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Wellness Week: Meditation for Beginners from Hollywood Stuntman and Yogi, Downward Doug

Here to tell us more about the art of meditation, yoga teacher and Lululemon Ambassador, Doug, qualified as a stuntman 10 years ago after training extensively in martial arts, gymnastics and platform diving.

Since then he has doubled high-profile actors in productions including Mission Impossible, Game of Thrones, The Avengers, Star Wars and more!

Mixing martial arts, gymnastics and yoga he has come up with a yoga flow that is as unique as his background. He is passionate about teaching yoga and mediation and helping others live a life free of suffering.

You can follow his adventures on Instagram @thedownwarddoug

You've almost certainly heard about mediation, but maybe you're not exactly sure what it is, how to do it or how it works.

Below Doug answers these questions as well as giving you some tips to help you get started and reap the multitude of benefits that come with meditation. Let's get started...

First thing first, what is meditation?

In terms of definition:

“Meditation refers to a family of techniques which have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a non-analytical way and an attempt not to dwell on discursive, ruminating thought" (Shapiro 1982)

A more casual explanation is simply: a practice of engaging your brain to focus on one thing without judgement in an attempt to let your mind take a break from worrying and daydreaming.

Some key points here are: 

It's a practice:

As with any practice, we try our best, sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed. As we continue to practice we get better, but we are always practicing.

We use focus:

We try our best to keep our mind on one deliberate thing. So instead of just letting the mind wander with our eyes closed, we choose a subject or object and focus on that. 

We don't judge:

As stated above we are practicing and one of the things we are practicing is being more objective. Seeing things for what they are, without trying to decide whether they are good or bad. We are simply paying attention to something. Like watching from afar. In meditation, we are simply observers.

OK, so how do we do it?

Start by sitting in any comfortable seat. Literally any seat, chair, sofa, ground or cushions. Try keep your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. This is going to help you breathe easier and also keep you alert. Remember we are trying to observe things as they truly are. Our tall spine facilitates this in a very physical sense. That’s why we generally don’t lie down when we meditate. Way too attractive to snooze! Take it from someone who has had to be woken up in a yoga class for snoring.

Place the hands, palms face up, in the lap or on the knees. Anywhere really that is going to help relax the shoulders.

Eyes can remain open or come to close. If you keep them open, try to lightly stare into one area with a soft focus for the duration of the meditation. The eyes are easily distracted, so I prefer mine closed.

Begin breathing in through the nose and out through the nose. Let your breaths be long and even, giving time between the inhale and exhale, and the exhale and inhale. 

Start to become aware of your body and any sensations you feel. Pressure of the seat below you, the temperature of the air on your skin, the feeling of body parts touching one another. Simply sit and know you’re sitting. Observe the body in this position. 

You can now start to observe your breath. Count your breaths in and out for a few rounds of breath. Then begin to notice where you feel your inhales and exhales. Is it in your chest, nostrils, abdomen or even your lungs? This is for you to discover and explore. Now the mind may begin to wander. If and when it does simply, with a smile, come back to counting or noticing your breath. Remember, no judgement! Simply become aware that the mind has wandered and then return to thinking about the breath. You may have to do this every minute or every second. It doesn’t matter. We practice this art of noticing when the mind wanders as much as we practice the art of thinking about one focal point. Each time we bring our attention back to our focal point it's like a bicep-curl for the brain.

When you are done with your mediation, come out of it gradually as you bring awareness back into the body. Notice the temperature, the pressure, the sounds of the room and the sensation of sitting. Then gently open your eyes.

Start by doing this for one minute. That's right. Just one minute. Notice how you feel afterwards. Then if and when you are ready you can increase the time.

If you want an easy way to remember this stay C.A.L.M.

C: Choose a seat

A: Airways, focus on your breath

L: Level head as you remain chill no matter how many times your mind wanders

M: Meditate by focusing on one thing and simply coming back to that focal point as many times as you need to with a smile

Great! I've got it, tell me how it works

The data has been very clear that mediation has both an immediate and a prolonged effect on our mood, sleep and wellbeing in general. It reduces anxiety and can even increase the effect of medicine. But how?

Mediation has the immediate effect of calming us down, but it allows you to observe your body and mind as it is. In the present moment. You get a mental and physical assessment, seeing how you feel and think. You are spending quality time with yourself when you meditate, getting to know yourself better. As a result you begin to recognise emotions and thought patterns and how they feel in the body. With this awareness you can then choose how to react the next time you are cut off in traffic, having an argument or dealing with a difficult emotion. As Carl Jung eloquently put,  “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

This break in the day to focus on just your breath or any other focal point gives your brain a rest from whatever worries were plaguing you. After your mediation you can now address your concerns with a clear head.

On a neurological level we change the structure of our brains. Growing the grey matter of the brain in general. This reduces the ageing effect of our brain as we generally lose grey matter as we get older. A study in Harvard by Sara Lazar found the grey matter of the hippocampus increased while decreasing the grey area of the amygdala. The effect is better memory, learning and emotional response and decrease in anxiety.

For more on this, check out this Forbes article

Doug's tips for getting started

The mediation above is just one type of mediation. There are so many. So try different ones out and see which speaks to you the most. Just as different types of exercise suit different bodies, so different meditations will suit different minds. Search for mantra, transcendental, body scan, love and kindness or even teen hearts. 

I advise using guided mediation to start. This means someone will lead you through it. You can use an app like Calm, Waking up or 10% happier. Or YouTube has plenty. Or you can check out my Instagram TV where I have plenty you can follow along with too.

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