I’ve had a lot of people who are unfamiliar with meditation ask me what it is and how to do it, so I wanted to write this post with some information about the what, why, and how of meditation.
Below is an explanation of meditation in a nut-shell, and how to apply the ideas into practice. Meditation doesn’t have to be an esoteric pursuit. It can be a simple practice that works for almost any activity.
Meditation can take place while taking a walk, when praying, or while washing the dishes. It all depends on the development of a meditative attitude and a willingness to practice.
There are many benefits to meditation, though the four main reasons someone would meditate are for emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual development.
The benefits include everything from:
- Stress reduction
- Increasing creativity
- Pain management
- Emotional healing
- Raising consciousness
- Being closer to God
- Increasing energy
- Mental clarity
- Greater self-awareness
It can be very useful to determine why you want to meditate. Choosing a purpose for meditating offers direction when experimenting with new types of meditation, and increases the chances of having a fulfilling and positive experience.
Determine what results you want to get from meditation.
Where to start? Two basic types of meditation
There are two main types of meditation that provide a framework to begin developing greater attention and discipline. These are concentration meditation and mindfulness meditation.
Simply put, this is where attention is focused on a single object. Any object of focus can be used, such as visualizing an image or repeating a word. You can focus on breathing, recite a mantra, listen to music, or view a picture as a central point of focus. The goal is to use this as an anchor so you can bring your attention back to the meditative object whenever the mind wanders.
This is a little more advanced form of meditation and can be more difficult without initially practicing concentration meditation. In mindfulness meditation the meditator passively observes the workings of the mind, any feelings that arise, or bodily sensations that emerge. As opposed to focusing a single point of concentration, the meditator focuses on mental states, moods, and feelings that occur spontaneously, while keeping a nonjudgmental frame of mind. The goal is to reach an objective level of consciousness where we’re able to let-go and maintain presence and peace of mind.
5 simple steps for concentration meditation
These steps below are a type of concentration meditation, where a mental device or point of focus will be used. It’s recommended to start here before practicing mindfulness meditation.
1) Pick a focus for concentration
To stay in a meditative state it can help to have a mental device to keep your mind anchored and occupied. I suggest using a mantra or word of some sort. There is a wide range of mantras or sayings that can be used, so make sure it is something you can connect with emotionally. Types of mantras or focus words could be something from your religious or spiritual tradition, or simply something that brings you comfort. Experiment with different words of phrases, for example, using the word “peace” or “love” or silently reciting a short prayer.
2) Find quiet environment and comfortable position
Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. As you progress, using the same environment can limit your ability to meditate in other settings, but for a beginner, a quiet environment will help to develop a routine and maintain focus. Make sure you are physically comfortable. You can lie down or be in a sitting position, though a good starting technique is to sit in a comfortable position. It can be easy to fall asleep while lying down. The important thing is that you’re comfortable and not distracted and fidgety. Make sure your body is relaxed and you’re free of tension. Stretching can be done before meditation begins to prepare the body.
3) Breathe slowly and naturally
Begin by breathing slowly and naturally through your nose focusing on your breathe. Gradually begin incorporating your focus word as you exhale, or repeat a longer mantra along with inhalation and exhalation. The breathe can also be used as a focus of concentration separate from a mantra, though, a mantra or word can help to maintain concentration and avoid the wandering mind. It also offers an emotional connection to the experience and a way to enhance spiritual development if that is a goal.
4) Don’t worry about how you’re doing
This is one of the most important points to emphasize. Meditation can be a difficult practice to establish because of the perception that there’s a right and wrong way to do it. The intention to meditate is the most important aspect of the practice and keeping an open-mind to the process makes it more enjoyable and fruitful. This is part of learning mindfulness, as thoughts come and go we are able to continue meditating without becoming mentally and emotionally attached or frustrated. Don’t worry if you’re doing it right, just know it will become more natural as time progresses.
5) Continue for 10-20 minutes
In general, to gain the benefits of mediation it’s important to meditate for at least 10 minutes or so. However, anything is better than nothing.
It depends on the reason you are meditating, but often for any health or relaxation benefits the body needs to time to adjust. Though, don’t push yourself and try to meditate longer than feels natural or comfortable.
If you’re having a tough time, you can always stop and try again later. Forcing mediation to happen will make the practice more difficult and less enjoyable. If you’re falling asleep you can use shorter breathes to stay more alert.
After 10-20 minutes remain seated for a few minutes and recall and reflect on your meditation experience. How do you feel different? What images or thoughts were going through your head?
It can be helpful to have a journal or something to write about your experience to help with recall. Take a few moments to stretch and balance your energy.
Work to keep a regular routine for a few weeks and keep practicing to discover what works for you.
I would love to hear from you! What is your experience with meditation? If you meditate, how do you incorporate it into your life? What questions do you have, or what tips can you offer to others with their practice? Please chime-in below!