By: Katie Lisbon CPLC
Have you heard about all the great benefits of meditation and been thinking about trying it out? Maybe you’re still a little hesitant. Sitting in one spot and trying not to think for an extended amount of time, you probably chuckled to yourself, “that’s next to impossible, my brain never shuts off!” If this sounds like you, then you are actually the perfect candidate for meditation. Overthinking and the inability to calm the mind are two of the most common traits that can lead to unhappiness, unfulfillment, poor sleep, anxiety, and even depression. Meditation is a process of training the mind, just as athletes train their bodies for a sport. Meditation can be a little difficult to start off with for a beginner, but the key to learning how to successfully meditate comes with practice and discovering which form of meditation will work best for you. Some of the most common forms of meditation include: concentration meditation, mindfulness meditation, and others which incorporate physical movement.
Concentration meditation involves focusing on a single point. You would start by following your breath, repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive light or pleasing sound (such as a gong). As stated before, focusing the mind can be challenging, especially for a beginner. This is why you may attempt to meditate for only a few minutes, working your way up to a longer duration. In this form of meditation, your goal is simply to refocus your attention on the chosen object or sound each time you notice your mind wander. Whenever you experience a random thought, you simply let it pass through your mind. The more you practice, the easier this process will become and so will your ability to concentrate.
Mindfulness meditation encourages the mediator to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is to simply be aware of each thought, but again, not acting or responding to each mental thought. Mediators who practice mindfulness meditation can see their thoughts and feelings move in particular patterns. This means, they can become more aware of the human mind and its tendencies. An example of these tendencies would be: quick to pass judgement (good or bad), becoming easily angered, or becoming hungry in response to an emotion, and not the actual need for food.
Other Meditation Techniques
Other meditation techniques include meditations that incorporate movement such as tai chi, qigong, and walking meditation. There are many forms of tai chi, qigong, and walking meditation as well. The purpose of these forms of meditation are to improve posture, improve physical health, and bring balance to the mind, the body, and the spirit. This is achieved through controlled movements of the body, integrated poses, and specific breathing techniques.
Now that you have selected your form of meditation, you are ready to take advantage of the numerous health benefits it provides. These benefits can include (but are not limited to) lower blood pressure, improved blood circulation, lower heart and respiratory rate, less anxiety, reduced cortisol levels, better sleep, greater feelings of well-being, and less stress. The following step-by-step guides will take you through the practice of concentration meditation:
1. Choose your mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase that you silently repeat to yourself during meditation. The purpose of the mantra is to give you something to put your attention on other than your thoughts. You may use any phrase you like. Here are a few examples:
“Where I am right now is exactly where I need to be.”
“I have a purpose in this life.”
“I surround myself by those who make me better.”
“I am a magnet for joy, love, and abundance.”
2. Find a place where you can be comfortable. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. While it is very common to sit cross-legged it is not necessary when meditating. You can sit on a chair or on the floor with cushions, pillows, or blankets. The goal is to sit as upright as possible while still remaining comfortable (comfort is a priority). Lying on your back is usually not recommended because most people fall asleep in this position, but you can try it if sitting is uncomfortable for you.
3. Begin taking some cleansing breaths with your eyes closed. Begin to relax the body and the mind by taking a few “cleansing breaths.” Inhaling slowly through your nose and then exhaling out your mouth. After a few of these cleansing breaths, continue breathing at a normal relaxed pace through your nose with your lips gently closed.
4. Repeat your mantra silently to yourself without mouthing the words. Repeat your selected mantra in a gentle and relaxed manner. There is no need to force it. The mantra does not need to correlate with the breath, though some people prefer to do so. If you choose to correlate your mantra with your breath, do not become overly fixated on this. As your meditation continues, allow the breath to fall away into its own rhythm. The repetition of your mantra should be almost effortless.
5. Do not try to stop your thoughts or clear your mind. As you continue with this meditative process, you will find your thoughts drifting away from the mantra. It is human nature and normal for the mind to wander. Do not try and stop your thoughts or “empty your mind.” Whenever you become aware that your attention has drifted away from your mantra to thoughts or any other distractions while meditating, simply return to silently repeating the mantra.
6. Stop repeating the mantra. After approximately 20 to 30 minutes, stop repeating your mantra and continue to sit with your eyes closed as you slowly come out of your meditation state. Be sure to spend a few minutes relaxing with your eyes closed before “coming out of your meditation.” If you find that 20 to 30 minutes is too long for you, start with whatever amount of time you can, and slowly build your way to 20 to 30 minutes. Even a few minutes of daily meditation is beneficial.
The benefits of meditation are greatest when practiced daily. Ideally, meditation can be performed any time of day, anywhere your feel comfortable. The true challenge is giving yourself enough time and practice to do it well. I personally enjoy meditating after a workout when my mind is most relaxed. Many people prefer to meditate first thing in the morning before starting their days and then again at the end of the day. Meditation can help you feel centered and balanced, acting as “release valve,” easing stress, tension, and even anxiety. Give it a try and see if meditation is right for you.