Friday 22 January 2021 1:39 pm

How meditation can help you through the pandemic

I write a regular fitness column for City AM, covering everything from the best ways to work-out to how to stay on top mental form

Meditation is one of the most important and easiest things we can do to help improve our happiness in the current state of affairs.

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I have just returned from an extended trip to Brazil, and within a couple of days I could really notice the impact Covid is having on people here. People are stressed and anxious and aggressive. I’ve never seen this much hostility, whether I’m cycling down the road or queuing at the supermarket.

Throughout my day I am coaching clients who are suffering from acute stress, insomnia and anxiety. And they are far from alone – since June 2019, cases of depression have doubled according to some studies. 

The Office for National Statistics says more than two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) report feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect Covid is having on their life. The most common issues affecting wellbeing are worry about the future (63%), feeling stressed or anxious (56%) and feeling bored (49%).

While some degree of worry is understandable, more severe symptoms are being experienced by some groups.  And things will only get worse if we do not change. Right now we all seem to be waiting, waiting for an answer. Every conversation seems to include the words: “When things get better” or “When things go back to normal”. The truth is, things may never go back to how they were. Worse, it’s all completely out of our hands. 

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If we can accept this truth, then we can turn our attention to the one thing we can take control of, and that is ourselves.

Meditation is a simple but effective strategy to help improve our mental health and well being, borne out by countless studies. By investing as little as 10 minutes of your time each day you can improve so many of your health markers. 

I used to think Meditation was for hippies. When I first started meditating, I was in a really low place. I had a big panic attack in front of my old school friends and went through a period of depression. I was introduced to meditation and it changed my life.

Meditation is actually one of the best parts of my day and now I do it regularly throughout the day. I use it before meetings for 3-5 minutes to centre myself and focus, and I meditate for longer periods in the morning and evening.

A common assumption is that mediation is about clearing our thoughts, becoming silent and still. This can lead to frustration, because clearing your mind is incredibly difficult. I can’t do it and this is normal. I believe part of the problem is the way meditation is often framed. We are told to be present, to shake off the baggage of the past and our worries about the future. 

But being present in the moment can mean being stuck in a place where you’re stressed and worried. This can trigger a stress response, because the body does not know the difference between being chased by a tiger and worrying about your parents.

The trick is to channel this energy into something more positive. Instead of attempting to clear your mind during meditation, instead  use it as a creative session for your mind, a time to imagine your future as you would like it to be. 

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I find it helps to do this in an abstract way. Imagine your future as a painting – who else would be in that painting with you? Where would it depict? What would you be doing? The beauty of meditation is that you are the only person who is judging, so you can then let go of judgement and enjoy the moment. 

If you keep doing this, it will become normal and as you go through your day, you will become more aware of the things that you want and have more awareness of your negative thoughts. As the days and weeks go by, you’ll feel much happier. The most important thing is that you are now focusing on what you can control – yourself and your energy.

Mediation is your safe space, a calm space,  a creative space and a judgement free space. Your mind is the perfect place to escape to for a few minutes every day. I like to think of it as a ‘playground for the soul’.

Here are 5 quick tips to get going.

The basics

There is no special way to meditate. The key is to find a comfortable position, ideally sitting up with your eyes closed. Start to feel the sensations in your body. If your mind races, or you have sudden thoughts about work, notice the feelings that show up. Keep focussing on your breath, following it from where it starts deep inside the belly all the way up and out of your nose. This will keep you focused and stops your mind getting distracted by outside noise.

When mediating, thoughts will appear. This is normal – it’s impossible to clear your thoughts. A good way to combat this is to become the observer. Imagine staring out of your window and every passing cloud is a thought. Some are angry, some are stormy, some are happy. Try to watch them with curiosity rather than reacting to them. 

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Music is powerful. When I work with clients who are depressed, one of the first questions I ask is what music they are listening to. Rather than paying attention to the words, try to notice the feeling from the artist. If the music you listen to is dark, that can affect the way you feel. Try to listen to something that inspires you. Check out Daniel Namkhay, his music is incredible and will relax you instantly. His music will also make your meditation practice more enjoyable

Be consistent

Consistency is key. Initially you will not feel any amazing changes, people expect to feel something special during or after meditation, which is not always the case. Over time, however, you will get more and more out of your practice. 

But the real changes will occur in your daily life. You will become more focussed, calmer, happier, more in control, and most importantly you will be healthier. Your body will switch from a stress state to a rest and digest state. If you lack time, start with sitting down for just 10 minutes – we all can find this in our day. 

Get creative

Mediation is enjoyable if you allow it to be. Turn it into your own art piece and see how far you can take it. Get into a full creative mode and express yourself in the silence. Let go of restrictions, fears, doubts, worries and the opinions of others and start creating the future life you want.

I have created a new concept that allows people to go deeper into their practice, giving people insights, visualisations, clarity and happiness.

If you are struggling right now and need some happiness in your life, start by investing 10 minutes a day in yourself.

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