A Beginner’s Guide To Meditation: 5 Tools To Help You Get Started
Meditation is an exercise for the mind just as running is an exercise for the body.
The mind should be treated as a muscle, the more it is used the better it will respond to training. This is true for memory, retention, conceptualization, and understanding.
And, mindfulness achieved through meditation is no different.
Mindfulness meditation trains the mind to redirect thought, for a short period of time, while opening space for mindfulness. Just as a runner must run to become physically fitter the meditator must meditate to gain focus and awareness.
Focus limits distractions and awareness grants consciousness of one's thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Why, would you bother to practice mindfulness meditation?
Well, meditation is proving to have a wide array of benefits for people who implement this tool into their daily lives. It is proven to reduce stress and control anxiety, it promotes emotional health, enhances your sense of self-awareness and introspection, it lengthens your attention span, and, importantly, increases memory.
Let's take a look at how you can integrate meditation into your daily life.
In our western culture, we seem obsessed with our physical bodies. Exercise, healthy eating, supplementation, and medical procedures.
We are obsessed.
Don't get me wrong, it's great that we look after ourselves in this way. It ensures we have the best chance of living a healthy life, free of chronic diseases and physical ailments.
But, what about our minds?
Surely, they deserve some attention as well.
Well, unfortunately, the reality is that the mind is normally overlooked. The modern-day mind is overworked, stressed, and anxious. It never receives any waking hours of rest. We are constantly asking it to work, subjecting it to constant input and constant output.
For example, our idea of relaxation involves repeated input like reading, watching TV, or scrolling social media. When do we ever give our minds a break? Sure when we sleep, but that is obviously a necessity, not something we do purposely to give the mind a rest. And, it's not training our minds to realize it doesn't need constant stimulation.
A rested, healthy, and peaceful mind shifts your perspective for the better and your outer world will reflect this. You'll soon notice that you feel a sense of space. More room than you've ever had before between your emotions and your rational mind. And, this is important as we don't want our emotions negatively influencing the decisions we make.
Acting out of emotion, as I'm sure we've all done before, often doesn't end too well.
The ability to look through a different lens, a rational not emotional lens, will make daily incidents or disruptions seem, well, insignificant. Unexpected outcomes will begin to affect you less, you won't take them so personally. Through this, you'll gain newfound gratitude for yourself, others, and the world around. As mindfulness meditation soothes your busy mind it will allow you to relax into what the present is presenting you 'in this moment'.
The best part is, meditation can be practiced freely by anyone at any time. Don't worry, mediation is not something that should be complicated. As long as you come at it with an open mind and a willingness to give this new practice a shot you'll do absolutely fine.
Keen to get started?
Now we've covered some of the basic philosophies and benefits of meditation, let's look at 5 tools that will help any beginner start practising.
1. Know What To Expect
Straight off the bat, let's run through some 'what to expects' and 'what not to expects' just so you're comfortable with whatever unfolds.
Meditation isn't necessarily a super profound experience at first, maybe it will be but maybe it won't be. Whatever unfolds it is certainly not something to get disheartened about.
Like any exercise, it will take commitment, self-motivation, and a dash of willpower.
There is a Buddhist philosophy that practitioners apply called non-attachment or detachment. It's a concept where a person, through practice, relieves themselves of the burden of attaching an expectation to desired or expected outcomes.
Relieving yourself from these kinds of expectations is a great way to experience and take in as much as you can. This is important when practising meditation. Make sure to relax and take in as much of the experience as possible.
The point is this: expect the unexpected. Don't worry if your practice doesn't go the way you feel it should have.
This is totally normal!
The more you can practice this the better your experience is probably going to be, but maybe not (non-attachment).
2. Take The Time
You don't have to spend hours of your day meditating to experience the benefits.
When you're first starting out 5-10 minutes every day is enough. You can even try micro-meditations, 1 or 2 minutes at a time. Try it even with your eyes open, tune into the moment, clear your mind of all thoughts and distractions, take some deep inhales and exhales, and relax. From there slowly increase the time you spend in this state of mind.
1-2 minutes is definitely better than no time at all.
After 2 or 3 weeks, take some time out to reflect on these sessions and observe any changes that you may have noticed about yourself. Do you feel more relaxed? Less stressed? Or, have you noticed that your focus and concentration is better? If not, again, that's ok. We're all different and our experiences with meditation vary.
As long as you are consistent with your practice I guarantee before you know it, when practising, time really isn't something you will be aware of or care for. It simply feels nice to sit in this space you've created for yourself, relaxing, breathing, and taking in what this moment offers you.
3. Focusing With A Hyperactive Mind
It's hard to sit still, right?
It's normally the last thing we want to do, or at least we don't want to just close our eyes and look at the underside of our eyelids.
What's the point in that if you're not going to go to sleep?
Well, that's just it, there doesn't have to be a point. Just try it and see how it feels. You'll soon realize that it's simply nice to give your mind a break for a little while, even if it is just for a minute or two.
Here's a good way to think about it.
Think of something you really like doing, maybe it's watching a movie or reading a book. For me, it's doing something active like hiking or surfing. When I reflect on why I like to do these activities the answer is because while I'm on a trail or in the ocean I'm not thinking about anything else. I'm completely 100% engaged in what I'm doing at that moment.
This kind of headspace, this thinking of nothing else but my involvement in this activity, feels incomparable to anything else. In fact, it feels so good that I get excited and look forward to it.
What if I told you you can feel the same way about meditation the way you do about your favourite things to do. Complete involvement in your practice musters the same feelings of excitement and anticipation.
You might even reach a point where it feels like you can't meditate enough. That's because it feels so good to relieve yourself of the constant chatter, judgment, and busyness of your own mind.
Take back your mind, don't allow it to control you.
4. Learn To Use Your Breath
Breath is an incredibly important tool. Your breath can directly affect your emotions and stress levels. Try this with me while you are reading this. Take about 10 short shallow breaths and observe how you feel afterwards…
...so how did you go?
Feel a little anxious maybe? Think about it. If you breathed like that throughout most of your day you'd be feeling pretty stressed and anxious, right? Well, next time you're experiencing some form of stress or anxiety take a moment to reflect on how you are breathing. Probably something similar to how you just were.
Now, try this with me. Take another 10 breathes, but this time make them nice and slow. Deep breaths, all the way down, just below your belly button. Big belly breaths...
...ok, how do you feel now? I'm guessing a fair bit different from the first exercise. Breathing like this tells your mind and body that everything is ok, that you are in control and there is absolutely nothing to worry about.
Implement deep breathing into your practice as well.
While meditating, connect to your breath and use it as a focal point to calm your mind. Then, as you remember, observe your breathing throughout the day. If it is short and sharp or you're feeling a little anxious or stressed than use those big belly breaths to reassure yourself that everything is fine and that it only takes a few deep breaths to calm yourself and feel better again.
5. Try These Meditation And Mindfulness Apps
Last but not least, meditation and mindfulness apps. Some are actually incredibly helpful!
Headspace is a great place to get started and they have a free trial of their first ten sessions. These sessions are super handy when you're first starting out. Seriously, I highly recommend giving the Headspace app a go.
Another great app is called Prana Breath. Unfortunately, it is only available on the Google Store but there are iOS alternatives that you can try. These apps are perfect when trying to connect with your breath and relax into focus.
Lie on your back and turn on the audio to a soothing level then breathe along to the different variational techniques that are on offer.
Meditation is something that can truly change your life.
No, seriously it can!
I'm a much kinder, compassionate, patient, and relaxed person when I'm routinely practising. And, when I'm not, I notice the difference immediately.
It's simple really, it just makes life better.
So, next time you have a few minutes to yourself why not find a comfortable position, close your eyes, connect to your deep belly breaths, and go inward to check in on yourself.
Before you know it, you'll wonder how you ever lived without meditation.