When you’re feeling strung out, some calm and a little peace can seem a long way off. Learning how to meditate may never have topped your list of potential rescue packages, but classes and courses for this subtle stress-lowering therapy are on the rise, as well as downloads of apps such as Calm and Headspace – so it makes sense to try a little of that calming action ourselves.
It’s said that explaining meditation is trickier than actually experiencing it – and that’s definitely true. To meditate means to rest in moments of attentiveness that make you feel both deeply calm and deeply alert, a er which you feel refreshed and renewed. It’s a concept that is both simple and complicated at the same time.
Basically it’s all about choosing a focus for your attention – maybe an image, a sound or your breath, then staying with it for a while. If your mind wanders, you just gently come back to that focus – simple. You may find it helpful to enhance your meditations with aromatherapy - check out the best diffusers for essential oils if that’s the case.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to do it - but there are lots of different techniques to try. If you’re new to meditation, we’ve outlined some of the key approaches to help you find the one that works for you.
Candle meditation: 3 minutes
Best for refreshing, relaxing and energising
This fixed-gaze exercise is an easy entry point into meditation, encouraging the knack of calming a restless mind and placing you in the moment.
Place a lit candle in front of you on a low table, with the candle flame level with your eyes. Sit cross-legged with a straight spine to help concentration. Now relax all your body muscles, from head to toes. Slow your breathing down, inhaling and exhaling deeply from the diaphragm.
Gaze at the candle’s flame for about 60 seconds, without blinking, if you can. If your eyes water a little, don’t worry - it’s cleansing.
Close your eyes and you should still see the flame’s image in your mind; hold it for as long as you can. If thoughts come into your head, let them drift by without engaging them. If you lose the image of the flame in your mind, just open your eyes and repeat the process.
Carry on meditating for as long as you like, then blow out the candle and rest for a few minutes – now confidently hit the day!
Breathing meditation: 5 minutes
Lowers stress and calms the mind
“We often, unconsciously, hold our breath or breathe in a shallow way if we’re experiencing stress,” says Sandy Newbigging, creator of the Mind Detox Method. “One way to help calm yourself and move into a trouble-free frame of mind when you only have five minutes is to practise balanced breathing. It can help ease symptoms in double-quick time.”
Notice what your breath feels like as you breathe in for a count of five, and out for the same count. Repeat this over and over, making your in and out breaths equal in length. Even if you’re not stressed, try this for a sense of peace and tranquillity.
Inner smile meditation: 10 minutes
Sensual and energising
This meditation really sets you up for the day. “The more you do it, the more benefits you will discover,” says energy expert Alla Svirinskaya, author of the book Energy Secrets.
As you wake, turn to lie on your back, with your arms and legs relaxed and long. Take a deep breath and gradually exhale, letting out all the stale night air from your body. Repeat three times.
Now move the toes on your right foot a few times – your big toe lifts up slightly while the other toes dip slightly. Repeat with your left foot, then move onto your fingers and hands. Take the tip of the thumb on your left hand and lightly shake it. Repeat with your right.
Smile to yourself – it turns your whole morning and day into a celebration, while you’re still in bed!
Take a deep breath, filling your lungs completely, then allow the breath to go deeper into your stomach. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then slowly exhale in the opposite sequence – stomach to lungs. Take a break, then repeat the deep breath again.
You should have spent around two minutes on this exercise up to now. Continue deep breathing but, instead of holding your breath, smile. So you inhale, pause and smile, then exhale. You should be smiling in such a way that tiny wrinkles appear around your eyes as a result.
Now make your smile wide and sincere. Your eyes should be relaxed (imagine you are looking at a sky full of stars). Continue smiling and visualise the colour pink. Breathe in very deeply, so the colour fills your lungs and your whole body. Pink is the energy of love, which takes over all your being. While smiling, say to yourself: “What I have lost I do not regret. I am a new liberated person.” You need to say this five to 10 times convincingly.
Walking meditation: 20 minutes
Centre yourself and reduce the winter blues
If you’re finding it hard to get into the meditation vibe, try linking it with easy walking. It’s simple and calms you down effortlessly.
Water is the ultimate spirit soother and mind calmer, so try to take your walk around a park pond, near a lake, by a canal or riverside. No water near you? Then choose your greenest, leafiest space, avoiding busy roads.
Wherever you walk, keep an easy pace. You’re not walking to lose weight but for relaxation, so keep things calm and relaxed to help you unwind.
As you walk, give yourself a mental body scan, noting where there are areas of tension and stress. Inhale deeply and with each exhale, starting with your head and neck, imagine releasing any stress and tightness there. Continue down your body, exhaling out the tension in each area. If you identify a particularly tense spot, keep breathing and working on relaxing it until it’s released. Concentrating on your breathing also keeps stressful thoughts from intruding.
Walk for as long as you like, but do at least 20 minutes for real benefits. And make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes that don't rub, so you're not distracted by sore feet. Check out our pick of the best shoes for walking to find your perfect pair.
Music meditation: any length of time
A way to tune in, chill out and relax
While most meditations encourage quiet, Dr Frank Lipman, the health expert of choice for stars including Gwyneth Paltrow and Donna Karan, suggests using music in a positive way.
“On your way to work, in your living room or wherever you’re headed, ease your pulse with some music,” he says. “Music slows the heart and breathing rates to create a feeling of wellbeing, but not any old music will do. Normally, your heart at rest should beat about 75 beats per minute. Music pulsing at about 60 beats per minute is ideal for helping induce an alpha state, the same relaxed state created by meditation.”
Not sure what to listen to? The Calm app has a dedicated ‘music’ section, where you’ll find good examples of music to meditate to. And our pick of the best workout earbuds are also suitable for meditation purposes.