Having a bit of trouble getting your Zen on? We answer all of your meditation frequently asked questions here.
I can’t tune out. I feel stressed. And how do I know if I’m actually meditating? We asked meditation guru Dr Ian Gawler to guide us through some of the most common meditation questions. Here’s how to unwind and switch off.
“I can’t shut off from my day”
Many people find it difficult to meditate, citing a busy, chattering mind as the most difficult part of this ancient practise. “If you’re a beginner, it may be helpful to concentrate on one particular ‘thing’,” says Dr Ian Gawler, meditation teacher, and founder of The Gawler Foundation. “Focus on breathing slowly and regularly, or count your breaths.” You could also try using words with the in and out breaths. “Such as ‘peace’ on the in, and ‘love on the out, or ‘let’ on the in and ‘go’ on the out”.
“I can still hear what’s going on outside”
Your mind will still be “conscious” while you’re in a meditative state. According to Gawler, about 25 per cent of your brain needs to tune out during meditation. While the other 25 per cent will monitor whether or not you’re actually doing so. And the other 50 per cent? “It’s free to be relaxed, yet focused, in a light way,” he says. So that passing screeching ambulance will register in your mind, but you won’t start thinking about where it’s going or why. “You notice the present moment, but you take your reaction out,” he says. “The important thing to realise that the mind is meant to think, and it’s normal to have thoughts coming and going.”
“How will I know when I’ve cracked it?”
Once you’ve passed the initial stage of quietening your mind, you’re on your way to ‘mindfulness’, Gawler notes. “This is the capacity to be aware of your present moment, and experience it without judging or getting caught up in a commentary,” he says.
“When’s the best time of the day to meditate?”
Rather like exercising, there are no hard rules around when you should meditate. It’s what works for you. “Most people find, particularly when they’re starting out, that there’s benefit in routine, so it’s a good idea to meditate at same time and same place each day,” he says. Try and fit five minutes in the morning between your normal routine or waking, breakfast and showering. “If you fit in meditation between two regular morning actions, you’ll be more likely to take the time to do it.”
“Whenever I go to a class my stomach starts grumbling”
You’re lying there feeling calm, when suddenly, there’s a monster roar from your stomach. “If you’re a little tense, one of the places the tension goes to is your stomach and your bowel,” says Gawler. “It’s actually a sign of relaxation.”
“Do I need to meditate for hours each day?”
“Most people find that five to ten minutes is useful,” says Gawler. What’s important, he says, is what you achieve in that time. “As you become more practised, you’ll be able to squeeze it in throughout your day, or what I call micro-mediations.”
“Can I play music during meditation?”
For some people, music, incense sticks, a blanket, pillow or a guided voice is necessary to help them reach their nirvana. “Find out what works and what fits into your lifestyle, so that you’ll actually do it regularly,” he says.
How to find a meditation class
So you want to start meditating? Look for a meditation teacher or class in your area by visiting Australian Teachers of Meditation Association www.meditationaustralia.org.au. Or check out the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga www.asm.org.au. For more on Ian Gawler and his meditation programs visit www.gawler.org.