The question which I get asked the most often, if not on a daily basis is “how did you get into meditation?”. The answer I give, for which I’ve now perfected a dramatic facial expression, is …“life!”. For me, there were a whole host of factors in my ‘life’ which, combined, meant I needed some time out, some head space and to find something ‘more’.
I don’t think I need to explain what those reasons were, as I’m sure everyone can resonate, on some level, to having feelings of wanting more in their life, wanting to find a deeper level of meaning or simply wanting some peace, time to de-stress or space to think… all of which are benefits we can gain from developing a daily meditation practice.
What exactly is meditation?
Put simply, meditation is the act of focusing our mind on one thing (such as the breath or a word), in the present moment, without any judgment or expectation. Coupled with body relaxation at some point during the process these things result in creating a self-induced mental state. The type of mental state that we induce by meditating is dependent on the style of meditation that we practice; and there are loads out of different styles out there.
There has been a huge buzz in recent years around ‘mindfulness’, which, in a nutshell, is the practice of being truly present, both in our mind and in life, and accepting what we find there without judgement; not pushing away the stuff that we don’t like, or clinging on to what we do like. Practicing mindfulness meditation (such as focusing our attention on our breath, allowing our thoughts to pass through our mind and acknowledging them for what they are, without becoming attached to them) is just one way that we can learn to become mindful. It is also just one type of meditation that we can practice.
However, not all meditation is mindfulness meditation. Other types of meditation can be used to induce different mental states and emotions in ourselves, such as relaxation, happiness, self -love or empathy for others, to name a few. The effects of developing this skill are endless.
But don’t you have to be religious to meditate?
This is a tough preconception to overcome as there’s no getting away from that fact that if you type ‘meditation’ into google, the majority of the images you see are of Buddhist monks or the Buddha himself using meditation as part of their daily practice. However, you don’t need to worship a God to simply sit and focus on your breath.
If you can breathe, you can meditate. You can also approach meditation from a purely scientific point of view, which is essentially the polar opposite to religion I would say. If you research the subject, you can see that many scientific studies have been carried out to demonstrate the effects of meditation on our brains. Just some of the effects include slowing down brain waves to make us calmer and more focused and thickening the pre-frontal cortex, which results in improving higher brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision making. So, although most religions do use meditation as part of their practice. It is so much more than that!
That all sounds great!… how do I get started?
In my opinion, the toughest part of meditation, as with any practice, is getting started and maintaining motivation. It is just like going to the gym. If you can just give yourself that initial push, and then maintain the commitment to practice, you will, soon enough, begin to see the benefits; which is in turn what will motivate you to continue. In this way, I refer to meditation as ‘a workout for the brain’. Most of us are really good in today’s society of taking care of our physical health, focusing on clean eating and working out at the gym, and although that is incredible, and essential I think, for a healthy and happy lifestyle, we shouldn’t neglect our mental health along the way.
So, to help you get started on your meditation journey, I have set out my top 5 tips for beginners, which will hopefully help to give you that little nudge you might need to get you on your way.
5 tips for beginners to meditation
1) Try and set aside a set amount of time each day (or once every other day to begin with) to sit in a quiet space and meditate. Start with a short time frame to begin with (either 5 or 10 minutes) and try to learn to extend the amount of time you sit for from there. Small and often makes a difference. You don’t need to sit for 30 minutes every day. When you first begin to meditate 30 minutes will just seem impossible and will just make you become agitated. It shouldn’t be a chore.
2) Get your posture right. Having the correct posture is an essential part of learning to meditate. There is no set way to sit in meditation, however you should always be comfortable, your back should be straight, and your posture should support your intention to be awake and alert.
3) Start by focusing on your body and taking deep breaths. Body and mind relaxation are essential parts of a meditation practice and only once we begin to relax can we fully enjoy our practice. Beginning a meditation with a few deep breaths will help to relax both body and mind and settle you in to the meditation. Focusing on the body will also help to keep you grounded and bring yourself into the present moment.
4) Don’t go in with any expectations or preconceived ideas. I was told this during one of my first meditation courses years ago and it has been one of the best pieces of advice I have been given. Like anything in life, if we begin to judge, or place our own ideals or expectations on a situation, we are likely to set ourselves up for disappointment and will be prevented from truly enjoying the moment as it is. Meditation is exactly the same, we take it for what it is. Simply sit, focus on the breath (or word, or sound) and don’t expect anything to happen. It sounds strange, but by approaching your practice this way, you will definitely get the most benefit, I promise!
5) Find a group class or course to kick start and maintain your practice. It is tough starting anything new on your own, and having that support from a teacher or like-minded people can massively help you on your journey. In my opinion, starting off with a class or course can be more beneficial than trying to learn meditation on your own by listening to guided meditations on YouTube or meditation apps. Although there are lots of brilliant ones out there, it can sometimes get confusing as there are so many. More importantly, joining a class or course gives you the opportunity to ask questions about anything that may be worrying you about starting your practice, and you can also be guided into the correct posture for you. Finally, speaking from experience, continuing to attend classes and courses once a week is a great way to help keep yourself motivated and committed to practicing meditation daily.
Whilst there are lots of tips that may help you get started, you might have guessed that, for me, the most important advice is to be committed. You will reap far more benefits from developing a daily meditation practice, even for just 10-15 minutes a day, than you would from sitting for 30 minutes every week or when you can be bothered.
The short-term effects of meditation, including relaxation and a calm state of mind, which you will feel after your first sitting, are incredible. If you use those feelings to keep you motivated, you will begin to feel the long-term effects in no time… trust me, you won’t regret it! We all have busy lives and I know it’s hard to set that time aside each day sometimes, but the benefits are definitely worth it. I always say, if you could give everyone a pill toshow them the effects of a long-term meditation practice, we would most definitely all be doing it every day!
Meditate with me
If you feel motivated and inspired to learn how to meditate, would like a refresher, or simply wish to meet like-minded people who you can share your meditation experience and journey with, why not join one of these classes or courses with Elestial Therapy.
Mid-Week Mind Space- A Six Week Introduction to Mindfulness Course – Every Wednesday 6.30- 7.30 pm, 27 the September- 1st November @ The Divine Hub, 8 Ward Street Didsbury, M20 6JT
Sunday Morning Stillness- Monthly Meditation Workshops – On the last Sunday of every month (24 th September, 29 th October, 26 th November) 10am-12pm @ InHale Yoga, Progress House, 17 Cecil Road, Hale, Altrincham, WA15 9NZ
Alternatively, if you would like to learn meditation on a one to one basis or if you feel your workplace or school could benefit from learning meditation, email me at email@example.com to arrange a class or course.