of nature. While research has proven that being in nature can help both our emotional and physical wellbeing, Nikki says, "the amazing thing about the brain is that you don't even need to BE in nature to experience its benefits. Whether one is viewing scenes of nature, or imagining them, the same neural pathways are being fired in the brain, so the body can't actually tell whether these images are real or not."
Another variation of this is a candle meditation, which involves placing a lit candle at eye level, an arm's width away and gently focusing on the flame.
"For someone with a particularly active mind, this style of meditation is a fantastic way to settle the mind as it gives it something tangible to focus on," advises Nikki.
Single Focus Meditation
Perfect if you: would like to improve your focus and attention capabilities, learning ability and memory, and ability to process information.
This classic form of meditation entails using a particular focal point as an anchor to settle the mind. This could involve simply concentrating on your breath, observing it move in and out of the body, or using a mantra which involves effortlessly repeating a word or sound over and over.
"The rule with this technique is not to get frustrated or annoyed when your mind inevitably wanders off and gets caught up in thought," explains Nikki. "Research shows that 47 per cent of the time, our mind is thinking about something other than what we are doing. So we can safely assume that at least half of the time we will have thoughts. The trick is, whenever you realise you are engaged in thought, just gently guide your attention back to the breath or mantra without judgement."
Perfect if you: are feeling disconnected from your physical self, holding in pent-up emotions and holding stress in your body.
"The main purpose of this type of meditation is to get grounded in our physical bodies," says Nikki. "We spend so much of our day living in our heads, that it's highly beneficial to drop down into our bodies once in a while."
To do a body scan meditation, sit comfortably and work your way through the various parts of your body, starting with your feet, paying attention to how they feel and trying to release any tension you come across. Allow your awareness to drift up your body slowly, focusing on each different part and breathing out any tension you find. If your mind wanders, simply notice your thoughts then guide your awareness back to your body.
Group Guided Meditation
Perfect if you: have a high-pressure job and/or lead a fast-paced life and struggle to find time to meditate.
Do you enjoy meditation – or the thought of it – but can't ever seem to be able to fit it in? A group guided meditation could be for you. A lot of people struggle to make meditation a priority when left to their own devices.
"The great thing about a group meditation is you are able to diarise your 'me time' and seamlessly wind meditation into your wellbeing routine," says Nikki. "We find our clients manage to schedule our sessions into their diary so their colleagues know they are occupied at that time, and nothing else can get in the way."
Guided meditation also has another major benefit – it's 'super easy' says Nikki. "There is nothing to do but sit and listen to the facilitator's soothing voice as they help you breathe your worries away."
Perfect if you: want to combine meditation with exercise and achieve calmness, relaxation and increased creativity.
"Walking meditation is more of an open eyes mindfulness technique that you can use on the go," explains Nikki. "It involves bringing your attention to the pressure and sensations in the feet as they make contact with the ground and your weight shifts from one foot to another." So next time you take a walk, rather than blasting music in your ears and going over your to do list or ruminating over something that's bothering you, try to stay totally in the present, aware of yourself and your surroundings.
* This story first appeared on Juice Daily.