Updated: Oct 6
The number of people taking up the practice of meditation is skyrocketing globally. In the UK, it’s estimated that around 26% of the population practice some form of meditation. In the US, the number of people practicing meditation tripled between 2012 and 2017 and continues to rise, now standing at around 14% of the population claiming to have tried meditation at least once. That’s a staggering 35 million people. Globally there are between 200 and 500 million people practicing some form of meditation.
Meditation, specifically mindfulness is increasing in popularity in the West and gaining increasing traction in many other countries. The reason for this is due to the extensive benefits of mindfulness meditation for mental and physical health, backed up by extensive scientific research. Taking up the practice yourself will add benefits and qualities to your life that you wouldn’t have imagined were possible. All you need is just 10 minutes a day.
Establishing a routine is important if you are a beginner and the following guide should help you.
How to Meditate for Beginners
First off, for those who struggle with emptying their minds or stopping thinking, you’ll be glad to hear that you don’t need to. Emptying your mind or stopping thinking has nothing to do with meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a process of training your mind to pay attention and focus on what you’re feeling and experiencing in the present moment in a non-judgemental way. When your mind wanders, you can just notice it. When you notice it, you are succeeding in the meditation!
The main point of a good mindfulness practice is to be present in the moment and aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the environment around you. Honing your ability through regular practice can help you reconnect with your everyday life in a way that is virtually impossible through any other means.
When you go for a walk and become attuned to the sounds of birds singing or the rustle of leaves under your feet, or when you are absorbed in the lapping of the waves on the beach, this is mindfulness in action. To gain lasting benefits from mindfulness, however, it must become an intentional activity and one that we can take into other areas of our lives. “The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to become mindful throughout all parts of our life so that we’re awake, present, and openhearted in everything we do,” said meditation teacher, Tara Brach, “Not just when we’re sitting on the cushion.”
Before we learn how to do meditation, however, it is worth considering some important points:
Where to Meditate
When you become more confident and proficient in your practice, you should be able to meditate pretty much anywhere under any circumstances. Sometimes, if I get stuck on the ring road, it becomes a time I will use to cultivate awareness.
But we’re not at that point yet, so let’s look at some other options for beginners.
1/ It’s a good idea to have a special meditation space in your home. Try to find a space that is away from daily activities, such as a corner of a bedroom or a spare room in the house. You might want to set up a little altar that you can place things on it that have meaning for you. These could be religious or not, depending on your preference. You might want to place a candle, images, use specific colours. Whatever you use, try to make your space inspiring yet calm and peaceful.
2/ A garden or out in nature near a river or stream are also good places to meditate. Fresh air and bird song can help to develop a keen awareness of the interconnectedness of all of nature, including you. Being connected to the earth is itself healthy and helps to keep you grounded.
3/ Any holy place such as a church, mosque, or temple are good places to meditate in. These places naturally encourage introspection and contemplation. Try to find a place where you can feel a sense of serenity and peace.
4/ Your car. This might seem to be an odd place to meditate, but actually, it is your own private sanctuary on wheels. You can always pull up at the side of the road in some quiet place and spend a few minutes engaged in meditation. You could move over to the passenger seat and take off your shoes. Perhaps keep a blanket in the car to make yourself comfortable and to keep warm in the winter.
When to Meditate
Meditation at any time can be beneficial, but there are times more conducive to achieving a meditative state than others.
1/ First thing in the morning is a time that many people meditate. It’s generally a time when distractions are less and it’s a time when it’s easier to make sure that you actually do your practice. As the day goes on it becomes easier to be overwhelmed with other things to do and keep pushing aside your daily meditation commitment. First thing in the morning can also set you up mentally for a more productive, calm and enjoyable day ahead.
2/ During your lunch break. Try to find even a few minutes away from your normal lunchtime habits to meditate. At this time of the day, meditation can help you de-stress after long meetings or hectic work routines. It can help to relax the muscles that have become tight from slumping over a computer all morning. By taking this meditation break, it can increase creativity, focus, and productivity for the afternoon ahead.
3/ Right before bed. Last thing in the evening is fine but try not to do it immediately before bed. We are not trying to fall asleep in our practice. We are trying to fall awake. If you want to meditate in the evening, try to leave an hour or so after the end of your meditation practice and going to bed.
Once you have a time that works for you, try to build it into your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.
How to Meditate
1/ Sit or lie comfortably. You do not have to sit in a difficult lotus posture to meditate. Sitting on a chair is fine or if you wish, you can kneel. You can even stand to meditate. If you are going to lie down, perhaps lie on a yoga mat or some other place where you wouldn’t normally fall asleep. Lying on your bed is not a good idea. You have spent your life programming your mind that when you lie on your bed you are going to sleep. Meditation needs you to be alert and focused.
2/ Close your eyes. There are eyes-open forms of meditation but for most people closing the eyes helps with cutting down on visual distractions. You can experiment with both methods, but most first-timers, as well as seasoned practitioners, find eyes-closed is easier.
3/ Focus your attention on your breath. Don’t try to change your breath. Just allow it to be natural and follow it in and out. Try to notice your body as you breathe. Be aware of your shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Perhaps you can feel an echo of your breath down in the pelvic floor area. Whenever your mind wanders, just notice it and bring it back to the breath. The worst thing you can do when your mind wanders is to beat yourself up. The mind does its thing; just notice it. That’s all. Be kind to your wandering mind.
4/ If you wish, you can add a count to your meditation which can help with staying focused. Do it like this: Breathe in, breathe out, count 1. Breathe in, breathe out, count 2. Breathe in, breathe out, count 3, and so on up to 10. If your mind wanders, just notice that and start the count at 1 again. If you get to 10 without the mind wandering, just return to 1 and start again.
5/ When you’re ready to finish, just take a couple of intentional breaths and gently open your eyes. Take a moment to feel balanced and bring all your senses back to the space you are in, noticing how your body feels right at that moment. Notice how you feel emotionally.
Try to make your practice a daily routine and do some research into other ways you can meditate. The body scan meditation has many benefits and is another way of extending your practice.
A tip: Turn off the Music!
Many people due to the popularity of New Age ‘meditation’ think that playing music while they meditate helps to ‘get them into the zone’. It doesn’t. When was the last time you saw monks in their temples or monasteries with their headphones on, listening to their favourite music while they meditated? Never. Exactly. Music is a distraction. It will lead you and your mind into places that are nothing to do with your practice of developing and befriending your mind. When the music gets sad, you might get sad, when it gets exciting, you might get excited.
Playing music to meditate to is a common practice in the New Age community but has nothing to do with the serious work of developing the mind. Listen to music by all means but keep it away from your meditation practice.
So now you know how to meditate properly. Good luck with your practice!
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