If you are new to meditation, despite how peaceful and calming it all may seem, the idea of starting a meditation practice can be a little intimidating. It helps to know that you are not the only one who has at least a dozen questions or hesitations about meditation before trying it for the first time, and often we are all wondering pretty much the same things. Yet meditation is an invaluable tool, and once you get going, you will understand for yourself why it was worth stepping outside of your comfort zone to try it. Although, if fears or anxiety are, in fact, the things that have been holding you back, just know that there are many ways you practice meditation until you find a style that works for you, your comfort levels, schedule, and lifestyle.
First of all, what is meditation, and how is it helpful?
Meditation is a transformative practice that helps you find more joy and calm in your daily life. It is beneficial for increasing focus and self-awareness while reducing stress and managing anxiety.
Meditation is at its core the practice of being mindful. Through meditation, we learn how to focus on the breath as we inhale and exhale. By focusing on the breath, we can more readily notice when our attention pulls away and gets stuck on a thought – or a bunch of thoughts.
Just as you might work out at the gym to build muscles in your arms and legs, the brain is a muscle as well, and mindfulness helps us reinforce our attention and awareness. Ultimately, this leads to a great deal more happiness because one of the goals is to notice the thoughts that are distracting us or no longer serving us, even when we are not seated in formal meditation. We can also become happier beings through meditation because we don’t learn to ignore those thoughts but rather accept them – accept ourselves – without judgment.
What is a basic meditation that I can try?
- Find a comfortable, loose cross-legged position, whether it’s in your bed or on a chair or couch; if you have a yoga mat, blanket, or cushion to use, great. If not, you don’t need anything fancy to get started. However, I do recommend some socks if you tend to get chilly!
- Choose a time limit and set a timer. Five minutes is great for beginners.
- Softly close your eyes, or, if it is more comfortable for you, keep them just open enough to gaze at something in front of you.
- Begin to breathe and follow your breath as it goes in through your nose and out through your nose. If you feel a little stressed or anxious, you can always take a few open-mouth exhales or sighs first.
- Continue to follow your breath. Notice the rise and fall of your belly and chest. Try also to notice when your mind wanders. It is okay if you get lost in the mind chatter for a while. Give your thoughts the attention they are seeking, and whenever you are ready, turn your attention back to the breath. Continue with this process as many times as you need to until your time is up.
- Once your timer notifies you that your meditation time is up, slowly open your eyes and take in the things you see around you. You can pretend as if you are seeing them for the first time. Notice how you feel, in both body and mind.
Congratulations – that is pretty much it! How did it go for you? Hopefully, this is something you can see yourself incorporating into your day-to-day life. Still, seated formal meditation is not the only way to practice mindfulness and might not always work the best for you. Here are a couple of other ways I get my meditation practice done “on the go.”
I always recommend doing your meditation practice first thing in the morning. Not only is it a great way to start the day, but it is an excellent place for beginners to start, and you will be less likely to bail on your practice later on if you just wake up and do it.
If a morning meditation does not work best for you or you want to keep up the momentum, you can also find time on your lunch break or during smaller breaks throughout the day. Whether you have time to head to the park for 30 minutes or take a couple 5-minute loops outside of your work building, finding awareness of your breath is always possible. Walking meditation is a wonderful way to get in tune with your breath and your movements. If you are outside, try also tuning in the sounds of chirping birds or taking in the smell of flowers.
Mindfulness on the go
Practicing mindfulness as you go is much like a walking meditation, only you do not have to be walking or doing anything in particular to practice it. You can practice mindfulness at any time. The next time you wash the dishes, notice the smell of the soap and how the warm water feels as it runs across your hands. Breathe and be present. Let your only practice be just noticing, whatever that means in each moment.
Above all things, remember that the best tools you can have present during your meditation include a little bit of self-love, kindness, and patience. If your thoughts become busy, do not worry that you are doing anything wrong. Merely noticing your thoughts means you are well on your way.