Still not sure about meditation? For a long time I didn’t think it was for me either – but last year, shortly after I’d been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer (and my anxiety peaked at a level I didn’t previously know it could reach), I realised I had nothing left to lose (and potentially my sanity to gain). I began a regular meditation practice and I haven’t looked back.
Whilst much of meditation derives from customs and philosophies associated with certain faiths (Hinduism and Buddhism in particular), the practice most people now view as meditation isn’t tied to one religion. And no matter what you’ve thought in the past – meditating absolutely DOES NOT require you to dress up in long robes and burn incense sticks (unless of course, that’s your thing). It simply offers an antidote to our modern lives – helping calm the mind, relax the body and achieve some much needed inner peace amidst the chaos.
I’m by no means claiming to be an expert on meditation, but what I do know is that my meditation practice helped me during a really tough time. Among several words that translate as “meditation” in the English language are bhavana from Sanskrit, which means “to cultivate,” and its Tibetan equivalent, gom, meaning “to become familiar with”. Essentially meditation helps us to gain a clear and accurate way of seeing things. Yet the practice of meditation can be very different every time. This was further highlighted during my month in India (check out my post on my yoga teacher training) where no two days on the meditation cushion were the same for me. And that’s OK – I know I’m on an evolving journey, one that I’d love you to join!
The toughest part of learning to meditate is by far during that initial “beginners” period. Meditation is supposed to teach us how to evade distraction and enjoy stillness – and yet the irony is that when you’re just getting started, sitting still for five minutes is just, well, distracting. If you’re keen to start a meditation practice, but have no idea where to begin, just follow these simple steps:
Pick Your Space
Most beginners find it easier to meditate in a quiet space at home, but as you become more comfortable, you can begin exploring new places to practice. I find meditating outdoors particularly peaceful.
Ideal sit cross-legged on a cushion or otherwise in a chair. It’s best not to let yourself slouch – but don’t get too focused on trying to sit completely straight either. At first, you may want to try sitting against a wall to support your back (I still do this occasionally). Use extra pillows under your knees or anywhere else to make you comfortable.
Set Your Timer
It’s probably best to start with five minutes and work your way up to 10, then 15, and eventually 20 (and beyond). It will probably take a while to increase the amount of time you can actively meditate. Be patient with yourself.
Relax Your Body
Close your eyes and scan your body, relaxing each body part one at a time. Begin with your toes, feet, ankles, shins and continue to move up your entire body. Don’t forget to relax your shoulders, neck, eyes, face, jaw and tongue which are all common areas for us to hold tension.
There are lots of different breathing techniques (or pranayama) used during meditation. However, a simple way to start your meditation is by focusing on breathing normally through your nose, with your mouth closed. All you need to do is notice how your breath feels in your nose, throat, chest and belly – as it flows in and out.
Try A Mantra
A mantra is a sound, word or phrase that can be repeated throughout meditation. Mantras can be spoken aloud or silently to yourself. A simple and easy mantra for beginners is to silently say with each breath “I am breathing in, I am breathing out.”
Still Your Mind
As you focus on your breath or mantra, your mind will begin to calm and become present, but sadly this doesn’t mean that thoughts will stop bubbling up to the surface. As thoughts arise, simply acknowledge them, set them aside, and return your attention to your breath or mantra. Don’t dwell on your thoughts. Some days your mind will be busy and filled with inner chatter, other days it will remain calm and focused. Remember that even if you don’t feel you are in the zone today, tomorrow might be a very different experience. Take the time to persevere beyond any initial frustration and enjoy your journey.
And remember – if you are still struggling to sit still, there are countless ways to meditate that don’t require complete stillness. Essentially “meditation” can mean whatever you’d like it to. If getting outside and running gives you a better perspective on something going on in your life, do it. If listening to cheesy music is cathartic for you and clears your mind, do it. Just find what feels good for you.