On a scale of one to 10, I’d say my stress level on a typical day is between three and four. My job as a communications advisor at a not-for-proﬁt organisation isn’t that stressful and I lead a balanced life where I exercise regularly, eat well and have time for hobbies.
However, I sometimes ﬁnd it difficult to quiet my mind, partly because I am a worrier. It probably doesn’t help that I check my e-mail and social media accounts a lot. It’s become a habit, and all that constant stimulation just adds to the chatter in my head.
This is why I decided to give meditation a go. One of the many known beneﬁts of meditation is a calmer mind, and I was hoping to achieve that.
The secret lies in deepening and lengthening your breath during meditation, and science backs this up. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California have found a direct connection in the brain between breathing and states of mind. Their ﬁndings suggest that taking deep, slow breaths triggers neurons in the brain, which tell the body it is time to relax.
For starters, I decided to download the Headspace app because it had audio meditations led by a teacher. I felt my chances of meditating daily would be higher if I used guided sessions.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
A BAD START
While I enjoyed the process and the calming voice of Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, I found it difficult to ﬁnd ﬁve minutes a day to meditate. All I had to do was sit still, close my eyes and breath while following the cues in the app, but carving out time for that just wasn’t easy to do.
The ﬁrst week was a write-off. I meditated for the ﬁ rst two days and then forgot about it for the next three. I got frustrated at myself and wondered if meditation was worth doing at all.
But I refused to give up. At the start of the second week, I decided that I’d wake up earlier than my husband and use our spare bedroom as my meditation room. I also got a comfortable cushion to sit on. I had initially tried meditating in our bedroom and the living room but found myself getting easily distracted.
The change in environment helped and I found myself concentrating much better. I got through the rest of the introductory lessons on Headspace without a hitch. Then another problem occurred. Only the 10-day basics course on the app was free and I had to pay for a subscription to unlock the rest of lessons.
Call me a cheapskate, but I felt conﬁdent enough to carry on meditating without the app. I continued to wake up earlier than usual and would sit cross-legged with my eyes closed while focusing on my breath for ﬁve to 10 minutes. Sometimes, I’d do alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana) during my meditation practice as that breathing technique helps to clear the mind and balance energy in the body.
I ﬁnally got through two solid weeks of meditation and will be continuing with the practice. I learnt that how I start the day affects how I handle the rest of my day. Turning inwards and listening to my breath through meditation ensures that I start the day on a calm note and I ﬁnd that I often stay in “zen mode” throughout the day. Even if I ﬁnd myself in a stressful situation – like getting stuck in traffic and being late for an appointment – I don’t get as easily annoyed as I did before taking up daily meditation. I am better able to detach myself from external stress factors.
To further enhance the beneﬁts of meditation, I’ve also set a timer on my Instagram account as that’s the social media platform that I spend the most time on. I can easily spend 30 minutes (or more) daily on the platform. My timer goes off after I’ve spent a total of 15 minutes on it. Cutting back on my screen time has helped to quieten my monkey mind and made me more aware of the time I spend on “mindless” activities.
Meditating daily might seem a little daunting, so feel free to start with meditating just three days a week ﬁrst and then working your way up to a daily practice. In terms of duration, start with just ﬁve minutes a day like I did and stick to that for a few weeks before lengthening the time. It’s more important to cultivate a regular practice rather than having one long session and then forgetting about it for the rest of the week.
I’d also suggest waking up at the same time every day to meditate and downloading an app like Headspace to help you through the process. I used my spare room as my meditation room, but you could sit in your balcony or go to a nearby park if you enjoy the outdoors.
Since it costs nothing at all, there’s nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Over time, meditation is said to reduce stress, improve sleep and boost heart health, just to name a few of its beneﬁts. Be patient with yourself and the baby steps you take will eventually reap big results.
"Meditation is said to reduce stress, improve sleep and boost heart health."