When most people imagine meditation, they picture a disciplined monk sitting with legs crossed by a pond or on top of a mountain, with a profound yet solemn look on their face. This is, in fact, one form of meditation. But it is certainly not the only way to meditate. If you’re a beginner at meditation it can seem rather confusing at first. There are many types of meditation, and it’s done for many reasons: as part of a religion, as a form of stress reduction/relaxation, or simply to feel more focused and balanced in body and mind. It’s difficult to know where to start. However, I’m going to take you through some of the basics in this article to help you begin. It will be the non-religious form of meditation I will describe here.
What is meditation? Essentially it’s a state of consciousness that you can learn to enter with practice, in which you are still awake and aware, but your thoughts and emotions are calmer. It should leave you feeling more serene, better able to cope with stress, and perhaps even happier. People have been meditating for at least 3000 years, and probably a lot longer. Meditation can be like an exercise program that you do regularly to remain healthy, or an ‘emergency’ method that you can use when stressed or angry, to regain balance. Whatever you’re using it for, if you’re a beginner, have patience with yourself as meditation can take a lot of self-discipline and practice to become good at.
Meditation usually works by re-focusing your attention away from your thoughts and on to something repetitive such as a word that you repeat, or your breathing. Oftentimes our minds can be like a room full of bells, of all shapes and sizes. If one bell starts to ring, it sets off another, which then sets off another, and so on. It’s the same with our thoughts, even when we are sitting quietly, doing nothing, our minds are constantly wandering from one thought to another, almost chaotically. You think of something, which may trigger an emotion or another thought, which then triggers another emotion or thought, and so on. Meditation aims to calm down this constant mental noise. Stopping all your mental ‘bells’ from ringing so loudly!
Of course, it’s impossible to completely stop having these random thoughts and emotions, so meditation aims to help you minimise them by becoming less attached and involved with them. The process can be compared to looking down a busy street. You watch, you see people walking, but you just watch the street as a whole and let the people pass right on by. This is exactly how you should treat your thoughts. You are aware of them, but you don't pay them any specific attention. You just let them happen.
Beginning meditation is pretty easy. Just follow these steps:
Sit down somewhere quiet with no distractions. Get into a comfortable, upright posture, where you can be relaxed, but won’t fall asleep.
Try to get your breathing into a slow and regular rhythm.
Focus your attention on your breathing. Feel the air enter your nostrils and move down to your lungs, then out through your mouth. Don’t try to control it too much, just let your body take over and observe.
Similarly, just passively observe your thoughts as they occur. Don’t be drawn into thinking or feeling emotions about them. Don’t think, just observe them appear and disappear. If you find yourself getting drawn into thinking about something, be patient with yourself, try to let go of the thought and refocus on your breathing.
Try to keep going for at least ten minutes. Longer if possible, but don’t worry if you can’t keep going for longer when you are just beginning. It takes time to build up this skill. At the beginning, set an alarm for ten minutes, then you don’t even need to think about keeping track of the time.
As you progress from a beginner to a more experienced meditator, you’ll find it easier to enter into this state, and over time you should feel an increased sense of calm and well-being. Please email me with your experiences of learning to meditate!