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Life in the post-COVID-19 world can sometimes feel like a minefield. To be sure, microbes have always lived around us and inside us. But most of us haven't been so aware of the constant threat of infection before this.

If you cannot help but ruminate about that last casual grocery run you made, or that quick chat with the neighbour in the parking lot, or the last time you went to meet an elderly person in your family without worrying that you might be posing a health risk to them, you're not alone.

Indeed, if you are thinking about how best to subsist in these difficult times, you are not alone.

(Read about maintaining resilience through the COVID-19 pandemic). 

The mental health toll of the pandemic cannot be understated. While illness is a normal part of our lives, the fact is that this is a new pathogen and our health services are being pushed to the brink; medical and community backing is not the way it is in more normal times. Additionally, remembering to take all the precautions to prevent COVID-19 all the time—while necessary—can be exhausting.

(Read more: 10 preventive steps to protect the family from COVID-19)

How does one manage all this? Everyone has their own way of coping and there is no choice but to move forward and face the music. There are healthier ways to do it, though—being overtaken by stress and anxiety will only make matters worse. Case in point: through meditation.

Meditation—the many forms of it—has gained a more favourable reputation in the international community now. There are millions of practitioners across the globe and there is very solid evidence to suggest that meditating makes the mind and body better at handling stress and increases resilience in the face of challenging situations. There is also evidence to suggest that meditation can alleviate symptoms of physiological diseases. 

(You can also try Yoga for stress relief).

The beauty of meditation is that anyone can do it, and it can be incorporated into any part of the day and takes only a few minutes of your time. While there are many forms of meditation, the central idea is to reduce the tendency of the mind to ruminate—it aims to cut the vicious cycle of damaging, negative thoughts by making the mind more receptive to when they may occur and how to deal with them in a more constructive way. 

For a lot of people, this sounds like a tall order and the objective too obscure. However, this should not deter you; meditation is meant to be an extremely personal form of reflection, and you can initially approach it in any way you find fit. Slowly you will begin to understand what you want from the exercise and you can delve deeper into your thoughts.

On International Yoga Day 2020, we bring to you some tips to begin your journey into meditation:

  1. Don't be bogged down by specifics
  2. Start slowly and challenge yourself
  3. A routine might help you start meditating
  4. Find a comfortable spot and position
  5. Focus on your breathing
  6. Chant a familiar word or mantra
  7. Journal your thoughts
  8. Focus on particular parts of your body
  9. Find a meditation buddy
  10. Doctors for Meditation for stress relief

When you start out, it is natural to worry about meditating the "right" way and making productive use of your time. You may also wonder about which technique to follow, and if you should follow any guided videos. However, don’t let this come in your way—the stress of getting things right will detract from your overall experience. 

Instead, think about why you decided to meditate and just give yourself time with your thoughts in a non-judgemental and non-defensive manner. Remember, this is your time, and no one has to know what you are thinking or doing… you are simply making a personal inquiry.

An advantage of meditation is that you can start completely on your own terms and set your own goals. You can even begin with 3-5 minute sessions (or less) and then gradually increase them as you please. 

It is often a good idea to start slowly so as not to intimidate yourself and gradually get an idea of what to expect from the method.

(Read about mental health tips for those who are self-quarantined).

Though this varies by individual, some people like the idea of structure in their daily lives. This may give events some solemnity and purpose, and may help with time management. 

So if you are the type who likes structure, fix a time during your day when you will just be meditating. Others may find this helpful too; meditation is an abstract, experimental activity so some sort of grounding can make the process easier. 

You can see what time works the best for you; some like to ponder before they sleep while some like doing it first thing in the morning.

It can be difficult to sit down to meditate initially—you may feel awkward or unsure about what to do. Or, you may be tempted to give up a few minutes into the exercise. Carving out half an hour to meditate (and only meditate) at the same time daily would help you get over this hump much faster.

Some practitioners may recommend upright positions, but again, this is totally up to you as you start off. Pick an area that you find relaxing, and where you can be comfortable and secluded for some time. This could be your bed, your favourite chair, or even a park or trail that you are fond of. 

Being comfortable and in familiar surroundings will help you calm down better and you may reflect on why you chose the spot and what it does to your body and mind.

(Read about exercises to improve posture).

People associate mediation with breathing deeply. If you are looking for something to focus on while you meditate, your breathing may be the best option to start with. Breathe deeply through your nose, hold your breath for as long as you comfortably can, and then slowly let it out through your mouth.

Research shows that breathing in deeply through the nose increases the availability of nitric oxide or NO in the body—NO helps to get more oxygen into the tissues all over the body, regulates the mood and slows down the heartbeat.

Think about the physiological dimensions of the breath and how every step makes you feel.

(Read about deep breathing exercises).

Another easy technique to get going is to repeatedly think of a word or mantra in your head to ground your experience. Do not worry if your mind wanders—this is natural and will happen invariably. Use the mantra to guide yourself back to focusing just on the chant.

Again, this is a helpful way to start since it is an easy way to declutter the mind. Do not worry if you forget to chant in the middle—it is a slow and evolving process.

For some, this is an extremely important part of the whole process. Writing is itself a meditative exercise since it gives you the opportunity to think more deeply about your thoughts and present them in an analytical way. 

Meditation may bring about a gradual shift in perspective—but don’t rely on this or preempt it. Writing will help you extend this period of thoughtfulness and dig a little deeper into the process. Another advantage is that it can tie up your experiences; writing can act as a bridge between meditation sessions and give some structure to your explorations.

Conduct a "body scan". This involves focusing on different parts of the body; if there is any tension in the muscles, how that muscle is connected to the rest of the body and how it feels to gently clench and unclench it. The point is to be mindful, or aware, of your body. You can slowly move to different parts of your body.

This can work for some people—having someone to check in on your routine is a great way to stay faithful and motivated to achieve your goals. You may even benefit from reflecting on the process together and get more out of it.

You can select a time that works well for you and your friend. Make sure the person is someone you are comfortable with and only share as much of the experience as you would like.

Dr. Abhishek Bunker

Dr. Abhishek Bunker

General Physician
2 Years of Experience

Dr. Vishwas Pahuja

Dr. Vishwas Pahuja

General Physician
1 Years of Experience

Dr. Nilofer Patel

Dr. Nilofer Patel

General Physician
3 Years of Experience

Dr. Prachi Jain

Dr. Prachi Jain

General Physician
2 Years of Experience

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References

  1. Madhav Goyal, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Mar; 174(3): 357–368. PMID: 24395196
  2. Sara Lazar, et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness Neuroreport. 2005 Nov 28; 16(17): 1893–1897. PMID: 16272874
  3. Peter Canter. The therapeutic effects of meditation BMJ. 2003 May 17; 326(7398): 1049–1050. PMID: 12750183
  4. Simon Young. Biologic effects of mindfulness meditation: growing insights into neurobiologic aspects of the prevention of depression J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2011 Mar; 36(2): 75–77. PMID: 21324288
  5. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health [Internet]. National Institutes of Health; 8 Things to Know About Meditation for Health
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