A Beginners Guide to Meditation (With Four Practical Techniques)

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Introduction to Meditation

It’s official, meditation has become mainstream. An increasingly huge range of people, from CEO’s running multi billion dollar businesses to pre-teens over-bursting with energy during school time, are embracing the practice with open arms.  Scientific evidence overwhelming supports it’s benefits - meditation has been shown to reduce our stress levels, improve our concentration and physiologically, benefit our cardiovascular health and immunity too. This all illustrates that taking some time out of our day to meditate has the potential to greatly improve the feeling and productivity of the rest of it. No wonder the world has caught on.

How to Meditate

So, how exactly do you meditate, aside from in a lotus position in some remote cave? There is no one right approach that will suit everyone and if you've never tried meditation before, consider giving a few different options a go to see which will resonate with you most.  For some people, meditation takes place in the form of night-time bath rituals or lone gardening sessions. For others, it's a class at a local temple or a more intense residential meditation retreat. There is also art, music, sports and a thousand others elements you can bring into your practice too depending on your interests and lifestyle. The only really important elements are that you are alone, undistracted and alert. You just need to get in that thought-free zone, in the present, where nothing distracts you from simply being, even if just for a few seconds at a time.

When and How Long to Meditate

The length of time you should dedicate to meditating will depend largely on your lifestyle. If all you can spare is a couple of minutes before heading off to work in the morning then do that because it's still better than the alternative but otherwise, I would recommend at least 10 minutes everyday.  The optimal time to meditate is immediately upon rising or alternatively, just before going to sleep. Meditation can also bring about huge benefits when practiced during stressful situations such as disagreements with other people or when we experience disappointment or anxiety. 

Meditation is not Idleness 

One misconception I often come across is people believing that idleness is a form of mediation.  It absolutely is not! While idleness may have it's benefits too, such as inducing a feeling of relaxing, the benefits are different because they dont involve us actively training our attitudinal muscles.  Absentmindedly gazing out from a bus window after a long working day can be a nice treat but the point of that action is to preserves our energy and not much else. Do it if it feels good, but just dont forget to incorporate meditation into another part of your day as well. 

Four Practical Meditation Techniques

1. Classic Meditation - Perhaps the most classic approach to meditation involved sitting comfortably (but fully upright so that your spine is straight and the rest of the body strong), closing your eyes and working on bringing your mind to stillness.  Thoughts that arise are consciously sent away or simply observed from a distance without engagement. With practice, that special though-free time could be sustained for longer. Of course, whenever the mind drifts you can simply start again. I find it helpful to set myself an alarm for however long I intend to practice when I have limited time. Just make sure that alarm sound is something gentle, like a chime or a calming nature sound.

2. Guided Meditation - If you are completely new to meditation and need some direction, guided meditation can be amazing and the amount of resources available to support you are huge (and often free). Try having a search on google or youtube and see for yourself. Guided meditation gently forces you to follow along to the speakers direction which serves as a distraction for the mind (and gets it away from it's usual hamster-wheel like madness). Guided meditation will cultivate a sense of calm within your mind and body. I found it to be like a 'reset' button for when I'm feeling flustered and not up to making too much of an effort.  (I have a free guided 6 minute body scan meditation available for instant download here). 

3. Zen/Mindfulness Meditation -  Zen meditation involves the fundamental elements of classic meditation along with two additional layers;  focusing on the breath and remaining in the present moment. Focusing on the breathe serves an anchor for the mind and has wonderful and instant physiological benefits too. For more information, please read my full article on Mindfulness. 

4. Breathwork - Breathing exercises are often incorporated into other styles of meditation but they can be wonderfully beneficial and calming all on their own too. Most branches of yogic philosophy claim that breathing exercises purify the blood and respiratory systems and should be practices daily. They allow more oxygen to become available for our brains, lungs, hearts, and capillaries and as a result, we can be at our optimal performance/wellbeing level after practicing them. The simplest breathing exercise is simply deep breathing. Inhaling slowly but steadily and then extending the exhale for as long as you comfortably can. Usually, this is as least a couple of seconds more than you naturally exhale. For more on breathwork, I highly recommend the book, "Light on Pranayama" by BKS Iyengar. 

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During my first yoga teacher training, I remember my teacher saying that praying is a way of communicating with the divine while meditation is a way for the divine to speak to you. This has proved true for myself, I often find answers to whatever dilemmas life throws to me in my meditation practice along with a big helping of inspiration of course. There is real, tangible value to practicing meditation daily and I now know that a day where I dont take this time wont be as fulfilling and productive.  

 

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“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.”  
Jiddu Krisnamurti