A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation
Experts agree that meditation is indeed a powerful practice that offers a diverse number of physical, mental and emotional benefits. The good news is you don’t need to meditate for long periods every day to enjoy these remarkable health benefits either. Research shows even just a few minutes a day makes a significant positive difference to your wellbeing.
The modern digital world we find ourselves in can often leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, stressed and unfocused. Perhaps more than ever before, it is important for us to discover ways to negate these effects, to move away from a place of ‘doing’ towards simply being. When we are in ‘go, go, go’ mode all the time, we never have a chance to switch off and slow down, which is essential for our health.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to not only lower stress and anxiety levels, but to also increase immunity, improve sleep patterns, reduce pain, lower blood pressure, increase fertility, improve digestion, support emotional wellbeing and improve mental functioning, just to name a few! It is one of the easiest things that we can do, that offers the greatest gifts in return.
So, how do you start a meditation practice? For some of us, the idea of adding another thing on our daily to-do list feels like a stretch. When really, as the stress of daily life escalates, this is in fact greater reason to turn to a meditation practice.
You will find that as you dive deeper into your meditation practice, it actually opens up more time for you to be productive, to be present and function at your best. Think of your meditation time like hitting a reset button – when you take time to switch off, you are able to then perform more efficiently.
Meditation can be done anywhere and at any time of the day. All it really requires is your commitment. Think of those ten minutes you may spend scrolling through social media or watching an extra episode on Netflix! Meditation needn’t look any certain way- perhaps your meditation time comes on the bus travelling home, or in the car waiting to collect your children from school. Once you become aware of the pockets of time throughout the day that are available to you, your commitment to a daily practice will become much easier.
Here are some tips to support you in developing and honoring your own meditation practice:
Create a Special Space
Although you can meditate from anywhere, dedicating a special place that is accessible to you can assist you to create a new healthy habit. Decide on a corner of your room or a space in your home or garden that you can use exclusively for meditation. Make sure it is somewhere you feel comfortable with good airflow and gentle light. This should be a place where you can sit undisturbed and feel safe. Eventually, even just entering this cozy nook will begin to initiate the relaxation response in your body.
Schedule It In
Start to become aware of the times throughout the day where you can gift yourself 10 or 15 minutes to just sit and breathe. Another simple way to do this is to actually create this time at the beginning or end of your day- perhaps this means setting your alarm for ten minutes earlier than usual. Try and choose the same time each day as this will help to create new neural networks in the brain that support you to show up. Let’s face it, there is always a reason not to meditate! Maybe those ten minutes of snooze time feel more lucrative! Children, pets, work commitments and other obligations mean that we all have easy excuses to opt out. Scheduling the time in as you would any other appointment in your life sets a clear boundary and statement that you are committed to your wellbeing.
Try An App
Meditation is indeed an age old practice, but modern times have catered to our digital dependence. There are many apps on the market that can really support you as your take those first tentative steps into the world of meditation. These apps offer a little more guidance and structure that can keep you on track in a way that is familiar and helpful. These apps will also offer you daily reminders, track your progress, offer an array of meditation and guided relaxation options, or even offer a buddy system so you can meditate with someone else at the same time. Try Insight Timer, Headspace, Buddhify, Calm, The Mindfulness App or Stop, Breath, Think.
Try a Mala
If you are looking for a little extra support and focus without a digital device, try a mala. Mala beads were developed to assist meditation and prayer. The 108 beads are slowly counted as you recite a mantra of your choosing. This is a beautiful, sacred practice that allows you to connect deeply with a more spiritual side of yoga and meditation. If you are already a yoga practitioner, perhaps this form of meditation will resonate more deeply with you. If you already wear a mala, then having that reminder on hand all the time allows you to sink into a practice when time arises throughout the day.
Meditation should not be about discomfort or suffering! There are no strict rules when it comes to your meditation posture. You are allowed (and encouraged!) to be comfortable in meditation so that you are not easily distracted. Keep in mind that remaining seated is best so that you stay awake, but you can use a pillow, cushion, blanket and other props to ensure you can sit comfortably with ease. If sitting cross legged is a challenge for you, try resting your back against a wall and having your legs stretched out in front of you.
Don’t create huge expectations for yourself when it comes to starting a meditation practice. Start off small and give yourself time to build from there. Even five minutes a day at first can be helpful in establishing your new routine. Once your initial commitment becomes habitual, then you can easily look at gently extending this time to ten, fifteen or even twenty minutes as you feel ready.
Remember that the mind processes thoughts- that is what it is designed to do! So don’t be disheartened if you find it challenging to still your thoughts and you are easily distracted. The practice of meditation is to learn how to detach yourself from these thoughts so that when they come, you can simply let them go. Like anything in life, over time as you practice this becomes easier. Having something to focus on- a mala, a guided app, a mantra or the rise and fall of your breath helps to block out the other sensory stimuli and keep you on track.
An Example of How to Begin:
Firstly, get comfortable in your quiet space, make sure you are warm and won’t be disturbed.
Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath and focus on the sensation or sound of your breath as you inhale and then as you exhale. Do not force your breathing, just breathe naturally.
Every time your mind begins to shift attention away from the breath, simply bring it back again. Use the physical sensations of the breath to help you- this may be the feeling of the inhale and exhale in your nose, or the rise and fall of your belly.
If you like, you can add in a word on the inhale and exhale, even saying ‘breathing in,’ and ‘breathing out,’ can be helpful to keep you focused and relaxed.
You may like to set a timer for the duration you would like to sit for, that way you don’t need to worry about sitting for too long.
When the timer sounds or your practice is over, gently open your eyes and slowly come back to the body and your external environment.
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