Meditation is becoming increasingly popular, but many people are still skeptical. It is hard to understand how stillness and silence can not only lessen your anxiety, but substantially alter your brain. After all, the reason why people keep themselves so busy is because they are running away from their thoughts. They are accustomed to jumping from one thing to the next, looking for a quick fix to their problems.
If you want to learn to meditate, give yourself a long window of time in which to practice and create this new habit. Improvement will be gradual, so don’t expect instant gratification. In fact, the lesson of slow and consistent improvement may be one of the hidden treasures of learning to meditate.
Train Your Brain
Just as athletes have coaches to help train them for peak performance, meditation is a coach that can help train our brain so that it can perform at its best.
While the origin of meditation is religious, the fundamentals of meditation can work for anyone, regardless of his or her belief system.
What To Do
Like most things in life, meditative practices are slightly different for everyone. However, there are a few basic suggestions that will help you get into a good routine and set you up to successfully meditate.
- Quiet Location
It’s almost impossible these days to have complete silence. However, try to separate yourself from unnecessary noise. Turn off notifications on your phone, turn off the TV, remove yourself from friends or family members who may interrupt you. You’ll find that there is enough “noise” in your head to work through that you do not need anything else distracting you! I suggest using earbuds to really tune out the outside world.
- Comfortable Posture
Sitting on the floor or on the bed cross-legged with good posture is most common. Laying down isn’t a good idea, since you will likely just end up sleeping. I personally like to sit with my legs stretched out in front of me on the bed, or in a chair with my feet on the ground. You want to be comfortable, but your head should be unsupported. Don’t lean your head against a pillow or the back of the chair or headboard. Again, this will help ensure that you don’t actually sleep.
For some, breathing can be the most important and impactful part of meditation. Just breathe normally, but be aware of your breath. Try to be mindful of breathing down into your belly, rather than into your chest. Starting a session with a few deep inhales and exhales connects you to your breath so you can always be mindful of it during meditation.
However, like me, breathing doesn’t work for everyone. When I focus on my breath, I tend to start feeling out of breath or anxious. I find that NOT focusing on my breath and using another focal point, like a mantra, to be more relaxing. Everyone is different, so explore different ways until you find what works for you.
A Focus of Attention
If focusing on your breath helps you, allow your breath to be your focus of attention throughout your practice. Close your eyes. Notice how your breath moves through your body. It’s most helpful when starting out to place one hand on your stomach and one above your heart. This helps you connect with your breath and your practice.
Choosing a mantra as your point of focus can serve a similar purpose of helping you settle your monkey mind during meditation. You can use a simple phrase, such as “God is love” or, “Peace, be still”, or “Jesus Christ”. You can also choose something that isn’t a construction of words at all, such as “Om” or another sound that feels calming.
While you may start out focusing on your breath or your mantra, your brain will start to wander. That’s ok! It doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. It’s entirely reasonable to have your mind wander. Just guide your mind back to your breathing or to your mantra. Eventually, with practice, your mind will settle down during meditation.
The important thing is to not judge your meditation as “good” or “bad”. If you’re doing it at all, you’re ahead of the game! Consistency trumps quality all day long. If you have a regular meditation practice, which is the most important goal, then you can work on improving the quality. But you’ll always have some meditations that are better than others, so try to suspend judgment at all times.
Length of Time
Some practitioners meditate for hours at a time. That’s not feasible for most people in the modern world. Many people choose to practice meditation twice a day for 20 minutes each session. Because you’re new to this, start with just one to two short sessions of about five minutes each.
Acknowledge how you feel after only a few minutes. Do you feel more calm and peaceful? Don’t expect all of your worries to magically fade away after the first couple of sessions. With practice, your fixation on them will lessen. It’s pretty amazing what just a few minutes of sitting still can do for you in the beginning.
If you are having trouble starting out, there are apps with guided meditation that can get you started. Headspace has a free trial that introduces you to mindfulness and meditation and really emphasizes focus on breathing. Calm has various free sessions, and you can choose to focus your meditation on anything from managing stress, to building self-esteem. My favorite is Insight Timer. There are many free guided meditations to get you into the groove.
Hopefully you can see that these six simple steps will make your meditation practice easy to start and just as easy to maintain. There are so many wonderful benefits to meditation that you owe it to yourself to make the time and begin now. Remember, all you need to do is take baby steps, and don’t judge how well you’re doing. (It’s called a meditation PRACTICE for a reason!) The key is in the DOING, not the succeeding. The only way you will fail is if you don’t try.