How To Start A Meditation Practice? It's Easier Than You Think!
In this article we will cover 5 benefits of meditating, the mindset for starting a meditation practice, challenges when starting a meditation practice, and creating a meditation space.
Meditation, an eons-old practice of creating a calm body and mind, is sweeping the modern world like a storm. People meditate for many reasons. Among the more common ones in recent times is to find inner peace. As stress is becoming more of a norm worldwide, and we now know that ignoring it can lead to physical and mental health challenges, people from all walks of life are embracing meditation as the antidote. Those who have never been interested in religious or spiritual practices are starting to meditate en masse as life becomes more stress-saturated with complex issues. Beyond general relaxation, meditation offers the following perks:
5 Benefits Of Meditating
1) Increased Awareness
Meditators find that as they practice over time, their general awareness increases. They notice more nuances in their environments, as well as subtleties in their own body and mind.
2) Refined Social Skills
As a result of increased awareness, meditators find that they notice more about how others are acting and feeling. It becomes easier to observe changes in people's tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions, allowing the meditator to react with more understanding and thoughtfulness when relating to others.
3) Reduces Anxiety
Since meditation sessions bring the practitioner more periods of calm, they start to notice more obviously when they feeling unsettled and take steps to either change the situation or change their response. The contrast provided by the meditation starts to show people, places, and things that are not so calm and allow for changes to take place, shifting into a more relaxing lifestyle in general.
4) Increases Attention Span
The National Institute of Health found in a study published in 2018 that people who had listened to a meditation recording had increased attention when performing a task. When a person is regularly slowing down their mind during their daily meditation practice, they're able to also slow down their mind in day-to-day life, participating and observing with a better attention span and improved concentration.
5) Decreases Pain
Part of the experience of pain is the injury or inflammation itself; another part of pain is our natural resistance to it: the way we contract, cringe, speed up our breathing, etc. With regular meditation practice, we are more in control of our minds and can choose which thoughts we want to keep and which thoughts we'll allow to pass through. When a meditator is in pain, they'll notice if their resistance or reaction to the pain is adding to the discomfort. This leads to relaxing the body, surrendering the mind to the passing moment, and slowing and deepening the breath, all contributing to pain relief.
Mindset For Starting A Meditation Practice
When starting a meditation practice, a gentle mindset will get you off to a great start. As with anything there are a lot of rigid ideas out there about how to practice meditation that can be more serious than they need to be. Don't allow those strict ideas to stop you in your tracks. Instead, feel free to approach meditation with openness and curiosity. Trust that there is no wrong way, there's only your way. When I started meditating, I attended a class that involved a lot of instructions and I was concerned about forgetting something and doing it the wrong way. I went to the classes for a few weeks then gave up as it was boggling my mind more than anything.
A few months later, I woke up one morning, put on some classical piano music, and then went back to bed. I found that I slipped into a still-minded, half-asleep half-awake state. I was well aware of being in my bedroom, but I also felt an unusual lightness in general. I stayed in this way of being for at least half an hour. There were few thoughts and a lot of quiet awareness that I hadn't really experienced before. I had been meditating, without even trying!
So know that the best way to meditate is the way that you can drop into stillness in the easiest way. Your chosen body position, your best time of day, on a bed, a chair, or the floor, with a guided meditation or in total silence- this is your time to connect with you. In addition, a mindset of self-acceptance is extremely beneficial. If you don't end up meditating as long as you planned, that is fine. If you didn't fit it into your day as you'd hoped that's alright. If your family keeps interrupting you and it's just not happening, it probably wasn't supposed to happen. Accept these sorts of things as part of a perfect process and an opportunity to simply notice what reactions want to happen in you.
Challenges When Starting A Meditation Practice
Starting to meditate can come with challenges, as meditation is, in some ways, the opposite of how we operate in the world. We usually are thinking, planning, worrying, problem-solving, having discussions, and all sorts of mind-based activities. When we meditate, we are slowing down all of those things. These busy ways of operating are deeply ingrained in us, so when we suddenly take a break, it's new territory and can bring some discomforts.
1) Falling Asleep
This was a big one for me and still is! I can get so relaxed I disappear into the dream world. Drifting off is typical if you're meditating in a lying-down position. This is easily corrected by sitting with a straight spine. If you like having your back supported, sit in a chair or against a wall.
2) Feeling Too Alert
When starting out, try different times of day to see when you're naturally more relaxed. These times will be easier to slow down and meditate. If you have the energy to go exercise, or you've just had a coffee, it will be much harder to meditate.
3) Too Many Thoughts
All meditators have thoughts that pop up during their meditation session. Although perfect stillness of mind is one possible state of meditation, it is not the only state. Noticing thoughts is another experience of meditation and there should be no judgment of this state as it's perfect for practicing the art of observation. It may help to imagine those thoughts as clouds against a blue sky, temporarily, floating through the air. They are just passing through. When thoughts inevitably show up uninvited nowadays, I just say "thank you" or "that's interesting".
4) No Time To Meditate
Have patience with yourself. It takes time to develop a new habit. In the meantime, you can lean into short periods of mindfulness and observation throughout the day. Try stilling your mind while riding the bus, being the observer as you eat your breakfast, and feeling balanced and centered while you walk down the street. I like how I feel in general when I am meditating every day. When I haven't managed it, however, I make no judgment. I have noticed that such judgments don't contribute to me meditating more often, so I accept my day as perfect anyways, dropping back into my practice again later.
Creating A Mediation Space
To help establish a routine when starting a meditation practice, choose the same place in your home at the same time each day. I find it helpful to have a few familiar props that remind me it's time to go into meditation mode. I like having ready some cushions, a candle and some relaxing incense, or essential oil. Over time, your body and mind will become familiar with your meditation routine enabling you to slip in to a meditative state faster. It is also nice to turn off your phone and minimise possible distractions.
If you don't feel 100% ready to meditate on your own and could use some moment-by-moment direction, try out a guided audio meditation. There are plenty of free guided meditation online, free and paid meditation apps, and guided meditations on YouTube.
A Simple Meditation for Starting Out:
There are many meditation methods to explore, so enjoy trying out all kinds of styles until one sticks. To begin, you can try out this easy mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness means to "be present, to be in the moment". The meditation is uncomplicated and after you do it once it'll be second nature.
Set a timer for 11 minutes
Find yourself in a comfortable position with a straight spine, either lying down or sitting up.
Close your eyes. If it's comfortable for you, place a hand on your heart.
Slow down your breathing. Focus on the in-breath, focus on the out-breath. For the 11 minutes, the only thing to do is watch the in and out of your breathing.
If thoughts stop by for a visit, notice them as temporary, allow them to move through, and return to paying attention to your breathing.
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This blog post was brought to you by Amanda Wideman
Amanda Wideman is a yoga instructor, a traveler, and a humanitarian whose goal is to find and share peace through art and volunteerism. She currently lives in Zanzibar, Tanzania.