A Beginner's Guide to Meditation
Meditation is one of the most powerful ways we have to improve our health, reduce stress, build our focus, get better sleep, and improve our mood. Best of all, it’s free and can be done practically anywhere.
Just what is meditation all about, and how do you get started?
What Is Meditation?
You might have a mental image of an elderly bald man in saffron-colored robes sitting on a high mountaintop, contemplating the universe. In reality, meditation is practiced by all types of people, from all backgrounds in life.
Meditation can be done in a wide variety of styles. Some people choose to sit cross-legged in isolation, looking inward. While some choose to meditate by walking quietly through a city park. Others meditate by doing a flowing dance in their living room.
Maybe you’d love a long thirty-minute meditation in a local polished-wood cultural center, guided by a calm-voiced instructor. Maybe you’d prefer a rejuvenative five-minute sitting meditation by a sunny window to bring you fresh energy. It is wholly up to you, what works best for your lifestyle.
Before we get into the details of how to meditate, let’s talk about why it’s so wonderful to meditate regularly.
What Are The Benefits of Meditation?
There are hundreds of studies to help us understand just how meditation can assist with a variety of challenges.
For example, many of the studies explore the relationship between meditation and anxiety. They find that meditation greatly helps with the body’s built-in relaxation response. Meditation draws the body into releasing stress, calming, and being able to look at life with a more even view.
Other studies examine the role meditation has in a mind’s ability to focus and maintain attention. In a world of beeping phones and short attention spans, meditation gently trains the mind to stay on target. It teaches us to hold our attention, which can help us avoid distraction and procrastination.
Studies also show meditation can help a person lift their mood. By releasing negative thoughts and shaking off stress, meditators tend to find a more balanced, contented view of life.
Meditators often have better, deeper sleep. They are less susceptible to pain. As the brain functions improve, memory often improves.
With all the wonderful benefits that meditation brings, even in just five minutes a day, there’s every reason to add meditation in as part of your daily routine.
So how do you begin?
We’ll start with the style of meditation which tends to come easiest to newcomers – the walking meditation. This would be suitable for anybody who is able to walk. You could look for somewhere outdoors to walk, like a local park or scenic area. If the weather is poor, you could look for an indoor space like a museum or library. You can also simply walk around a room in your home. All of them work fine.
To do a walking meditation, dress in comfortable clothes and wear comfortable shoes. Start by taking a deep, cleansing breath. Then lead with one foot. Place down the heel, then the arch, and then the ball of the foot. As you finish with one foot, begin to put down the other heel, arch, then ball of the foot. Focus on the grounding sensation of your body touching the earth. Heel, arch, ball.
Thoughts will rise up, and that is OK. That is what thoughts do. Watch them as you would watch drifting clouds. Let them pass and bring your attention back to your feet grounding you to the earth. The goal is to simply be mindful of each step. Learn to let passing thoughts go.
Even five minutes a day brings great benefits.
The next type of meditation to try is a focused meditation. This is a meditation where you focus on a particular item. Maybe it’s a flickering candle. Maybe it’s a small figurine or a music playlist. The goal is to draw your mind to stay attentive to this one particular item.
Wear comfortable clothes. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, in a situation where you do not need to pay attention to your surroundings for a short while. For example, do not attempt this while driving.
It doesn’t matter what position you choose, as long as it’s not likely to cause you to fall asleep.
Draw your attention to your chosen item. Breathe in deep, long breaths and think about that item.
You will find that your mind wanders or thoughts drift in. That is fine. That is how the mind operates. Gently draw your attention back to the object. It’s that “drawing back” process that is the mental training. That is the exercise. Bring yourself back to the object. Be peacefully compassionate with yourself as you learn to focus.
Five minutes is quite fine to get started. Every small bit helps.
With a guided meditation, you are listening to another person who talks you through a relaxing scenario. You can do this in person with a live mentor. You can also do it through online videos or recordings.
Just as with a focused meditation, you want to wear comfortable clothes and find a comfortable position that you could maintain for a short while. Ensure the space is one where you can safely pay attention for a short while.
Now press play or wait for the live mentor to begin.
The audio will step you through the process of relaxing. Often the mentor will first ask you to set an intention for your session. Next tends to come instruction about taking in longer, deeper breaths to bring on the relaxation reaction.
The ‘heart’ of the guided meditation will vary person by person. It could be that one instructor has you imagine you’re walking along a secluded, gently sunny beach, where you find an umbrella to sit under. You lay back and listen as the waves gently ripple.
Perhaps another instructor has you imagine yourself walking in a shady wood with dappled light. A babbling brook is to one side. You find a mossy clearing with a small waterfall.
Whatever the scenario provided, its purpose is to help you bring in a state of calm relaxation. The beauty of these is that you can pick the exact scenario that resonates with your own interests, as well as a session length that works for you.
The cornerstone of most meditators’ practices is the sitting meditation. This is the classic form we tend to see in movies and TV shows. A person creates a quiet environment, maybe adding in a gentle soundtrack or incense to build the atmosphere. They wear comfortable clothes and sit on a soft, supportive cushion. They breathe in deeply. They let their thoughts go.
Once you practice with the other forms of meditation, the sitting meditation will come much more easily. The idea of sitting still for five minutes will be a comfortable one. While there is now no longer a candle flame or a person’s voice to guide you, there is still your breath. In, out. In, out. You can focus simply on your breath. When thoughts distract you, you can always return to your breath.
Over the weeks you can extend your time block to ten minutes, fifteen minutes, or maybe more. If your schedule only allows for five minutes, that is fine, too. Every bit helps.
As you get comfortable in your practice, you’ll find that you no longer need the quiet, serene atmosphere to be able to meditate. You’ll be able to meditate at a bus stop. In a doctor’s waiting room. That ability to recharge and refresh yourself in just five minutes becomes invaluable.
So take that first step. Try a walking or focus meditation and progress from there. A wealth of benefits awaits!