Your two-minute guide to meditation that actually works

November 11, 2015
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Contrary to popular belief, meditation isn’t reserved for mystics and monks, and can be practised by anyone willing to set aside a couple of minutes each day. The benefits of meditation are nothing to scoff at: it’s been suggested that it improves concentration and attention (perfect for all you procrastinators) and reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. With exam periods well underway, now’s the time to get your head in the game with a healthy dose of meditation to complement your hardcore studying. Give it a shot with this quick and easy guide.

Be aware of your breath

Mindfulness of breathing is one of the most important aspects of meditation according to Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist at Stanford University. She says that paying close attention to our breathing “cultivates self-awareness, mindfulness, and the ability to make conscious choices about what you are doing”.

And it’s really not that difficult. McGonigal recommends three approaches for mindfulness of breathing: the first is to mentally label each breath with ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’; the second is to focus on the physical sensations of breathing, such as your belly rising; the last involves counting each breathing cycle, with one count including an inhale and exhale. After paying a bit of attention to your breathing, it’ll surprise you how much you take it for granted in everyday life.

Start off small

If you’re brand new to meditating, diving head first into 20 minutes of om-ing will probably have you dying of boredom. It’s been found that most first-timers start with three to five minutes of mindfulness and paying attention to their breath.

Dr Craig Hassed, a researcher on meditation and health from Monash University, has suggested that even a few 30-second sessions a day can significantly improve stress levels. Gradually, as you become more familiar with meditating, you can up the ante, but take it at your own pace to avoid feeling overwhelmed.   

Go with the flow

Sitting still and trying to clear your mind probably won’t come naturally at first, especially if your uni student lifestyle has you programmed to tackle a thousand things at once. Meditation gurus suggest not expecting instant success; your goal is relaxation and stress reduction, not enlightenment. Don’t be hard on yourself if you’re struggling, and accept what the experts call ‘monkey mind’, which basically refers to the constant wandering and activity our brains experience.

Integrate it into daily life

Meditation doesn’t have to involve sitting in the Lotus Position and chanting. It can be incorporated into your daily routine simply and with minimal effort. Try to engage in everyday tasks, like walking or eating, with a certain awareness of the motions you’re going through. Focus all your attention on the single task at hand and make a conscious decision to place all your energy into it until you’re satisfied and can move on to the next task. When it comes to exam time, you’ll feel much more attentive and relaxed.

Get appy

Self-guided meditation can be a challenge if you’re yet to possess the discipline required. Do yourself a favour and hit up the app store on your iPhone or Android, where you’ll find heaps of meditation and mindfulness apps that’ll lead you through the basics. They generally provide a range of meditation tracks for various purposes and at different lengths of time, so all you have to do is find one that suits your individual needs and let it work its magic.

Aobh O’Brien-Moody

Aobh studies journalism at UNSW, eats too much ice cream and is half Irish in case you couldn’t tell. She tweets at @Aobh_OBM.

Image: Nickolai Kashirin, Flickr Creative Commons license