Meditation is a great way for a lot of people to center themselves and calm down. They say it is the process of quieting the mind, reaching inner peace and complete relaxation. The nice thing about this method is that it not only calms you down at the moment but also keeps on lingering with you for quite some time afterward. I.e., the more often you practice meditation, the calmer your whole being will become and the easier it will get for you to reach a meditating state in no time, which again will give you time to meditate more often.
Yoga International has published a great definition of the word meditation which I would like to share with you today:
“Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within. Meditation is not a part of any religion; it is a science, which means that the process of meditation follows a particular order, has definite principles, and produces results that can be verified. In meditation, the mind is clear, relaxed, and inwardly focused. When you meditate, you are fully awake and alert, but your mind is not focused on the external world or on the events taking place around you. Meditation requires an inner state that is still and one-pointed so that the mind becomes silent. When the mind is silent and no longer distracts you, meditation deepens.”
Headspace also puts it very nicely:
“Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.”
But how do you get started with meditation if you have never tried it before?
I am a big fan of having dedicated “you time.” Once a day I believe, you should do at least one thing you really like and enjoy. I know I have already mentioned this fact in several of my other blog-post, but I truly believe that this is a huge factor in enjoying your life and being in love with life. As mentioned in those other blogs, it is not crucial how much time you set aside for this, but it is very important that you do so daily. If you can spare ten minutes a day spare ten, if you can spare one hour even better. But the point is to set some time apart that fits your schedule; I most certainly don’t want to add to your daily stress, I want to help you reduce it. The same principle also applies to meditation. It is not necessary to meditate one hour daily. Ten minutes are just as fine. But ten minutes daily will be hugely more effective than one hour weekly.
So the first step is to decide that you honestly want to give meditation a try and that you will be open to experiencing its benefits. The next step then is to set some dedicated time apart, in a place where you can relax without being disturbed. I personally believe that especially when getting started, it is better to choose an indoor location. Reason number one being that it is easier for you to minimize sounds that might be disturbing you by closing the windows or shutting the doors. Reason number two being that it is usually easier to regulate the temperature so you won’t start feeling hot or cold during the meditation. And third but not least, indoors you normally do not have flies which might start flying right next to your ears or mosquitos who might start biting you (sorry but the first few times I tried meditating outside I had some bad experience and a hard time focusing with them being around). Turn off your phone. Lock the door if you like and get comfortable. Do you have a (non-ticking) timer which you can set without turning on your phone? Maybe you have a timer on your watch, or you have a “normal” alarm clock which you can use (and which still has a gentle way of ringing, to inform you smoothly once the designated time for your meditation has come to an end). If you your do not have any alarm apart from your phone, make sure you put your phone on flight mode during the given time. You simply do not want this 10 minutes spare time that you specifically set apart for yourself be interrupted by a message, notification or phone call which you could have also attended to a few minutes later, after taking the time you deserve to relax yourself a little.
If you are new to meditating, you may want to stretch out a little before getting started. While meditating you will be sitting in the same posture, i.e., on the same “spot” for a certain period of time, so it is recommendable to release any tension or tightness before you begin. A couple of minutes of light stretching can help prepare both your body and mind for meditation. It will also prevent you from focusing on any sore spots instead of relaxing during the meditation.
Meditation is easiest when being in a sitting position. When getting started and just trying out meditation you may want to get started by sitting on a normal chair (yes you are welcome to use your super comfy armchair if you like as long as you do not lose focus on your meditation exercise for being too comfortable), couch, bed, etc. If you have been practicing for some time already and you are getting into the routine of daily meditation at home, you may consider buying a meditation cushion or a meditation bench as well. If you are planning to meditate daily in your car during your lunch break, however, that is just as fine (as long as it is a quiet parking lot, without much noise disturbance, the quieter the place you choose for your meditation break, the easier it will be to stay focused and alert). If you are comfortable sitting on the floor, you may even sit on the ground.
So now that your setup is more or less discussed let’s focus on the next important thing when meditating: your posture. Posture during meditation is very important. You don’t want to be adding to your back pain problems just for having a slumped posture while meditating. Back pain is not at all helping you relax. So, yes you guessed right, no matter if you are sitting on a chair or a meditation cushion/ bench, make sure you are sitting in a position where your back is straight. Keep an upright posture (don’t sink into your super comfy armchair and doze off), stay alert to your senses. If you are sitting on a chair I suggest to rest the bottoms of your feet on the floor, if you are sitting on a bed, the ground or a meditation pillow, I highly recommend for you to sit cross-legged and well if you are sitting on a sofa, you can obviously choose either one of these options. Try to keep your shoulders and neck as relaxed as possible and tilt your chin as though you’re looking downward; it helps to open up the chest and ease your breathing.
Next question: should you close your eyes or not? For me personally it is a lot easier to relax when closing my eyes. It helps me to center myself quicker. This, however, is completely up to you. If you believe you can calm and center yourself more easily with your eyes open, you are welcome to do so as well. If you are not sure yet which option suits you better, I would recommend starting with your eyes closed in order not to get distracted by your surroundings as easily.
What to do with your hands? Make sure they are comfortable! Some people claim that it is easier for them to stay alert when forming circles with their thumb and another finger, some people say it is easier for them to meditate with their palms down resting on their knees or the armchair. For me, it seems to depend on my mood. If you are just starting you might want to give both a try but make sure that no matter what option you settle on, it is a position that makes you feel comfortable. There is no point in choosing to form “the circle” if all your attention will be focused on keeping the perfect circle with your fingers.
So you set your timer, you got in a comfortable position, what now!?
Focus on your breathing. Close your mouth. Pay attention to the way your breath enters and leaves your nose. Don’t analyze it. Simply “watch it” with all your senses. Notice how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Allow yourself to breathe naturally, don’t try to control its pace or intensity. Don’t worry if your mind starts wandering off a little. It will happen. It happens to all of us. This is an almost absolute certainty. The trick is to stop your thoughts once you realize that you are wondering off, take a deep breath and direct your attention back to your breathing. If you had a stressful day and you really seem to be unable to concentrate on your breathing, try counting your breath. Count until five and start from the beginning again. Keep repeating this process until your timer goes off. Take one last deep breath. Smile to yourself. Open your eyes slowly and gradually and take time to become aware of yourself and your surroundings. Slowly begin to wiggle fingers and toes or check in with your body and move in any way that feels good to you. Again, smile to yourself. Be grateful for feeling so relaxed and centered and go back to being in love with your wonderfully awesome life. Knowing that you will be granting yourself some time to relax and come down tomorrow again.
Rather than trying to start meditating directly for one hour, try to gradually increase your meditation time over the course of a few days or weeks. If you are not practiced in focusing on your breathing and enjoying stillness, it does take some time to get used to it in order to feel comfortable with it. Grant yourself this time and learning process. Be grateful for being able to learn how to calm your mind more and more over time.
Please note that this is only one way to meditate. This, I believe is a quite easy way to get started with meditation but there are different ways, and I encourage you to try different ones to find out which one suits you best.
After becoming more confident and practiced with meditation, you may want to hang on to some thoughts or feelings that surface during your meditation. I know I said if your mind wonders off, stop your thought right there and bring your attention back to your breathing, but if you are already getting used to meditation, try this, just for a moment. Only to kind of finish the thought and resolve it with a smile and deep breath. If you are already quite practiced with meditation, it won’t be too hard to let the thought go quite quickly again and return to focusing on your breathing. This exercise will help you get to know and understand yourself better.
If it is easier for you, you are welcome to use some “meditation music” to calm down. There are a lot of different options, such as natural sounds like the rain falling, forest sounds, or the sounds of waves. As you can find on this mp3 for example: Song of Storms
Another option are binaural beats using Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Theta waves (if you would like to know more about binaural beats check out our "Why implementing more music in your life will make you happier" blog-post).
You could even give isochronic sounds a try. A nice collection of isotonic sounds can be found on this album for example: Stress Kaisyoh Ongaku 2 - Isotonic Sound Best Selection.
There are quite some good meditation “songs” that combine binaural beats and isochronic music in order to make it as simple as possible for you to relax and access a state of meditation. One of my personal favorites is this one: Binaural Beats Brain Waves Isochronic Tones
One more quite popular type of meditation is guided meditation; I believe this as well might be a good option if you are just starting out. I personally quite like these ones: Guided Meditations: Relaxing in Nature and Guided Meditation for Beginners, but there are tons and tons of nice guided meditations to get started with.
Whichever option you end up trying first, please keep in mind not to be harsh on yourself if it doesn’t work perfectly the first time. The important part is to stay consistent and to relax. Since the more relaxed you go through life, the more in love with life you will be.