Calm, cool, collected: The art of meditation

It’s never too late to begin daily meditation — a practice that’s proven to help our brains in countless different ways.

According to NIH, meditation can ease anxiety, boost focus, cure insomnia and mitigate chronic pain . Perhaps less well known is the fact, uncovered by Harvard researchers in 2015, that daily practice actually produces physical changes in the brain, increasing grey matter volume in the hippocampus, an area associated with learning and memory.

No-one, least of all a mature person, needs a neuroscientist to tell them that this kind of brain plasticity is highly desirable. 

So, keen to replace your dharma (Sanskrit for “the way things are”) with a little dhyana (“state of meditative flow”)? Here’s how to get started.

Same time, same place

Select a peaceful, clutter-free nook in your home as your meditation space. Furnish it with pictures or mementoes that suggest tranquillity and equanimity. Decide what time of day you’ll come here. Experts recommend early in the morning or just after work; but avoid meditating just before you go to bed. Newbies should aim for one to five minutes a day at first, slowly working up to 10-20 minutes and, ultimately, about 40 minutes daily.

Get comfy

Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Even with the help of a meditation cushion (“zafu”) and mat (“zabuton”), the traditional lotus or half-lotus pose will be achievable only to those with open hips and knees. If this already feels too intimidating, content yourself with a comfortable sitting position on a chair or sofa with the soles of your feet on the floor and a rolled-up towel under your tailbone to ensure your back remains straight. Think head over heart, heart over pelvis. 

Be here now

There are different types of meditation, but mindfulness meditation is currently one of the most popular. If mindfulness is our awareness, one that’s free of judgement, of the current moment, meditation is the training of our attention in order to achieve this awareness. Begin by concentrating on the breath. Silently, in your head, number each inhalation and exhalation (inhale, one; exhale, two; inhale, three; exhale, four) until you get to 10, and then start again. Distracting thoughts will naturally arise unbidden; the trick is to not pursue them. Simply keep bringing your focus back to the gentle rise and fall of your breath. 

Need help?

The Muse 2 Headband is a device that interprets your brain’s electrical signals in real time while you’re meditating, via an app on your smartphone. It then translates those signals back to you as weather sounds to better help you train your focus. “A great introduction to those who would like to meditate, but don’t know where to start,” reports TechGuide. “With regular use, you will learn the skills to calm your mind and achieve a new level of Zen.” 

Read all about it

Experts recommend finding a teacher and a community with whom you can meditate regularly. But, in an age of social isolation, the internet is a trove of information and inspiration. Start, perhaps, with the teachings of legendary masters such as Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh and Tara Brach. “The purpose of meditation,” says Brach, “is to become mindful throughout all parts of our life so that we’re awake, open-hearted and present in everything we do.”

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