A Beginner's Guide to Meditation
I stumbled across this post I wrote quite a while ago and never actually posted, and was struck by the pertinence of its content to me at this very moment. Over the past few weeks I've been making a serious effort to return to my daily meditation practice that I had going for most of last year. Returning to it is hard, my mind is busy and full and most of my meditations are messy. This morning I tried counting my breaths backwards from 10 without allowing other thoughts to pop in, and I think the furthest I got was 6. But persistence, I trust, is key - so I just sat there and kept counting until I felt the relaxation wash over me. I know personally I feel better, calmer, more alert and present when I meditate, there is no substitute. If meditation is something you've tried but feel like you're bad at (you can't be bad at it by the way), or something you'd like to start practicing, then please read on! And as I said, persistence, and consistency, are key. Enjoy these words of wisdom (tongue in cheek!) from me at the height of my meditation practice.
There is no doubt that meditation, hand-in-hand with mindfulness, has become something of a buzzword in the health and wellness world of late. And for good reason… meditation is an incredible tool that gives you the power to train your mind, reduce stress and immediately tune in to the subtle energetic movements in your body. As someone who meditates almost every single day, I can personally attest to its transformational impacts. A few years ago, as a high school student, I was riddled with anxiety and I worried about EVERYTHING. I had a degree of insomnia as a result of this and felt as if I could never switch off my mind. Despite a blossoming yoga practice, I was missing the magic component of meditation, which would ultimately allow me to manage my anxiety and stress and create more positive thought patterns and awareness.
After attending a Vasta Retreat in 2015 my meditation practice has continued to deepen and become an even more important part of my daily routine. In January 2016, whilst I was home on summer break, I had about three people mention to me in conversation that they would like to learn how to meditate but simply didn’t know how or didn’t know where to start. I took these synchronistic conversations as a little sign from the Universe that I should offer some of my experience to these people. Consequently, I put together some flyers for a four-week 'Introduction to Meditation' course and distributed them to a few places around town. I decided to make the course free or by donation, because I had a few fellow student friends who I knew wanted to come but couldn’t afford to pay for classes. In the beginning I honestly thought I would probably get 3 or 4 people in each class, which never bothered me because I really wanted to do it for those few individuals who had expressed a desire to learn to meditate. I was both stunned and delighted to have more than 20 people in 3 out of the 4 classes that I ran, clear evidence that there was a definite need for beginners meditation classes.
I can honestly say that teaching meditation is something that brings me nothing but joy. I loved preparing the meditations each week and creating a theme to focus on. I drew on the wide range of meditations I have been guided through and practiced myself to create classes that were both accessible and powerful. I was also blessed with the guidance of an incredibly experienced local meditator and teacher named Peter, who attended and brought with him a beautiful energy to each class. The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive and only affirmed my passion for sharing the joy of meditation with people of all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience.
So, to the point of this post, today I want to share with you some simple steps to start your own meditation practice. But before I begin I want to clear up the most common myth about meditation that seems to prevent people from believing they are capable of meditating. That myth is that you have to completely clear your mind… In truth, clearing your mind is essentially impossible. Whilst meditating you do achieve moments of clarity in which the incessant mind chatter pauses for a few blissful moments, but I’ve certainly never come close to an “empty” mind. Instead, think of meditation as a workout for your mind. You must sit on your meditation cushion and commit to training your mind in the same manner that you would take your body to the gym and train. With consistent practice your mind muscles grow stronger and meditation gets “easier”. As well as training your mind, meditation gives you an incredible awareness of what is actually going on inside your head, effectively creating by default a state of mindfulness.
So here are my go-to, fool proof steps for meditating:
1. Sit or lie down
Whilst there are active forms of meditation, including walking and dancing, the classic form of contemplative meditation usually involves adopting a seated position. For this you can sit on a pillow or meditation cushion. I also like to rest my back up against a wall or the side of my bed so that I am not straining to keep my body upright. Alternately, you can sit upright in a chair. Make sure you are comfortable, so that you can sit in stillness. You can also lie down in Savasana (on your back with your arms by your side and legs apart). This is particularly good if you are meditating before bed in an attempt to aid sleep. My other favourite meditation position is Legs Up the Wall, which is also great before bed.
2. Close your eyes
Closing your eyes during meditation eliminates approximately 90% of the sensory input we normally receive, which greatly assists in calming down the mind and allowing you to tune into the inner workings of your mind. So, step two, once you have found a comfortable position, is to close your eyes gently, so the eyelids are lightly pressed together but not strained.
3. Focus on your breath
I personally find breath-awareness the most powerful and accessible form of meditation, as your breath is with you at all moments. After you have closed your eyes just start to notice your breathing. Notice the sensations associated with the breath moving in and out of your body. Feel the chest and belly expand and contract. Feel the air moving in through the nostrils and down the throat. Notice the sounds of your breath. Count your breaths if that appeals to you. With each exhale breath release any physical tension in the body. You can also use the breath as an anchor for the mind. Each time that you notice you have gone off with a train of thought, just take a deep inhale and return to watching the rhythmic movements of the breath. This is meditation, congratulations you are doing it!
4. Visualise (optional)
I love to use visualisation in my meditations, however I don’t necessarily do it each time I meditate. Visualisation, as the word implies, is creating images within your meditation through which you create scenarios or little stories. This might seem counter-intuitive to meditation, but in fact by training the mind to focus on a visualisation you are in fact meditating. There are endless possibilities with visualisation, but here a few of my favourites. Firstly, you can create a relaxed scene in nature in which you place yourself mentally and then explore. This can literally be any place, real or imagined. The idea is to immerse yourself in the scene and be 100% present in that place.
Another visualisation is the “perfect day” movie, best done in the morning. In this visualisation you imagine the day ahead of you unfolding exactly how you want it to. Imagine yourself being on time for all your commitments, being kind and being treated kindly by the people you interact with and achieving all that you need to easily. You can embellish this visualisation however you like, but be really clear because these imaginings work with the manifesting powers of the Universe to bring you the day you visualise. Another option for a busy mind is a thought visualisation. There are many versions of this, such as imagining putting each thought into a bubble as it comes up and then watching the bubbles float away. You can also watch the thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky, whilst you remain as the observer on the grass below. In whatever scenario works for you, the goal is to not engage with the thoughts, but simply observe the train of thoughts from a distance. Each time you find yourself being carried away with the thoughts just bring yourself to whatever scenario you have created.
So there you have it, it is literally that easy. Sit, close your eyes, breath! So even if you only have a spare three minutes today, that is plenty of time to meditate and even a short practice can make the world of difference to your mental state and your day.
Love Erica x