A Beginner's Guide to Meditation

Becky Meditation.jpg

A Beginner's Guide to Meditation

By Rebecca Thomas

Meditation has become a household name, we all know it’s good for us, but most of us don’t know how or why we should do it. Meditation has been around for centuries (approximately 5,500 years old), however it has only reached Western medical research in recent years. The scientific research behind meditation has become more exciting than ever, there are studies to show how meditation can reshape our brains, through a process called Neuroplasticity, which is a way for us to make our brains a more peaceful place to live. This post will teach you how to meditate, but if you want to find out more about the scientifically-proven benefits, check out my other post on the Benefits of Meditation. 

A little bit of background knowledge; 

There are many different types of meditation, however, this post will be based on “Mindfulness Meditation”. “Mindfulness” is a common Western translation for the Buddhist term, Sati. Anapanasati, translates as “Mindfulness of Breathing” and it is part of the Buddhist practice of Vipassana (insight) meditation, and other Buddhist meditational practices, such as zazen (seated meditation).

The main aim of mindfulness meditation is to bring us back to the present moment. With ever-increasingly busy lifestyles, we don’t get enough time to switch off. We are constantly over-stimulated by technology. Have you ever sat watching Netflix whilst also scrolling through Instagram? I know I have. Over-stimulation leaves our minds feeling over-worked and over-whelmed. We rest our bodies between workouts, so why don’t we give our minds a chance to cool-off? Tuning into the present moment is a great way to calm our anxieties and regain focus.

So, let’s get started.

There are many different types of meditation, however, this post will be based on “Mindfulness Meditation”. “Mindfulness” is a common Western translation for the Buddhist term, Sati. Anapanasati, translates as “Mindfulness of Breathing” and it is part of the Buddhist practice of Vipassana (insight) meditation, and other Buddhist meditational practices, such as zazen (seated meditation).

The main aim of mindfulness meditation is to bring us back to the present moment. With ever-increasingly busy lifestyles, we don’t get enough time to switch off. We are constantly over-stimulated by technology. Have you ever sat watching Netflix whilst also scrolling through Instagram? I know I have. Over-stimulation leaves our minds feeling over-worked and over-whelmed. We rest our bodies between workouts, so why don’t we give our minds a chance to cool-off? Tuning into the present moment is a great way to calm our anxieties and regain focus.

So, let’s get started.

1.     It doesn’t matter what time of day you do it

A common misconception is that people think it’s essential to meditate first thing in the morning. Let’s be honest. Not everyone is an early riser, and even if you are you might be waking up minutes before you need to leave for your 6am fitness class or shift work. Many people also have kids, who may wake up at antisocial hours in the morning leaving you very little time for yourself. But it doesn’t matter what time you meditate. It could be first thing in the morning, on your lunch break, on your mid-morning trip to the loo, when you get home from work or even when you get into bed at night. Don’t get caught up on trying to do it at the same time every day, the aim of meditation is to reduce stress, not create more of it!

2.     It doesn’t matter how long you do it for

There is an old saying that goes, “Meditate for 10 minutes a day, unless your too busy, then meditate for 20 minutes”. Meditation doesn’t have to take up huge chunks of your day (unlike the Internet). It can be be as little as 5 minutes or as much as you'd like (some Buddhists have been known to meditate for hours or even days). Most studies suggest anywhere between 10-20 minutes is enough to reap the benefits, and trust me your to-do list can wait. Time is never wasted whilst meditating, you will gain every second back, and then some.

3.     You don’t have to sit cross-legged

It’s true, you don’t have to sit cross-legged with candles lit and incense burning. You can literally meditate on the loo, if you want to. My only advice is that you adopt a wakeful seated position. This means no lying down (as napping is too seductive) and try not to slouch too much. For example, try sitting upright in a chair with your feet planted on the ground with your shoulders relaxed and you’re good to go.

4.     It doesn’t have to be a perfect environment

Another common misconception is that people think they must either be in complete silence or have soothing ocean music on. This is not the case. Obviously, as a beginner it will be easier for you if you have a quiet environment. However, if there are construction workers outside your building, a dog barking, or cars beeping, this is good practice for you to learn how to find peace amongst distraction and not let your emotions be driven by external influences. 

5.     There’s an app for that

When we try anything for the first time, it’s often too hard, making it easy to give up. In the beginning it is helpful to start by using an app. This will help you sit still for 10 minutes and help to train your mind to be at ease. My personal favourite is the Headspace app. You can start by doing a 10 day free trial, but to be honest I bought the full version recently. I can assure you, it’s worth it. We spend so much money on our physical health, isn’t it time we invested in our mental health? Other apps include; Calm, Smiling Mind, Stop, Breathe and Think and many more. Most of them have free trials, so give a few a go and find what’s right for you.

6.     Don’t try to suppress your thoughts

One big myth about meditation is that we must have a still mind to be successfully meditating. A lot of people get very frustrated because of this; it makes them feel like they are bad at meditating and often leads to them throwing in the towel. I have been there many times. The thing is, mind-wandering exists, it’s nothing new and we all do it. It’s just how our brains work! The Norwegian University of Science and Technology conducted a research study on non-directive meditation techniques, allowing their minds to drift and wonder from one thought to the next. Their results found that when you allow your mind to wander from one thought to the next, you get to a very high degree of mental and emotional processing. A wandering mind leads to a restful mind; it activates a rest network that’s deeper than the one you get when you sleep at night. So, those thoughts that you get when you’re meditating, they aren’t obstacles to your meditation but they allow your mind to acknowledge and solve the problems that you’re having.

7.     It’s all in the breath

That’s all it is. Focus on the inhale and the exhale and slow it down. Allow your mind to wander, greet your thoughts non-judgmentally and gently bring the focus back to the breath. It will wander again and again, but just keep bringing the attention back to the breath. The more consistent you are with your meditation practice, the easier it becomes. Stick at it and see how you feel!