Personal trainer and fitness expert Majed Al Hamad on why meditation is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health during lockdown.
It’s natural for many of us to be struggling with heightened anxiety levels during the coronavirus pandemic. From worries about work, financial matters and paying the mortgage to our health and that of our family, the stresses caused by COVID-19 are many and varied.
And it’s particularly difficult for those who are self-isolating or shielding. Having little to no contact with other people heightens depression and anxiety and makes it even harder to maintain a steady, positive outlook. This takes its toll not only on our mental health, but our physical health too.
Why meditation during lockdown could help you
People have known the benefits of meditation for thousands of years. The oldest evidence we have for people practising meditation can be seen in Indian wall art that dates approximately to 5,000 BCE. Today there is no single definition for meditation, and there are different methods you can practise.
Forms of meditation range from Buddhist to transcendental, and today’s more common mindful meditation. Whichever form of meditation you choose to practise, you’ll find certain commonalities. Most forms of meditation focus on slowing the breath, concentrating on your internal self and focusing your mind away from external stressors. Meditation does not have to be practised in a yoga position, or while contorting the body. In fact, forms of mindful meditation can be practised anywhere at any time.
Meditating helps to manage anxiety and depression
While meditation is good practice for both mental and physical health, it won’t directly protect anyone from coronavirus. However, there is evidence to suggest that it can strengthen your immune system. Regular meditation used as a relaxation technique can positively affect a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. This can help to produce antibodies that destroy potentially damaging cells, according to evidence shown in randomised trials. In essence, mindful meditation has the capacity to bring your stress levels down, and this can in turn boost the immune system.
There is more direct evidence that mindful meditation can help to control anxiety. A new Government survey shows that almost half of all adults in the UK are experiencing ‘high levels’ of anxiety during this unprecedented period of lockdown. With regular practise, mindful meditation can help you to stay anchored in the present moment and alleviate worries about either the past or the future. It’s about acceptance of your emotional state as an entirely valid response to the circumstances you find yourself in.
Meditation can also help to manage depression and keep emotional distress away. This is very important for people who are self-isolating or shielding and may have been without direct human contact for several weeks. While video chats and phone calls are also important, they’re no substitute for interactive human to human company, and may not be enough to manage the anxiety caused by long periods living alone. Meditation is ideal for people who are self-isolating as it’s something that can be practised by anyone at any time, and it can be free to learn.
How to practise meditation if you’re a beginner
If you’re new to meditation, here are my tips to make practising easier and to help you get the most out of it.
1. Use an app, online class, CD or book to help
There are numerous apps, websites and books available to help guide you through meditation. If you are a total beginner, I highly recommend downloading an app that is specifically tailored to talk you through the process. There are many apps that offer ‘guided mindful meditation’. All you need to do is plug your earphones in and follow the instructions
It’s possible to find enough information online, from a book or from an app to help you learn how to meditate without spending money. However, if you’re able to pay for online classes or upgrade your chosen app for full features, that can help too. For beginners, I recommend something like Headspace or Calm, but there are lots to choose from so go with whatever feels comfortable.
2. Be patient!
Meditation is a skill and it takes time to learn. If you’ve never done it before you are likely to find it difficult to start with. The trick is to keep practising and accept the journey. This isn’t about becoming ‘the best’ at anything. Learning is part of the process, and patient repetition is needed.
3. Start with short sessions
No-one can instantly transition from never meditating to holding their concentration for half an hour. It would be counter-productive to even try. You are training your brain to work in a whole new way, and the best way to learn is by doing regular, short practices. This will help you build up the skills you need to do longer sessions.
4. Set aside a specific time of day to meditate
Meditation is a habit you must develop, and you’re far more likely to continue the regular practise necessary if you have a specific time set aside.
5. Enjoy it!
Meditating is not a chore – it’s something you’re doing for yourself. Find a comfortable position and remember this does not have to be a complicated lotus position. Lie down, sit in your favourite chair, go outside… whatever is most comfortable for you.
If you can include regular meditation into your daily timetable, you should find it easier to manage anxiety, sleep problems and generally boost your mood. We’re all looking for a little help during the pandemic, and I highly recommend trying meditation.