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I asked people on social media what sort of things they wanted to read about on my blog and something that came up a lot was mindfulness and meditation. Here, Kieran Alger shares some tips from the meditation master, Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of the meditation app, Headspace, on how 10 minutes meditation a day can help you on your health and fitness journey.
Andy Puddicombe is the master of meditation and the voice of meditation app, Headspace. Millions of people have downloaded Headspace, and credit the 10-minute meditations with helping them find calm, no matter how mad life gets. But will meditation actually work for you?
What are the health benefits of meditation?
According to Andy meditation can, "improve your sleep, lower your blood pressure and reduce your stress. In fact, setting aside a little time each day to get to know your mind is a great step on the path to an altogether healthier and happier life." Don't just take Andy's word for it - there are scores of academic studies to back him up.
How meditation can help you train harder
"The body and mind are not separate," explains Andy, who has coached Olympic athletes to podium glory. "No matter how much experience we have, no matter how hard we've trained, we can only perform at our best when the body and mind are in sync."
How to start meditating
"Don't think about it, just do it," advises Andy, who swears by taking 10 minutes of time out each day. "It may sound obvious, but meditation only works if you actually do it." So, find a quiet place where you can relax and set your timer for 10 minutes – you can try a free guided meditation for beginners by downloading the Headspace app from iTunes here, or sample a 10-minute taster here.
Andy recommends sitting comfortably in a chair with your hands resting on your lap. "Keep your back straight – sitting at the front of the seat might help. Your neck should be relaxed, with your chin slightly tucked in."
The secret to good meditation
Two words: breathe deeply. Concentrate on your breath and let everything else fall away. But breathing doesn't always come so naturally. Andy's advice: "Defocus your eyes, gazing softly into the middle distance. Take five audible breaths: in through the nose and out through the mouth. On the last exhalation, let your eyes gently close."
What to do when you meditate
Andy advocates slowly scanning your body head to toe, slowly turning your mind inwards. "Observe any tension or discomfort," adds Andy. "Don't try to change what you find, simply take note of it." If your head is still busily thinking, simply let them bubble up without getting caught up in them.
Meditation breathing made easy
"How do I breathe?" isn't a silly question. Far from it. Breathing is automatic, but most of the time our breathing is shallow, which means we don't inhale enough restorative oxygen. So, how do you breathe when you meditate? Over to Andy: "Bring your attention to your breathing. Don't make any effort to change it, just observe the rising and falling sensation that it creates in the body. Notice where these sensations occur – perhaps your belly, your chest, your shoulders, or anywhere else." To keep on track, count yourself calm. Silently count one with your inhale, two as you exhale, three on the next inhalation and so on, up to 10. Then start again.
Are you distracted when you meditate?
It's totally normal to have your thoughts jump from an email that needs a reply to the gig tickets you've got to book and, ooh, is that your phone beeping? Let your breath anchor you. "Guide your attention back to the breath when you realise the mind has wandered off," advises Andy. Keep coming back to your breath until your 10-minute timer sounds.
Let your mind be free
Before you leap up or post a beautifully-filtered shot of you meditating, it's worth taking 30 seconds to do nothing but sit. "You might find yourself inundated with thoughts and plans, or feel completely focused," explains Andy. "Whatever happens is completely fine. Enjoy the rare chance to let your mind simply be."
Crossing the finish line
Gradually turn your attention outwards again. "Become aware once more of the physical feelings: of the chair beneath you, where your feet make contact with the floor, your arms and your hands resting in your lap," advises Andy. "When you're ready, slowly open your eyes."
Bask in the after-glow
Whoop! You winner! Bottle the high by paying attention to how you feel after your 10 minutes of meditation. "Remind yourself of this feeling the next time you feel stressed or worried, and know that with just 10 minutes of meditation, you might feel a little bit better," finishes Andy.
Don't know about you, but we feel calmer already. Peace out.
Written by Kieran Alger, freelance contributor.