By: Jess Nugent
I remember a few years back when I first started hearing about meditation and to be honest, I thought it was a bit of a joke. A few weeks later my doctor suggested I control my anxiety by cutting out weight lifting and taking up Tai Chi… to which I responded, “oh haha ok.”
This is only because I didn’t truly understand the process or the benefits of meditation. I felt if I had just sat myself on a mat, closed my eyes and started humming along (my very naive image of what meditation looks like) – I would immediately start thinking of what I need to do tomorrow/next week, or that dumb thing I said to someone five years ago.
MINDFULNESS AND MENTAL BALANCE
To explain meditation I want to explain to you how I view mental balance. Depression lives in the past so when we spend so much time thinking about things that have happened, it affects what we are doing today.
Anxiety lives in the future, again we spend time worrying, not just about things that are happening but things that could happen or go wrong. Or, you may be doing both. I have been there and it honestly feels like you are living in limbo! And no, living equally in the past and present do not balance you out as you are on a different frequency.
Happiness lives in the present. It is inside you right now and is unlockable through practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is being aware and conscious of your surroundings, what you see and what you feel with your senses. So if it is inside us, why is it so hard? When you are in a depressive or anxious state you are mentally living in either the past or the future, so your body almost goes into autopilot to get you through the day. Do you ever get into your car and drive, then you end up at the destination without even really remembering the journey? That is the opposite of mindfulness and consciousness. We all do this a lot more than we think.
SO WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation is anything that draws you away from your thoughts of past/future and brings you into the present moment. It involves you truly being conscious and aware of your surroundings – it is not being absent of thought as I used to believe. The great thing is that there are so many different ways to incorporate this into your life, you may already be doing it without knowing, and some of you won’t even need to change your schedule – just your mindset.
I never really understood why I felt like a new person after most gym sessions (obviously endorphins etc, but it was always something more than this). When I am doing weight training, I literally clear my mind and am purely thinking about what my body is doing, how I am moving, where I feel tension, and pushing through each exercise. That is meditation. Living in the current moment.
I then leave the gym having been brought back to the present, that central position of the diagram, rebalanced and with a fresh new outlook. So I know now that when I am having a particularly anxious day, or I’m feeling really down about something that has happened – a good gym session can usually help.
Tips: Limit your phone use at the gym. Nothing breaks your meditation like a message from your friend saying “omg can you believe that status Becky posted yesterday” or your partner saying “We need to do washing tonight” or “what are we having for dinner”. Forcing you to live again in either the past or future!
If you feel your mind wandering, take a deep breath and really focus on the action you are doing currently, don’t just go through the motions, squeeze the muscle you are trying to target and think about how it feels.
WHEN ARE YOU MOST HAPPY?
Meditation is not only available while being active. Think to yourself – when are you most happy? Maybe you love to paint, you can get out a big canvas and some paints and concentrate on what brush strokes you are using, how your hand moves and the combinations of colours.
Activities that require some form of physical movement are best as they make you become aware of controlling your body. Even listening to music and going for a walk can be great as long as you really focus on the way your steps hit the pavement, the way the air feels on your skin, or the way the music sounds.
Think about your five senses and how the environment stimulates each of them. Being around friends can be a good way to get yourself back into the present also, but it is more difficult to control your mindfulness here, especially if you are new to the idea. Organize an activity to do that limits past/present talk, go out for a meal that is an experience. You could even communicate these ideas to your friends and involve them in steering conversation away from negativity or worries, to what is going on at the present moment.
Tips: Remain focused as mentioned above. Do things that you feel comfortable doing, where you won’t be putting pressure on yourself! I.e. If I am terrible at drawing and aim to recreate a work by Michelangelo as meditation, I am likely to get frustrated with myself. The exercise is not goal-oriented but process-oriented. The satisfaction is not in the completion, it is at the moment.
Just breathe and focus, it gets easier the more you do it. Actually, allocate time every single day, your mind will enjoy being brought back to ground zero and you’ll find it easier to get through other tasks afterward.
About the writer:
Jess Nugent is a writer, model, advocate for mental wellness and a baker! Her passion for all areas of mental health stems from her personal battles, and time spent supporting loved ones through struggles also. She graduated from Macquarie University with a BA – Psychology and uses this knowledge alongside lived-experience to, not only raise awareness and remove the stigma around anxiety/depression but provide strategies for coping. Jess has a strong focus on health and well-being. She has spent 6+ years working in the fitness industry and uses exercise/diet to create balance in her own life.