Have you ever tried closing your eyes for 10 minutes and stop thinking? If you did, you know exactly what I mean when I say it’s nearly impossible. Meditation is not easy at first but it’s really not about stopping your thoughts. In fact, it’s about getting more clarity and a better understanding of what’s going on in your head.
With so many existing meditation techniques, it can be overwhelming to find the right resources to start your meditation journey. If you're playing with the idea of incorporating this amazing activity in your life, here’s a guide for you that covers all the things you need to know about meditation and certain techniques before jumping into it.
Take a deep breath and let’s get ready to relax!
What is meditation?
Before diving into the nitty-gritty of meditation, let’s see what it is exactly. By definition, it’s the practice of training your mind to stay present.
When you meditate the goal is to achieve a state of awareness of your environment and also of your current thoughts.
The purpose of meditation is to become mindful. When you’re mindful you stop rushing through life and reacting. You learn to appreciate life for what it is. You learn to accept yourself and others, and this ultimately gives you a sense of peace and lightness.
The practice of meditation dates all the way back to 5000 BC and it has roots in several eastern religions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and, of course, Buddhism. Due to its extensive mental and physical health benefits, it’s becoming increasingly popular in the Western world as well.
Benefits of mediation
Meditation has so many wonderful benefits. One of the most powerful aspects is how it brings us closer to understanding our thoughts and emotions. Slowing down and connecting with ourselves can help to reduce anxiety, improve concentration and build better self-discipline to achieve bigger goals such as weight loss, leading a healthier life, or healing from depression.
While the list of gains you can get from practicing every day are endless, here are some of the scientifically proven benefits of mediation:
Reduces stress and helps with controlling anxiety: Meditation helps to decrease the level of cortisol which is ultimately responsible for feeling stressed. Consequently, it gives people more control over anxiety and all the related symptoms.
Promotes emotional health, improves self-confidence: studies have proven that meditation reduces the signs of depression and lessens the number of negative thoughts. Meditation allows you deeper self reflection and to discover positive attributes about yourself. Helps with fighting addictions:
Meditation can alter your brain receptors associated with addiction. The sense of awareness that comes with meditation helps you to notice cravings and stop before giving into them.
Makes you kinder: Studies show that meditation can foster compassion for yourself and others. It makes you understand yourself and others on a much deeper level and pick up on their emotions much faster.
And finally, a less scientific but certainly huge benefit of mediation is;
It’s a completely location-free activity. Once you learn how to meditate, you can practice and ripe the benefits no matter where you are. All you need is a quiet, safe environment and you’re good to go!
Set the mood
Alright, now that we learned the benefits, let’s set the mood for our practice. By taking a few minutes to prepare you can ensure a deeper and more pleasant experience. You will need peace and quiet so remove all distractions: put your phone in airplane mode or place it in a different room . Disconnect from the world.
Make sure you feel comfortable, wear light clothing that’s not too tight or sticky. Doing a few yoga and breathwork exercises before starting your practice can make meditation significantly easier.
When you’re ready, close your eyes and assume your meditation position. It’s best to stay seated as when you lay down there’s a chance that you lose alertness and you fall asleep. Gently rest your hands on your knees with your palms up to help the free flow of the energies.
Types of meditation There are countless types of meditations that you can choose from. If you’re a beginner it may be a good idea to start a guided meditation where an instructor will guide you through your practice ( there are several awesome apps for this that you can use). In general, the easiest way to start meditating is by focusing on your breath. This is one of the most common approaches of meditation, called concentration.
Concentration Meditation: entails focusing on one single thing and driving your focus back to this thing whenever your mind starts wondering. It can be your breath, a mantra or a sound like a gong. This is a wonderful method to improve your ability to concentrate.
Mindfulness Meditation: encourages practitioners to non-judgmentally observe thoughts without getting involved. When you practice mindfulness meditation, you can notice certain patterns in your mind and become more aware of the human tendency of labeling each emotion as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. With practice, you learn to find your inner balance and step away from judging your feelings.
Besides the two basic techniques above, there are several other variations of meditation. Spiritual meditations are aiming to strengthen the practitioner's connection to God or the Universe. Love meditation is focused on opening one’s heart for receiving. Other methods such as breathwork or body scanning are amazing tools to ease anxiety and strengthen the body-mind connection.
When you first meditate Don’t set crazy expectations for yourself for your first few mediations. Try starting with short 2-5 minutes meditations and increase the duration as you go. In the first few weeks focus on building the meditation in your routine. These tips should help you get started and keep going. You don’t have to implement them all at once, try a few and you will see which one works the best for you.
Start small first As mentioned above, start with a short meditation to ease into the practice. Make 2 minutes a day your goal for the first week. Once that goes well, increase it to 5. You'll soon be meditating for 10-15 minutes a day- which is amazing!
Find a good time in your day to do it, and stick to it When you start a new habit it’s key to find a good place for it in your routine so you never forget! It can be in the morning before you start your day or in the evening to calm your mind and unwind. Find the time that works best with your schedule and stick to it until it becomes automatic.
Check in with yourself Before anything else, close your eyes and ask yourself how you’re feeling. How does your body feel? Are you happy, stressed, anxious? Observe how you’re feeling without getting caught up in the emotions.
Observe your breath Try observing your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Feel how it travels through your nose, all the way down to your lungs. Counting 10 breaths may help you to stay focused on it and ease into your meditation.
When the mind wanders Your mind will most certainly wander. It’s perfectly normal. When you catch yourself in a thought, gently let it go, smile and drive your attention back to your breath. Don’t be mad at yourself for getting out of focus.
Practice self compassion Learn to look at your thoughts as part of you, but not you. When a thought arises, be gentle. Observe what kind of thoughts come up, with time you will start to see certain patterns that you may not have noticed before. Step away from self-judgement and be kind to yourself. Remember thoughts are not wrong or right, they are just thoughts.
Let go of perfectionism Don’t worry too much about doing meditation RIGHT. Noone does, the mind wanders and it’s natural. Instead focus on practicing every day and be mindful of your body and the thoughts in your head when they come up. Remember the goal of meditation is not stopping all your thoughts.
Try to stay with your feelings When you’re more experienced with focusing your attention, try to stay with your feelings for a while. Instead of avoiding how you feel, try to stay and be curious. It is an incredibly powerful technique for understanding and getting to know yourself, without judgement.
Body scanning When you’re comfortable with focusing on your breath, try to drive your attention to a certain body part. Think about your toes. How do they feel? Slowly move on to your ankles, calves and all the way to the top of your head. Body scanning works wonders for people who experience anxiety because it connects your mind to your body, takes you away from your worries and makes you feel present.
One last thing:
Meditation has amazing benefits and it’s a way of practicing self-love. If you decide to start meditating and give yourself time to be with your thoughts, you made a huge step towards getting to know yourself. Be grateful for this time and for showing up for yourself. Remember, we can only give as much love to others as we give to ourselves.