What is Meditation?
Meditation can seem overwhelming to those looking to know more. There is no one book that can tell you how to meditate. It is something you must practice and learn for yourself.
Essentially, meditation is mind training. It can seem overwhelming, but when approached with an open mind, it can have many health benefits.
Benefits include lower stress, increased focus, decreased anxiety, stronger mental stamina, insight into your senses, a better relationship with your emotions, broader compassion, and liberation from life’s daily struggles.
Physically, meditation has been shown to decrease pain, increase immune function, increase muscular stamina, reduce alcohol and tobacco use, and decrease cellular inflammation. Recent research has backed up many of the claims made about meditation.
Of course, humans have many other strategies for achieving all of these goals, but meditation is the one focused method that has been shown by research and experienced meditators to achieve all of these benefits. If you are new to meditation and want to know where to start, read this guide and let it brew for a few days. Maybe you need to re-read it a couple of times before it really soaks in. When you are mentally ready to begin, choose a method and dive in!
Meditation is commonly associated with Buddhism, which holds that practicing meditation can lead to the end of all suffering. However, you do not have to be Buddhist or be religious at all to practice. Meditation has gained wide acceptance in the Western world since the 1960s. It is The mental and physical benefits are accessible to anyone willing to learn and put in the time.
As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. Meditation techniques are simple but must be practiced to be mastered. In the same way, that you did not learn to ride a bicycle on the first try, meditation techniques are not mastered in one session.
Meditation for Beginners
A very simple way to start meditating is called mindfulness meditation. Large companies like Apple and Google, advise mindfulness meditations to their stressed-out employees, which can be seen as an endorsement of mindfulness exercises. It may look useless to the busy person looking for a quick fix for their stresses, but often, they are the ones who stand to benefit the most.
Before you begin, review the posture techniques further on in the guide. Mindfulness meditation instructions are thus:
- Set aside five to ten minutes a day. You will gradually increase the time as your schedule allows.
- Sit with a straight back and tucked in abdominal muscles on a chair, cushion, or towel.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe in through the nose.
- Breathe out through the mouth.
- As you breathe in and out, focus your mind on the feeling of air moving in and out of your body.
Keep your mind on the rise and fall of your stomach and chest. Pay attention to the flare of your nostrils. Feel the air travel through your teeth and lips.
Thoughts will intrude as they are wont to do. Brush them away.
Priorities and future activities may try to invade your present. Maybe your thigh itches you, or you hear your cat sneeze in the next room, or you all of a sudden smell your armpits very strongly. Notice these thoughts, but don’t dwell on them.
Push distracting thoughts and feelings away, and come back to your breath. Focus on the movement of breathing in and out.
Another meditation technique, called “Taking and Giving” is as follows:
- Inhale. Say in your mind, “I breathe in the light.”
- Exhale. Say in your mind, “I freely give this light.”
- As this mantra becomes a habit, practice visualization of the light.
Upon inhaling, imagine white light flowing through the top of your head On exhale, visualize the light flowing from your chest.
Again, start with five minutes a day or maybe five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night. The practice increases your ability to concentrate and feel compassion towards your fellow human.
Practical Tips for Beginners
There are ample online, free resources for learning meditation. However, it can seem insurmountable to the uninitiated. Finding a local meditation center and taking an introductory course is an option for those needing a nudge. For those who respond better to spoken instruction, guided meditation might be a useful path to take.
Mindfulness in Plain English, by Venerable Henepola Gunaratana, a Buddhist monk, is a free eBook commonly recommended to novice meditators. It is available online and covers techniques that focus on breathing and mindful meditation.
If you find yourself unable to sit still, try to power through it. Sometimes, powering through is just not going to happen. In that case, it may be wise to make small adjustments to your meditation routine: if you are practicing at night, try practicing in the morning instead. You may find it easier to ease into meditation as you wake up or vice versa. If you can’t sit still on the floor, try sitting in a chair. Small changes in routine may be all you need to achieve stillness.
If you still can’t seem to sit still, as is common among people used to being on-the-go all the time, change your techniques. Figure out what works best for you. This is where guided meditation might be beneficial. A practiced meditator may be able to determine what you need in order to achieve meditation success.
You may find your brain running around in circles. This is normal. Meditation is not an easy skill to conquer. A brain unused to quieting down will take some time to do so.
You may be tempted to listen to music while trying to ease into meditation. In fact, meditation music is a recognized genre, and Spotify features “meditation playlists.” However, music is generally regarded as a distraction to mindfulness and total immersion in meditation.
Meditation Types and Techniques
Beginners may be overwhelmed by the many different types of meditation, but one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Meditation has been around for centuries, and humans have developed many different flavors. They are just different ways to the same place.
Traditional meditation practices include samatha (mindfulness of breathing), vipassana (insight), mantra (repeating a phrase or word), and zazen.
Samatha, or mindfulness of the breath, is a good starting point for most people, as mentioned above. It is relatively simple; it gives you a point of reference for returning to a meditative state in any situation; it allows you to develop concentration. Focus on your breath, and let everything else float away.
Vipassana meditation attempts to gain insight into reality through mindfulness of breathing, feelings, thoughts, and actions.
Mantra is a word that has entered the English lexicon. It means repeating a word or phrase in your head. Your mantra is unique. It can be anything that helps to ground your mind and thoughts. It is the most studied form of meditation by researchers because of its usefulness in treating anxiety and depression.
Zazen is just sitting. On the surface, that seems simple. In reality, it is difficult to truly achieve, especially for those with a strong inner monologue. The purpose is to put all judgment aside. Sit. Observe all of your thoughts and feelings as they pass through your mind. Do not get involved in the thoughts.
Metta, or loving kindness, is another popular meditation technique. In practice, it means wishing happiness for, showing patience for, and being appreciative of yourself, others, and all sentient beings. This can be difficult for people in high stress, competitive environments.
Body scanning is a meditation technique commonly used in anxiety treatment practiced in a prone position. It involves focusing on each body part, starting at the head, moving down to the toe, and finally focusing on the whole body. The practice is meant to increase spatial awareness and train attention. Body scanning helps those suffering from anxiety realize the bodily reactions that precede an attack.
Whichever method you choose, try to stick to it for at least a month. You may feel restless for a few weeks, but Rome was not built in one day. Habits take time to form. You wouldn’t try to master playing the piano in a week. Treat meditation as you would any other skill you put your talented mind to.
There is no set timetable for mastering meditation. Practice regularly, as often as your schedule allows. The key word is regularly. Building it into your day makes it a habit. To reap the benefits of meditation, be consistent in the practice. Scientific studies have shown that four days of meditation training can increase focus and productivity.
For a beginner, start with five minutes a session for the first two weeks. Then, try five minutes twice a day for the next two weeks. Next, try ten minutes twice a day. You’ll soon find yourself able to sit for twenty to thirty minutes per session.
Once you really become a pro at meditating, you may be able to sit for hours on end. However, that’s not always achievable if you’re not a Buddhist monk. A good goal to set for your meditation practice is sitting twice a day for twenty to thirty minutes per session. Really, it’s your preference. You are in control of your mind and your body. Do what feels good.
Your posture while meditating will depend on the meditation style you choose. Some will recommend particular positions. For instance, body scanning recommends you lie with your back flat on the floor, legs on the floor, face to the ceiling, and eyes closed.
For seated meditations, the most common in the Western world, sit comfortably and make yourself aware of your body.
Check into how your body feels and follow these steps:
- Straight spine and neck.
- Tops of shoulders relaxed down and thrust back. your
- Head over your shoulders.
- Chin slightly tucked in.
- Squeeze your stomach muscles in towards your spine.
It may seem cliché, but practicing holding a book steady on your head can work wonders for your posture. People who sit down at desks/computers all day may have difficulty with posture at first because they are used to sitting slumped forward in a posture not conducive to meditation. It may take time to re-train your muscles to the proper posture.
If you find yourself struggling with posture, don’t let it stop you from practicing! Everything takes some time to achieve. As you practice, it will get easier. If it doesn’t become easier, please consult a medical professional to determine if you should continue practicing. Some people have medical issues that make sitting up straight impossible. Do your best with what you have.
Meditation as Medication
If you have come to meditation to help deal with a serious mental or physical condition, be sure to consult a licensed medical doctor for help first. Meditation can act as a supplement to your other treatment options but should not be the only method pursued to treat serious mental conditions.
People struggling with depression, anxiety and ADHD have found meditation to be useful as treatment options. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy has gained traction in medical realms and seems to be an effective coping method for depression.
Patients learn to identify negative thoughts. They recognize the thoughts when they arise. They replace the thoughts with something completely different. It should be stressed that meditation is not a solution to depression and should be used along with other depression resources.
There is a meditation method for every lifestyle, physique, and mental situation. Make it a habit to practice your preferred method every day. Use the Internet to learn how to do meditation. To educate yourself on different methods, seek out experienced community members when you are unsure of what direction to take. Discover how meditation can influence every aspect of your life for the better.
Sources & Further Readings
Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn
How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains: Sara Lazar at TEDxCambridge
TEDxBrownUniversity – Willoughby Britton – Why A Neuroscientist Would Study Meditaton