Meditation: Why it pays to be mindful in the moment

Meditation has come out of the ashram and into the living room, as more people embrace mindfulness as a way of coping with the stresses of life.

Western science is increasingly acknowledging the physiological and neurological benefits of meditation and mindfulness, with about 700 new scientific papers published on the subject in 2016 alone.

In fact, sports clubs and primary schools are now embracing it as a means of reducing stress, meeting challenges and improving mental wellbeing.

Monash University Associate Professor Dr Craig Hassed says mindfulness helps us to mitigate the chronic effects of the fight or flight (or stress) response.

Overactivation of that response can create physiological and neurological wear and tear that creates inflammation, reduces our immune response and accelerates ageing, Prof Hassad says.

Former Western Bulldogs Aussie Rules great and The House of Wellness TV co-host Luke Darcy was an early adopter of meditation, practising it during his football career as early as the mid-1990s.

Luke says meditation was “massive for me as a footballer” and believes it is even more relevant for modern-day sportspeople living in the bubble of social media.

“Meditation was pretty out there in 1997, in the western suburbs of Melbourne,” he says.

“I look at the pressures of footballers today compared with my era, and I didn’t have to contend with people on social media giving feedback after games, the level of scrutiny now is off the charts.

“If you’re an AFL player you’re basically going to be filmed every time you’re out. I think the application of (meditation now) is huge in that space. It’s another tool to have in your tool bag.”

Meditation and mindfulness

The terms meditation and mindfulness often go hand in hand.

Australian mindfulness start-up Smiling Mind explains mindfulness can be divided into two parts.

The first is learning to focus attention on one thing, and being able to bring the attention back when the mind gets distracted.

The second is about cultivating an attitude to that attention – that is, “being open, non-judging, and curious about what you are focusing on”.

Nick Duigan, senior clinical advisor with Australian youth mental health service Headspace, provides a handy analogy.

“Imagine your attention in your mind is a puppy which is constantly wandering around, wanting to sniff around your mind,” Nick explains.

“Mindfulness is like asking that puppy to just sit on the mat.

“But it will only do that for a while… the practice is about retraining the puppy to sit back on the mat.”

Nick says a common misconception is that mindfulness is a process of “escaping” or “quietening the mind”.

It is more about “developing the capacity to maintain the mind’s focus in the present”, he says.

Smiling Mind explains meditation is simply “the formal practice of mindfulness”, to strengthen “our mindfulness skills”.

How to learn to meditate

As little as 10 minutes of meditation can be beneficial and it can be done in most environments, even sitting on a train.

Nicks says for anyone wanting to try it, there are several apps available offering self-guided practice.

But he cautions to only go down this route if “you feel safe and willing to handle the memories or experiences that your mind may throw up that may be difficult for you”.

  • Smiling Mind: A free app for everyone from children to adults, with options to upgrade to payable mindfulness resources.
  • Headspace: An international group (not to be confused with the Australian body of the same name) offers free practices from three to 20 minutes or a subscription fee to unlock its large library.
  • Insight Timer: A massive library of 15,000 free guided sessions, as well as a “premium” option.
  • Calm: A library of meditation, sleep, relaxation and music.

Written by Mike Bruce, with additional reporting by Claire Burke.

If you’re interested to learn more from Luke Darcy about his own personal experience with meditation, join him and the team from Griffith Consulting on Wednesday June 5, 2019 for The Power of Meditation: The 20 Minutes That Can Change Your Life seminar at Melbourne’s Crown Promenade.

Learn more about the evening and book your tickets.