26 September 2019

How to Get Started with Meditation



Meditation is an ancient practice for both mental and physical health. It once existed only on the fringes of western society, but its popularity has soared in recent years as more and more scientific research demonstrates its many benefits. At its simplest, meditation helps to manage stress and anxiety by creating moments of quiet contemplation and breathing. Yet many people practicing regularly have found it to be deeply transformative, even spiritual, encouraging profound positive change in their lives.

Despite its known benefits, meditation is far from mainstream and many people don't know how to get started. It might seem overcomplicated, wishy-washy, or reserved only for certain kinds of people. The truth is, it can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, at any time. You don't need anything to meditate - except maybe a bit of dedication and patience.

SET A TIME

Deciding on a time in advance is the best way to set yourself up for a regular meditation practice. In terms of frequency, a daily practice is recommended, even if only for five minutes. It becomes as habitual as brushing your teeth. It's OK if you miss a day, just return to it the next. Time-wise, first thing in the morning or last thing before bed are both ideal options.

The morning - it can be a bit easier to meditate when you've just woken up, with a fresh head, before the day's demands have set in. It's nice to 'set the tone' for your day - kind of like waking up on the right side of the bed.

The evening - great for people who struggle to relax and have a good night's sleep. Evening meditation is a way of closing off the day, leaving problems or worries behind, and encouraging well-needed rest.

SET A SPACE

Setting a space in advance means there's no 'faffing around' before you meditate. You can get right into it every day without question. Again, this helps the practice to become habitual. The space could be anywhere:

  • on your bed
  • on a chair
  • on a mat or cushion on the floor
  • in a dedicated room
  • facing a window

Most importantly, the space should be quiet, comfortable, and somewhere you won't be disturbed. Bedrooms, therefore, make ideal meditation spaces. 

START SIMPLY

There are many different techniques for meditating, but the basic principle is the same, and you can start really simply by following these steps:

  • Sit in a comfortable position. If on the floor, this is usually cross-legged, with the edge of your sit bones on a small cushion to help keep your back long and straight. Here's a five minute video all about the ideal seated meditation posture.
  • Set a timer - you could start with 5 or 10 minutes and then increase as you progress.
  • Close your eyes and focus on inhaling and exhaling through your nose. For focus, it helps to count your breath (e.g. four counts inhale, four counts exhale).
  • Focus on your breath and nothing else. Observe the thoughts as they pass, but do not engage with them. When you notice yourself going along with a thought, come back to your breath.
  • Continue practicing like this until your time is up.

TRY GUIDED PRACTICE

If the simple technique doesn't work for you, you could try a guided practice. This is when someone talks you through the meditation and gives you prompts along the way. It can be easier to stay focused like this, but it's important to find a voice and teacher you enjoy (and to avoid any that you find irritating or triggering, which is different for everyone).

There are many free guided meditations of different lengths on Youtube. Alternatively Headspace is a brilliant meditation app with a huge variety.

STAY WITH IT

The real benefits of meditation come with regular, sustained practice. The more you practice, the longer you'll be able practice for, and the more effective it will be. Don't get discouraged if you don't 'feel' any different or see any tangible results. If anything, you're still giving yourself the gift of 10 quiet minutes in your day - 10 minutes that are yours, and only yours. That in itself is hugely beneficial. The rest should follow in due course.
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