Words: Sacha Stewart
We often hear health experts touting the benefits of meditation, but what exactly does it entail? Meditation & Mindfulness Teacher Sacha Stewart reveals how to get the most out of your practice in 2021 and beyond.
What is meditation?
Meditation is putting some specific time aside to connect inward. There are a lot of different styles of meditation. Many have an intentional focus, called an anchor, whereas others can be more contemplative. Mindfulness meditation helps you to cultivate more presence and focus in your daily life. Over time, you can develop greater personal awareness. This has significant benefits for your health, wellbeing and state of mind.
What happens when we meditate?
When we meditate, our brains undergo a physiological effect. With regular practice, your amygdala (the part of your brain that's triggered when you’re stressed) shrinks and your prefrontal cortex thickens.
When you’re in the prefrontal cortex, you’re calmer, more patient and more compassionate. You’re able to respond rather than react, and you can think more creatively and innovatively.
How to get the most out of your meditation practice
1. Accept that your mind may wander
A common misconception about meditation is that you have to stop your thoughts. The mind thinks – that’s its job – and it will drift off during your meditation practice. This is all a part of the meditation experience. Notice when your mind has wandered away, and without judgement, bring it back to the focus of your meditation.
2. Meditate without expectation
Each time you meditate will be different, so come to your practice without expectations of how you should feel, or without judging it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. For every relaxing and calming experience, there could be another where the mind feels busy, or you might feel fatigued or restless. Each practice gives you a physiological benefit, so rather than critique it, notice how you feel afterwards. Are you calmer with your partner or kids? Are you a little less reactive to that triggering email? It’s not so much about how you feel while meditating, but how you operate in your daily life that shows how your meditation practice is benefiting you.
3. Be the observer
Rather than judging your mind, invite curiosity, interest and friendliness into your meditation. Say ‘yes’ to the present moment as it is, with an acceptance for what is here right now. Thoughts, feelings and emotions will always be coming and going. They will pass through and are always changing. Know that you are not your thoughts or emotions, and instead, become the witness to them.
4. Make it a habit
Meditation is a bit like going to the gym: the more you practice, the more benefits you experience. To develop a routine, try to sit at the same time each day, and connect it to something else you do regularly. For example, you might decide to meditate right after you brush your teeth in the morning.
I recommend trying different types of meditation to find which style you enjoy the most and then practicing that for a period of time. Creating consistency, particularly if you want to develop meditation as a part of your life, will help you reap the positive benefits it brings.