Hannah J Davies | Contributing Writer | Sunday, 6 September 2015

Mindfulness: A Beginners Guide On How To Be A Pro At Meditating Your Stress Away

Mindfulness: A Beginners Guide On How To Be A Pro At Meditating Your Stress Away

The Debrief: Sometimes it feels awkward and sometimes you accidentally end up rubbing shoulders with a weird sect. Here's how to avoid all that.

Mindfulness – a medically approved fusion of traditional Buddhist techniques and secular Western theory – is the zeitgeisty meditation offshoot endorsed by everyone from Emma Watson to Oprah. It's focused around living in the present and increasing your self awareness and curiosity, but can meditation really change how we live in an age dominated by technology and social pressures? Here are some tips to get you started…

It's ok to be awks

If you suffer from anxiety or stress, your workplace, university or local NHS trust may be able to refer you for an introductory Mindfulness-based stress reduction programme, which is a great starting point. Last winter I did a 5-week course with a lovely lady who – in addition to having an excellent selection of linen trousers – was a pro at teaching us how to apply the stress-relieving power of meditation to our daily lives. Some exercises rooted us firmly in the moment, giving us control to move our attention at will, whilst others challenged us to step out of autopilot whilst going about our daily life. However, it did at first feel alien to share this experience with strangers, as we visualised abstract scenarios, focused on the sensations of various body parts and gnawed grapes at a tenth of the normal speed. The sense of confusion will pass, however, and a nice cuppa with your classmates after your introductory session can help you to feel more at ease.

Don't get brainwashed

If you're not referred for mindfulness by a GP or counsellor, use your common sense when you choose a meditation group. Once I'd learned about Mindfulness with Ms Linen Pants and co, I thought I'd be fine to walk into any vaguely New Age gathering I'd found via Google, cucumber water in hand. I arrived at my first Sahaja Yoga meeting totally unprepared for talk of bodily energies and how to train yourself to avoid hepatitis and cancer. It was all a little too 'Norma's Orange Is The New Black backstory' for my liking and - once I was home – I did another search, this time keying in the word 'sect' alongside the group’s name. Unsurprisingly, a string of alleged instances of quackery appeared. It transpired that this type of meditation - along with the Vedic or Transcendental strand - has garnered a reputation online for going a little, erm, 'off script'. And what of religion? Whilst it has a cast-iron rep for peacefulness, if you're not looking for anything with more than non-conceptual spiritual undertones then classes at Buddhist centres are perhaps best avoided.

You say box room, we say meditation venue

If the prospect of becoming part of a cult/spending all your dosh on meditation (off the NHS a Mindfulness course can be a very expensive commitment) then there are plenty of apps you can download for little to no cost, such as Headspace and Buddhify. Once you've got the basics down in a quiet corner at home, you might feel more comfortable joining a group for guided practice as and when you feel like it.  If you're starting out at home, then practising first thing in the morning can set you up for the day ahead and get you into the positive, inquisitive zone known as 'beginner’s mind' (whereas practising at night can have the unintentional effect of sending you on a one-way journey to the land of nod).

Don't worry if you don't immediately 'get' it

Although meditation is at odds with so many things in our lives, it can feel frustrating when it doesn't instantly click. Your mind will wander to what you're going to have for dinner, whether you're focusing on your breath properly and why, oh why, is that godawful Ariana Grande song you heard at the gym five months ago still stuck in your head...and that's ok. Even when you've cracked it, your panic attacks won't dissipate overnight, and if you've been prescribed medication for anxiety or depression it's unlikely that you'll be flushing it all down the loo. However, meditation might be able to teach you a thing or two about perspective and purpose in an often overwhelming world.

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

Ask An Adult: How Do I Know If My Worry Is Actually Anxiety?

'My Fear Of Dying Consumed Me' Confessions Of A 20-Something With Anxiety

The Anti-Anxiety Apps That Might (Hopefully) Just Change Your Life And Mood Forever

Follow Hannah on Twitter @Hannahjdavies

Tags: Health