How many moments in the span of your day do you wish you could press pause, even for just a moment? I imagine you have, on more than one occasion. So, why don’t you just stop?
Believe it or not, this option is available to you through practicing meditation. And I bet that, over time, doing so will enhance your mental health, restore your energy, and elevate your creative processes.
Taking a daily meditation break is equivalent to giving yourself permission to press pause. Meditation practices are often closely associated with yoga, spirituality, and eastern culture. What we fail to realize is how obtainable meditation is to all of us, and how realistic it is to integrate into our day.
However, note that I am not saying meditation is easy. It is a challenge and requires commitment to reap its full benefits. In the following paragraphs, I hope to demonstrate how accessible meditation is to you, let you know what to expect as a beginning meditator, and provide information to help you select a style of practice that is best suited to you.
A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: How, Why, And When You Should Meditate
- The Truth About Meditation
- What are the Benefits of Meditation Practice?
- The Most Common Meditation Techniques
The Truth About Meditation
The most common misconception about meditation is that its purpose is to cease thinking. With practice, it is possible to be in a state close to this, but having this expectation as a beginner is unrealistic. The very act of saying “Don’t Think” will likely have the opposite effect.
When I teach yoga and meditation techniques, I try to describe the process of stilling the mind as resisting the urge to create thought stories. I once taught yoga in a studio across from a grocery store. I know that in the minds of my students (and in my own), we were occasionally making grocery lists in our heads when we were supposed to be meditating!
This is a perfect example of a thought story. It is like a spider web that keeps expanding. Eventually, it consumes us and we get lost in it. Meditation aims to put a stop to this.
The process is this: Allow the thoughts to come up, resist making them into stories, and eventually detach from them.
To many, it can feel unnatural to slow down. There is a discomfort that comes with breaking from your norm. Also, there may come frustration with trying something new. We tend to strive immediately for perfection, without acknowledging the steps of progress.
One does not simply master the art of riding a bike without falling off at least once. Why should meditation be any different? Using this metaphor, falling off your bike would be equivalent to making a grocery list when you’re supposed to be focused.
Frustration can breed anxiety. Before you know it you’re either walking your bike home or you’re leaving your meditation practice with racing thoughts. The key is to have patience. With repetition you’ll be riding your bike in no time!
Even as a teacher of meditation, I know my practice isn’t perfect, nor would I ever want it to be. Occasionally, I leave my practice frustrated and feeling unfulfilled, but most of the time I leave feeling incredibly inspired and recharged.
Regardless of the experience, I always know that I have done something positive for myself and that the cumulative effects of each practice do benefit me.
What are the Benefits of Meditation Practice?
Dedicating time for self-care is a cornerstone to maintaining one’s mental health. Whether or not we have a diagnosed mental illness, we ALL have mental health. Being in good health mentally (and physically) is truly invaluable.
Purging of Tension and Clearing the Mind
Most styles of meditation require attention to be turned toward the breath. The breath is remarkably good at releasing tension. Ultimately, it is the breath that will put us inline with the present moment-that beautiful place where the past and future cease to exist. In the context of a yoga practice, one seeks to achieve unity of mind, body, and spirit using breath. Breath is a very powerful tool!
When we are experiencing stress or anxiety, our breath becomes shallow. We fail to inhale and exhale to our full capacity. Meditation is an opportunity to break this cycle.
Improving the quality of the breath can restore the body to a calmer state. As you inhale, you intake more oxygen and positive energy. Exhaling releases toxins from the body along with tension.
Breathing to our full capacity for just a few minutes is very refreshing. Sometimes I experience feelings of elation after a few minutes of gently manipulating my breath to a better quality. In addition, the act of visualizing an exhale as a purging of stress from the body is very therapeutic. This visualization has the capability to override your active mind.
Meditation also has a centering effect. Spending a few moments in a dedicated practice can clarify your chaotic thinking patterns, and assist you with refocusing your time and energy in a more productive manner.
Having a tool like meditation, to assist us with breaking out of stress cycles, provides reassurance that we do have control over our conscious mind.
Knowing that there is an escape provides hope. Meditation, therefore, is a very effective coping mechanism for everyone.
Connecting with Your Higher Self
Perhaps one of the most rewarding perks of meditating is connecting with your higher self. Your higher self is the creative, intuitive, free spirit that exists beneath the layers of stress, busy-ness, worry, doubt, judgement, and fear. Layer by layer, meditation will assist you with tapping into this individual.
Managing your mind will eventually grant you more time in a state of clarity: A place where thoughts arise and are released effortlessly, where you become the observer of yourself, and where you transition out of the ‘thinking’ state and connect more with ‘feeling.’
Here is where we are best able to communicate with our higher self. You will know the beauty of this communication when suddenly, out of nowhere, a brilliant idea will pop into your mind or you will see a vision behind your closed eyelids as you meditate. This is inspiration.
I always meditate before I write. Many times, something that occurred during a session will ignite a creative spark within me. Recently, I was engaged in my meditation practice when suddenly I envisioned sparkles falling from the sky.
Somehow, I realized that the sparkles represented snow. I felt led toward writing about snow, which I did. Over one thousand words later, I wrote a beautiful blog post about a night, 13 years ago, where I stood watching the snow for hours.
It was a memory of joy that was buried within me. Once I removed the thoughts that were no longer serving me, the opportunity to connect with my inspired memory become easier.
Before I describe different types of meditation, I want to emphasize once more that the purpose of meditation is not necessarily to stop thoughts. Seek to peel back the layers of your thoughts so you are left with pure, inspired, and joyful ones. Having the sensation of joy and inspiration arise during a meditation is a victory.
If you want to learn more reasons as to why you should start meditating, read those 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation.
The Most Common Meditation Techniques
There are so many styles of meditation to choose from, and finding which one you connect with may require some experimentation.
You may not like certain types of meditating, and that’s okay! Again, have patience and know that forming your practice is a very personalized undertaking.
Listed below are 3 techniques to try which are suited for beginners and experienced practitioners alike:
1. Focusing on the Breath
We take breathing for granted. Most of us proceed through our days without having conscious awareness that we are involuntarily sustaining our life. The easiest way of introducing a meditation practice to your routine is to cultivate an awareness of your breathing. The breath is always available to you, so tap into this rich source of meditative potential.
- Begin by noticing the quality of your breath, without trying to do anything to change it. Is it deep or shallow? Are the inhales longer than the exhales? The act of observing alone centers you and immediately initiates transitioning into stillness.
- Next, make the length of inhales and exhales the same. This is a very subtle shift, which will require focus.
- After a few breaths, begin to lengthen the inhales and exhales, while still keeping them equal in duration. Continue practicing this technique for several minutes.
When you are engaged with breath work on this level, it is very difficult for thoughts to intrude. But if they do, choose not to dwell on them. Simply, return back to the breath by observing first, and then deepening.
This method is a great beginner process. You can dedicate anywhere from 1-10 minutes, once or twice a day, practicing this method. Integrating this into your day can be done without much accommodation.
When to practice this type of meditation:
Practice as soon as you wake up, or at your desk, or even while you wait in a line. Absolute peace and quiet is not required. You create your own peace and quiet by practicing this technique.
2. Mantra Meditation
A mantra is a word or phrase that holds a positive meaning and intent. Mantras are repeated during meditation as a way of cultivating high vibrational energy. The repetition also requires keeping the mind in a focused state. Personally, this is my favourite technique to practice. It is very suited for anyone who may struggle with thoughts that keep popping up.
Selecting a mantra is a personal choice. The first mantra I used coordinated with my breath. As I inhaled and exhaled, I repeated silently:
“I am inhaling positive energy and exhaling tension.”
Other examples of beginner mantras include: “I am love,” “I choose happiness,” or “ I am at peace.”
The Sanskrit seed sound “Om” creates a wonderful vibration that travels from the base of the spine all the way through the top of the head and is very well known for enhancing one’s meditative experience.
To further your mantra meditation, a mala can be used. A mala is a beaded necklace with 108 beads and 1 guru bead (a larger stone which marks the beginning and the end of the meditation).
108 is a sacred number in many religions and cultures, and it is believed to also be infused with positive energy. Repeating your mantra 108 times, therefore, amplifies its effect and your ability to manifest your mantras meaning or intention.
The purpose of the mala is to help you keep track of how many times the mantra has been recited. Each bead represents one mantra repetition. The act of holding the mala and moving your fingers over the beads aids with feeling grounded. Typically, a meditation using a mala will be about 3-7 minutes.
When to practice this type of meditation:
I’ve personally found that mornings are best-not right when you wake up though (risk of falling back asleep is high!). I’d say about half an hour after waking, but before your first large meal of the day.
I find mid afternoon is a good time too. It helps give that extra boost you need to get through the day (instead of turning to another coffee).
3. Guided Meditation
Guided meditation involves listening to instructions on where to direct your thoughts. You will be asked to think about something you wouldn’t normally. For example, you may be guided to bring awareness to various body parts, or to follow the path of the breath as it moves through your body, or even visualize tranquil scenery.
At some point during the guidance, your thoughts may stray. It is how quickly you dismiss them, not let them expand, and return to your established inner peace, that makes your meditation practice successful. You have not failed if your mind wanders.
Guided meditations are very accessible and can easily be found online. Searching YouTube for “Guided Meditation” is a good place to start.
When to practice this type of meditation:
I find meditation energizes me, so I avoid late night practices. However, for guided meditation, there are some excellent ones designed to aid with sleep. In which case, practicing this type of meditation before bed would be appropriate.
Otherwise, you can just practice at the same times of day as suggested for the mantra meditation above.
I hope this post has provided you with a realistic and honest view of how meditation can serve you on a daily basis.
Meditation is not reserved for only those who practice yoga or who identify with forms of spirituality and religion. We are all entitled to inner peace. We all deserve the opportunity to see what lies beneath our consciousness.
So, what do you say? Want to press pause and meditate with me?
Author: Cheryl Tobin