Meditation is an action in which a person trains the mind to be induced to a state of relaxed consciousness to gain some benefit or as and end in itself. Meditation has been used since antiquity and is a major component in many of the worlds cultures.
By learning this very basic art, you can undergo a psychological process in which your attention will be brought to the internal and external experiences around you in what is called mindfulness. Many scientific studies have shown that meditation and mindfulness is heavily correlated with greater well-being and perceived health. The effects of meditation – and – range from the relief of stress to a general reduction of anxiety and even depression. (see here) Today, more and more people are only know discovering the benefits that this ancient practice can yield in our hectic and often toxic reality today.
In this article, we shall look at 6 simple steps to start meditating and how it will make the greatest difference in your life.
STEP 1: Settle on a Purpose for Meditating
Whether you’re searching for inner peace, an alleviation of stress, or just simply curious, it is important to know exactly what it is you want out of meditation. This is so that you have a clear goal to work for and a source of drive. Meditation takes some practice to be able to do with ease so don’t get frustrated. Having a clear objective to work for will give you enough motivation to continue your practice.
It can be anything from a desire to be more grounded and calmer or to find out inner truths about yourself that you wouldn’t have discovered in the regular course of our hectic lives.
STEP 2: Find your area of Practice
This should be a spot that’s free of external distractions. An area that is quiet and relatively peaceful for you. It can be anywhere you find peaceful but if you have your own bedroom then this will likely be the best spot.
Once you have an area to meditate, clear it of any dirt or clutter. You may place a meditation alter with crystals, rocks, candles and/or anything you feel will aid you in your meditations. You may also play meditation music or light incenses or scented candles for a nice aroma.
STEP 3: Find your Sitting Position
There are many recommendations out there on how best to sit for meditation. However, the emphasis is still on your own comfort. You get no benefit out of the full lotus position as a beginner – aside from joint pain.
Find a position you feel the most comfortable in. This may be the cross-legged position, sitting on a cushion, or even sitting on a chair if your legs tend to get numb from sitting cross-legged.
STEP 4: Clear your Mind
Once you are seated, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and just relax.
STEP 5: Allow your Thoughts to Float By
Many people make the mistake of thinking that meditating is literally about trying your best to think about nothing. Keeping your mind an empty void. This is simply not true since in its simply impossible to think of absolutely nothing.
Meditation is, in fact, the opposite. You must allow yourself to think but do not fixate. You are an observer and must simply acknowledge a thought and let it go. Allow yourself to understand that those thoughts and emotions exist and are there but do not engage any of them, instead of letting them float by. This is also where you develop Mindfulness.
This will take some practice and a lot of focus on most thoughts, feelings or images tend to warrant a reaction. For example, you have a thought that says “I have to go to work tomorrow”, you must learn to acknowledge that thought is there but not fixate on it. If you engage this thought, it will, in turn, affect you in ways such as: feeling annoyed that you have to work, or worrying about your some deadline you have to meet. This must be avoided. Your goal is to reach the state of an observer, not to engage your thoughts.
The purpose of this is to clear your mind of all the thoughts that are fighting for your attention. You are clearing them out – one by one. After routine meditations, you will eventually reach inner quietness in which you are at peace with yourself. You will be able to focus much more than before and live more in the present.
STEP 6: Coming out of your Meditation
Meditate for as long as you want or until you feel cleansed and purified. 30 minutes should cut it but if you wish to go longer then that’s perfect! When you are ready to return to your physical self, begin by acknowledging the physical world around you. Then, acknowledge your physical body and slowly open your eyes. Take your time when doing this and do not rush. If you open your eyes too quickly and try to resume physical activities, you will be left feeling jarred.
Spend some time after meditating, still seated, to reflect on the thoughts, emotions, and images you’ve gone through during your meditation. Try also to put your thoughts to the present without prejudice or judgment.
It is common among novices to find themselves falling asleep during their meditations. This can be due to mental fatigue caused by a lot of mental clutter. To avoid dozing off during meditations, it would be best to meditate in the morning after waking up. You will find yourself even more energized after.
Some individuals experience resistance when trying to meditate. This is because of the negative thoughts that come to the surface. It is important that you remain an OBSERVER in meditating and not and ENGAGER. Realize that those thoughts, feelings, or images exist in your mind but they will simply float by. Once you get past these resistances, your meditation will become a more comfortable and easy experience.
Meditation and mindfulness can help combat depression, alleviate anxiety, greatly lessen stress, and improve your general well-being. It helps you focus and turns you into a calmer, more grounded human being. It has been in practice for thousands of years by a multitude of races, religions, and traditions. Cultivate this indispensable habit for your own inner growth and health.
8 of the Most Common Types of Meditation
More and more every day, people are coming to realize the effects that meditation can yield on our mind, body, and soul. Meditative practices have been around for the better part of human history and are now enjoying a resurgence in popularity among those individuals looking for a new approach to health and well-being. Meditation, at its core, is the ancient and powerful practice of training your mind to go into a certain state of being in which your consciousness or “spirit” detaches itself from your body and become but a mere observer of your life. This allows your inner self a reprieve from the hardships and stresses of modern living while placing your body into a deeply relaxed state. It also gives you the time you need to asses your thoughts and emotions one by one which will help greatly in diminishing the constant mental chatter we find ourselves bombarded with in our everyday lives. This is the very objective that all forms of meditation strive for in one way or another.
Having said, there are meditation types much more suited for certain individuals than others. A practice of meditation that fits you may not necessarily work for others and vice versa. There are also some meditative practices that might be better tailored to the end result that the practitioner would like to attain such as: losing weight, alleviating stress, or exploring one’s inner self. It is essential that before you begin to delve into your own inner world, you define what it is exactly that you want from meditation and what changes you wish to see happen to yourself and your life. Take the time needed to explore all the different facets of learning and styles of practice of this very old art form and settle on the one/s that you feel works best for you. In this post we shall outline 8 of the most common types of meditation:
Mindfulness is a favorite among new practitioners and certainly one of the more well know forms of meditation. It traces its origin to Buddhist traditions and is about training your mind to be aware or “mindful” of the present. This is done by focusing primarily on your breathing, accepting any wandering thoughts the float by, acknowledging that they are there, and then returning to the present moment which is your slow, constant breathing. Mindfulness can be practiced sitting down, laying flat on your back, or in motion depending on you. It may also be practiced going about in your everyday life. This practice will allow you to overcome almost any form of inner suffering and unlocks your consciousness to the natural wisdom that resides within us all. Routine Mindfulness Meditation has been shown to greatly reduce stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression.
This is a form of upward meditation in which you concentrate on the energy rising up through your body. A concept of Dharma, Kundalini comes from both Buddhist and Hindu traditions and when translated means “coiled one”. It refers to the primal energy believed to reside in the base of the spine. By focusing mainly on breathing and how your breath flows through the points of energy within your body, one can learn to “awaken” Kundalini and feel an altered state of consciousness which may be called enlightenment.
3. Qi Gong
Qi Gong is one of the oldest forms of meditation and can trace its roots in ancient Chinese society. It is a coordinated system or body postures, movements, breathing, and meditation. Qi Gong can be translated to “Life Energy Cultivation” and is the practice of cultivating and balancing one’s Qi (chi) with is “Life Energy”. There are 75 recorded ancient forms of Qi Gong and 56 common and contemporary. The practice of Qi Gong might require you to do an extensive amount of learning and research but the fact that this art has been in use for centuries proves that it will be more than worth it. Qi Gong’s focus on movement, breathing, and meditation helps the practitioner master his or her reaction to stress and stressful situations.
Zazen meditation is the cornerstone of Zen Buddhism, and can be literally translated to “seated meditation”. Your posture here is key because how you sit is how you take in the universe. Sitting comfortably cross-legged with a straight back will give you the centeredness you need to achieve a deeper level of awareness. Zen meditation has its roots in Buddhism and focuses in a union of mind and breath to acquire a deeper insight. Zazen or Zen meditation is fairly easy to to by yourself but will eventually require you to a teacher should you wish to progress into deeper meditative experiences. Benefits include a suspension of judgment and prejudice in all things.
5. Heart Rhythm Meditation
A form of downward meditation, Heart Rhythm Meditation or HRM is a practice which focuses on the breathing patterns and heartbeats to lull you into your trance. The purpose is to experience a greater affinity with yourself and the environment around you. This will help you feel a greater sense joy and increased physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.
6. Guided Visualization
This meditation is relatively new with inspiration from the teachings of Buddha. The idea is to meditate with a vision of your desired end in your mind. This can be anything from losing weight to the assimilation of a certain virtue you wish to have. By visualizing your objective with a can-do, positive attitude, you subconsciously flush out any negativity or pessimism that might prevent you from doing otherwise.
7. Primordial Sound Meditation
Rooted in Vedic traditions of India, making primordial sound or repeating a mantra is show to take your mind into a deeper place of awareness. Mimicking the sounds a baby might here when still in the womb, this form of meditating plays into deep subconscious level of our psyche that was always there, just forgotten. Your mantra can be anything that hold any significance in your life. You can look up ancient phrases or chants or simply repeat a phrase you wish to be true about yourself.
8. Transcendental Meditation
A modern school of meditation practice, Transcendental Meditation (or TM) aims to reach a state of enlightenment in which the individual feels an unparalleled state of bliss and inner calmness. The practitioner sits in Lotus, chants, and concentrate on rising above negativity and strife.
Be patient with yourself as meditation can be a trial and error process in the beginning. Keep a journal to record and compare the effectiveness of each form in relation to you. Do not despair if you and understand there are those who dedicate their entire lives to meditating so no one expects you to get it on your first try. Keep at it!
5 Common Problems Experienced in Meditation
“Difficulties and obstacles, if properly understood and used, can turn out to be an unexpected source of strength.” Sogyal Rinpoche
“We don’t meditate to see heaven, but to end suffering.” Ajahn Chah
“Man learns through experience, and the spiritual path is full of different kinds of experiences. He will encounter many difficulties and obstacles, and they are the very experiences he needs to encourage and complete the cleansing process.” Sai Baba
Whether you’re a beginning or an experienced meditator, you will inevitably come up against problems. It’s in the overcoming of these hurdles that meditation presents an opportunity for growth. One that can have life-changing effects.
Theravada monk Bhante Gunaratana writes: “The reason we are all stuck in life’s mud is that we ceaselessly run from our problems and after our desires. Meditation provides us with a laboratory situation in which we can examine this syndrome and devise strategies for dealing with it.” 1
Here are a few ways you can carve a path around some of the barriers to easeful practice.
Boredom isn’t clear-cut. We might equally say that we are feeling demotivated, lazy or that our mind is dull…all have a similar flavor. Boredom usually manifests as an aversion to practicing: we can’t muster the energy to sit down in the first place, and when we do we’re just waiting for the session to end.
- Contemplate the advantages of meditation. How will awareness, and its propensity to calm your reactivity, benefit you in daily life? How will physically reducing your stress help? Consider questions like these to cultivate the desire to get your bum on the cushion.
- Mindfulness, mindfulness, mindfulness. Use the arising of boredom as an opportunity to re-establish mindfulness. To quote Bhante again: “If the breath seems an exceedingly dull thing to observe over and over, you may rest assured of one thing: you have ceased to observe the process with true mindfulness.” 2
- Choose a time to practice when you’re well-rested and don’t have any pressing commitments. Often, you might not want to meditate because the need to unwind is more pressing. Research has shown that we’re more likely to follow through on a course of action if our need for recuperation has been met.
Buddhists usually refer to distraction as excitation, and it has varying degrees. Alan Wallace describes it thus: “When coarse excitation takes over the mind, we completely lose touch with our chosen object of meditation. It’s as if the mind is abducted against its will, and thrown in the trunk of a distracting thought or sensory stimulus. …The mind jumps from one object to another like a bird flitting from branch to branch, never at rest.” 3
- Relax more deeply. Take a handful of deep breaths, loosen tensions in your body, reflect on a calming image…whatever works for you. As Wallace goes on to say: “Such turbulence is overcome only by persistent skillful practice, cultivating deeper relaxation, a sense of inner ease.” 4 Relaxing the mind is the key to quieting it.
- Count your breaths. Counting each breath, saying the number silently to yourself after each exhalation, can often succeed in stilling the mind. You are essentially using the conceptual mind to help lessen its intrusion.
- Note the distractions (literally, if you need to). If there are many thoughts vying for your attention, note them. You might want to say them aloud or even write them down.
3. Physical Pain
- Make yourself more comfortable. Top marks for the obvious, I know! You will eventually adjust to your sitting posture. Having your hands rest in your lap and keeping your head level can go some way in reducing neck and upper-back discomfort. You may find a mat useful.
- Direct your attention to the pain. If the pain becomes so pressing that it pulls you from your chosen object, simply use it as the focus of your mindfulness. This is what Bhante G recommends.
4. Am I doing this technique right? Can I possibly succeed?
This kind of negative self-talk is a good thing. You’re illuming some of your latent beliefs about meditation (and perhaps other things in your life). Perfectionism can be let go off, replaced with an attitude of gentleness and impartiality.
- Accept that self-criticism is normal and “return”. You will be frustrated. Accept this, as non-judgementally as you can, and re-establish mindfulness on your meditation object.
- Consciously affirm a playful attitude. Doing so will stop you from becoming frustrated at yourself when you think you’ve done something that’s “wrong.” Remind yourself that there is no exact right or wrong.
5. Ego is the enemy!
Ego isn’t the enemy. This is a usual, but not a useful, belief. Mind, self, ego…whatever you want to call it, it’s not the bad guy.
- Simply being aware of this belief can be enough to quell it. Treat all the rumination and the frustration that you may be experiencing as an opportunity for mindfulness. In doing so you are examining the workings of your mind, growing better able to accept and manage it in the long-term.
So there you go! What problems have you experienced and what have you found helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
If you want to go a little deeper, consider our selection of the best meditation books for beginners. We’ve also written a comprehensive introduction to meditation, alongside an introduction to the scientific dimension of practice.