Meditation – a beginner’s guide
Meditation has long been known to be beneficial to your health. Practiced for centuries by those in the know, there is now so much scientific backing to those benefits that even the most sceptical couldn’t doubt it’s effectiveness: Meditation has been proven to help reduce blood pressure, improve heart rate, relieve stress and anxiety, boost your mood, improve sleep and even help ease chronic pain. Not to mention the boom-massive spiritual effects such as increased awareness and understanding of self, mindfulness, harmony, and connection.
But although meditation is one of those things that everybody knows you should do, in practice it often doesn’t happen. I know it’s certainly something that I have dabbled with on and off for years and only recently started to do with any regularity, and I wondered how many other people struggle with this and why. When I began to dig and ask others how they felt about meditation, these were some of the responses I got:
- “I do meditate, but not often due to lack of time, lack of quiet – I don’t prioritise it although I know I should”
- “I’ve never meditated as I’m not sure how. I would be interested to though as I know it is beneficial to wellbeing.”
- “I meditate maybe once every 2 or 3 months when I am having trouble sleeping. I do guided meditation as by myself I am not sure what I am doing”
- “I always feel like I could or should do something more constructive. I’m not very good at focusing (although I realise meditation would probably help with this!!)”
- “I meditate every morning…sometimes I feel like I don’t want to/have time because I have slept in, but because I have done so many days on the trot now I’ll make time in the evening instead, but in the past, I just felt there were more important things to do”
I can relate! The feeling that you could/should be doing something more constructive, more important things to do, not sure how/what you are doing, lack of time, lack of quiet….These are all very real and very common problems, I’m sure some of them ring true for you too. One thing is clear, for regular practitioners and newbies alike, it seems that we all know we would benefit from meditating, but none of us put it up there as a top priority. So how can we change this?
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Making meditation a priority
Anybody who feels the inclination and is capable of sitting still for more than a couple of minutes at a time can practice meditation and reap its benefits.
Commit to a regular meditation practice, whether for you that is daily, weekly, or even monthly, decide, and make it specific. So for daily practice, you might choose to get up 10 minutes earlier each day and dedicate this time to meditation, or each night before bed. Maybe you decide you’ll meditate every Sunday morning before you get up and brew your coffee, or the first day of the month you religiously put aside half an hour to reflect on the previous month (you will for sure get better results if you practice more regularly than this, but something is better than nothing!)
However you see this fitting into your time schedule, pick a time and make it non-negotiable. Show up for yourself knowing that this is not wasted time – even if it feels that way (and it probably will, especially if meditation is new for you!) You are learning a new skill which could potentially be life-changing!
“You should sit in meditation everyday for 20 minutes. Unless you are too busy – then you should sit for an hour”
Old Zen saying
Make it your own
Claim your space and make it your own. By this I don’t mean an actual, physical space (although if you have plenty of room to spare and the inclination then that’s fine!) rather, claim your mental space – you need to get in the zone.
Now, you really don’t need anything to meditate, but that said, something I have found useful is to have one small object or item to focus on, something that you’ll come to associate with meditation and nothing else, which will enable you to more easily enter a calm, relaxed state. It could be a set of mala beads or a rosary, a crystal to hold in your palm, a special candle dedicated to your practice which you only light before meditating, but for me one of the best ways I have found to tap into that deep, restorative calm that comes with meditation is through scent.
You know how certain aromas will transport you instantly to another place in time? It’s basically that.
When I started meditating, years ago, I had a whole ‘meditation zone’ thing going on, complete with special cushion, candles, spiritual icons, crystals, and an oil burner. In the oil burner I used to splash a couple of drops of ylang-ylang oil, and this smell quickly began to represent meditation to me. These days I don’t tend to bother with the paraphernalia, but a whiff of ylang-ylang oil, and instantly I feel a wash of calm, which switches my brain into meditation mode from the get-go.
Make it magical
Experiment a little, anything that makes meditation time feel a little bit special and magical for you is helpful, consider it a doorway, something to guide you into your happy place 🙂 If you really want to treat yourself, these meditation cushions are gorgeous, made with organic cotton and filled with seed husks. I have one like this, it’s super comfy for sitting cross-legged on, I LOVE it – but I’d be lying if I said it was necessary, any chair or cushion will do, you can even meditate lying in bed (although you may just fall asleep!)
Find a quiet place to sit.
(note: if this is a problem for you and no quiet places actually exist in your world, then just try to find a place where you are alone – you can use the sounds as part of your meditation, engaging your senses and becoming aware of each sound you here, notice it, then let it go, what else can you hear? Hear it, then move on…make the background noise in your home the soundtrack to your calm, not the disturber of it!)
Set a timer
Try 5-10 minutes initially – this is not a long stretch of time, and all those “important” items looming over you won’t have to be on hold for too long. Tap into your zone using whatever ritual you have created as discussed above, and then just sit.
“When walking just walk, when sitting just sit, and above all don’t wobble”
Old Zen saying
I found that quote in a book on Buddhism in the library when I was teeny (back in the days before the interweb when you had to actually GO somewhere if you wanted to learn stuff! Imagine that!!) it has always stayed with me, I think at the time I just found it funny, but really, there is a lot of truth in these words…When sitting, just sit.
Don’t overcomplicate things
I think when starting out with meditation there is often the expectation that you are going to drop straight into some kind of deep, intense, spiritual trance when the reality is that actually, you are just going to sit. And your gonna wanna fidget. And you’ll catch yourself going over your to-do list, or wondering what to make for dinner, or just generally day-dreaming, and that’s perfectly normal.
It’s part of the process. Everybody’s mind wanders, especially in the beginning. Some people liken it to cars passing by – just notice they are there, then let them go. Or my personal favourite (one I heard on a guided meditation, although sadly I forget who it was by!), the chap who said training the mind is akin to training a puppy, if the puppy runs away, just gently bring it back. Keep gently bringing it back every time it strays. There is no need to beat the puppy!
Meditation is about relaxing and attuning yourself to the moment. You are not going to achieve nirvana in a 5-minute meditation, but you can relax, let your breath slow and deepen, expanding your lungs, feel your muscles unclench, your heart rate slow, and quiet the mind. Acknowledge the thoughts that arise, but don’t attend to them. You can return to them later if necessary.
10 minutes, just for you.
If you can’t switch off and you achieve nothing more than having spent 10 minutes breathing deeply, then that is excellent news! Don’t berate yourself or give up, our minds are a constant whirr of activity and production, nobody can just sit down and shut off like that.
Meditation is like a muscle, the more you practice, the stronger the muscle becomes. Don’t expect too much, just trust that this time is beneficial to you and that it will get easier with time. For now, just be at home in your body. Connect with your sense of self, start at your toes and move up in detail through your body, mentally making a note of any areas of tension or unease, don’t try and correct them, just notice where you might be holding onto something you need to let go. Occupy your body fully and be in the moment, own the space you fill.
Read also: An introduction to Slow Living
I do some of my best journalling after meditating, I find in a relaxed state the words just seem to flow better and often I will feel something during my meditation that I hadn’t been aware I was feeling, so it can be helpful to spend a few minutes afterwards to write down anything that comes to you.
You may also enjoy: How to write a personal mission statement and find your inner awesome!
There are many ways to meditate, so sometimes people don’t like one type and give up not realising that it’s normal to connect with some techniques and not others. If you can’t get on with simply sitting in silence, try a guided meditation.
There are some excellent apps available, my personal favourite is ‘Insight Timer’ but I have friends who swear by Yoga Studio, Calm and Headspace. Some are free, some paid, some a mixture of the two.
‘Calm‘ for example is free to access some of the meditations, including the excellent meditation bubble (a visual which shrinks and grows to tell you when to breathe in and out – it is so wonderfully hypnotic and has a calming effect on adults and children alike – it’s been a lifesaver in the past when the kids have been feeling particularly agro!) but I found it irritating that you’d get a day or two into a 10-day meditation on happiness or whatever and then you have to pay to unlock the rest.
‘Insight timer‘ is better (in my humble opinion) because it has TONNES of great free content, but also separately, the option to buy courses from teachers if you find one you really like. You might be shopping for a course, or you might be browsing the free stuff, but you don’t get stuck between the two. Simples. This pleases my brain.
[Update May ’19: Insight Timer now offers a paid plan to get access to their catalogue of courses and live classrooms. The range of free meditations available is still phenomenal however, and so it is still my app of choice!]
Explore, see what works for you – A good friend of mine told me “I have to be completely quiet, and I don’t want the meditation app to make a noise, I would rather there were visual apps”
Maybe if you are also more of a visual person, you could try something like ‘Luminesence’ a visual mandala app (disclaimer – I haven’t tried this one – it could be rubbish!! Let me know if you can help my buddy out! Haha!)
See what calls to you, you might feel more drawn towards a certain type of meditation, experiment and see what you connect with, consider it a journey and enjoy yourself as you explore.
So, to recap…
- Make non-negotiable time for yourself. Let everyone know you don’t want to be disturbed, hang a sign on the door, switch off your ringer and get your zen on…
- Get in the zone using scent, an object, or ritual of your creating
- Set a timer for 5-10 mins. Extend this as you become comfortable with the practice
- Sit. let the thoughts and feelings come and go. Become aware of what is going on in your mind, positive or negative.
- Take full possession of your experience. Be at home in your body, occupy it fully.
- Don’t try too hard
- Jot down any revelations
- Experiment to see what works for you, this is your journey after all!
Affirmations – A Beginners Guide
If you try any of these tips I’d love to hear how it goes for you!
Hi Kath, I am so grateful to have found your website. I just want to say thank you.
Kath | The Life Spotters
You’re very welcome David, thank you so much!