Meditation seems to be everywhere. It’s touted by celebrities, researchers, and health gurus as being beneficial for everything from depression to sleep to irritable bowel disease. Eating mindfully can even help people to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.
In a keyword search of the scientific publications on “meditation”, there were 494 results for publications in 2006 and 887 results for publications in 2016, that’s almost double the publications! Researchers are interested, the science on the benefits of meditation is profound, and the meditation movement is gaining some serious ground.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
I’ve had friends ask me about meditation while expressing confusion about how just sitting there could possibly be beneficial.
Meditation and mindfulness can look very different for different people. There is variability in how people practice (there is no one-size-fits-all approach). In general, mindfulness can be described as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It’s essentially about being present. Meditation is the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference. That point of reference can vary: the breath, bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. Ultimately, meditation is the practice of turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment – of being mindful.
A good analogy is to imagine that your thoughts are like balloons (specifically helium-filled balloons with strings attached to them). Mindfulness meditation is the practice of simply observing those balloons float on by without grabbing the string. It’s about not getting caught up in your thoughts, but watching them come and go without judgment.
My personal experience with starting a meditation practice was a frustrating one. Sometimes the media conveys meditation as the immediate experience of bliss upon sitting cross-legged and closing ones eyes. When someone first tries to simply observe the mind, the experience can be overwhelming. It quickly becomes apparent that our minds are constantly thinking, what some meditators refer to as the “monkey mind”, and trying not to think can at first be extremely frustrating. Who thought sitting still with your eyes open could be such a challenge.
WHY IT’S CALLED A MEDITATION PRACTICE:
Meditation is called a practice for good reason. It’s like exercise. You probably won’t lift the heaviest weight, or run the half marathon, or do a handstand in yoga, the first time you try it. You need to train your body and build up to it. You need to consistently train. Same with meditation. Consider it training for the mind. Results may be subtle at first, but with time, you will see drastic improvements in many areas of your life, from your relationships to your physical health.
If you are really committed to establishing a foundation for your meditation practice, you might want to consider doing a more intensive introduction to meditation, like Vipassana. I took my first Vipassana meditation course in June 2015, and it helped me to develop in my practice exponentially in a short period. Through essentially isolated myself and meditating around 10 hours a day, with minimal distractions, I was able to go deep with my meditations and experience the bliss, clarity, and contentment that comes with meditation over time.
It was also hard AF. I remember the process bringing up a lot of anger (the first time I truly recognized that I wasn’t just sad, I was also very angry), frustration, and anxiety. But in the end it was SO worth it and I notice benefits to this day. I have since attended another course and have one scheduled in the fall. If you can make a ten-day course fit your life, there are centres all over the world and you won’t regret it.
There are also some amazing apps and resources that can help you get started with meditation and mindfulness. Some of my favourites:
- Headspace App: Headspace gives you simple 10 minute meditations you can do each day. It lays out what meditation is all about, how to practice, and what the benefits are. You can do the free trial and then pay for it if you want the more advances classes, but I think that the free version is a great place to start!
- Calm App: Calm offers free meditations for beginners (to help manage stress and remain calm) and further meditation series you can purchase for specific benefits. Meditations are around 10 minutes to start, making it super way to incorporate into your life!
- Book: No Mud, No Lotus - Thich Nhat Hanh
- Gabby Bernstein Free Guided Meditations
- Mindfulness for Dummies Cheat Sheet
HOW TO MEDITATE
1. Sit or Lay Comfortably
You don’t need to sit on the floor cross-legged to meditate “properly”. It’s important to sit in a position that is comfortable enough for you to sit through the duration of your meditation. Sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor and hands in your lap is perfectly fine. You may want to invest in a meditation chair eventually.
2. Close your eyes
If this is uncomfortable for you, simply gaze down at a spot on the floor in front of you or your legs
3. Breathe Naturally
Make no attempt to control the breathe. Simply breathe naturally.
4. Focus your attention on your breathe
You can focus on the movement of the body – the ribcage, abdomen, back – with each inhalation and exhalation, the feeling of the breath inside the nostrils, the sound of the breath, or any other physical sensation of the breath. Simply observe the sensations of the breath and if your mind wanders, that is okay, just return your attention to the breath.
As you practice mindfulness and meditation, you will notice that the gaps between thoughts gets longer and longer. In the beginning though, be kind to yourself when your mind wanders and return to observing breath.
If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below!