If there is any natural therapy that has remained in the heart of the mainstream wellness zone, it has to be the art of meditation. An ancient practice that is traditionally used to open the mind, free the spirit, centre and balance us, and even lead to personal enlightenment. It has of late become a habitual part of so many people’s daily routine.
Meditation can deliver some amazing benefits which serve to keep us present and develop our awareness, as well as positively affecting our inner self and overall well-being. It can contribute to reducing stress, controlling anxiety, improving our focus and concentration, improving our compassion and empathy, encouraging healthy sleep patterns, regulating blood pressure, and developing a better understanding of the self as well as others.
One issue so many people experience, when approaching meditation, is achieving the focus required. It can be a tall task to learn to clear the mind and concentrate on just “being”. And, due to the recent rise in popularity of the practice, it can be overwhelming trying to work out where to start, or which variation is best for you. Being a very personal activity, one that really works on you as an individual, it is important that we find our own path, and so it is helpful to know and understand the different methods available.
The following outline shows various types of meditation which are perfect for beginners, to help guide you on your journey…
All of the practices (except for movement meditation) require finding a comfortable, quiet space with fresh air, where possible, and calm surroundings. Sit however you feel most relaxed, the lotus position is not essential – find your own comfort zone where you’ll be happy staying still for between 10 — 20 minutes.
This entails focusing on, and being mindful of, the present moment. This is one of the simplest ways to begin meditating and is very popular in the western world. The concept stems from Buddhist teachings, and focuses on our ability to be present. Once in position (seated) we focus on our breathing and allow thoughts to wander in and out, only paying them attention in that they exist – not focusing on them, nor judging them, just witnessing them. If we wander too far away from the moment we can just refocus our attention on our breath and bring ourselves back.
Over time, this practice will permit us to see the patterns of our thoughts objectively, and note any concerns and stresses which repeatedly arise. We allow our thoughts to ‘be’ but not be attached to them. You can have gentle meditation music playing or sounds of nature perhaps, but otherwise a peaceful environment is necessary for this practice. Try noise-cancelling headphones if you are unable to achieve this with your usual surroundings. Within this same bracket you can also put visualisation techniques into use; in your mind’s eye focus on a person or thing, blocking out everything else, and concentrate on that one thing for your meditation session. This can help you to let go of something or someone you may have negative emotion about, or be something or someone you want to invite more into your life.
Body scan meditation
This version of the practice involves literally scanning your body from toe to top, in search of any areas of tension. Really focusing on each and every part of the body individually and ‘hearing’ and ‘feeling’ it within you allows you to analyse and locate any blockages or stress points. As you identify certain points, the purpose of the meditation is also to try to relieve the tension, by allowing it to be released. Simply, intentionally relaxing the surrounding muscles whilst breathing will help to achieve this. It may take some practice but this is an effective and energising form of meditation which passes time very quickly as you work on each part of you.
Also commonly known as Vipassana meditation, this involves total silence and a deep focus on the breath. Any physical or mental feelings or sensations that come into your sphere must be acknowledged and recognised but not focused on.
Also known widely as Metta meditation, this practice focuses on directing positive energy to our loved ones. It is a method by which to practice and develop our compassion and understanding of the people in our lives and our relationships with them. As we breathe in we embrace our love for ourselves and as we breathe out we direct that unconditional love, compassion and warmth to people we know. It may be that you wish to repair a broken friendship or feel some negativity between yourself and another, this is a method by which we can release any bad feelings and send loving thoughts instead.
This is one of the best ways, I personally find, to approach meditation to begin with. There are so many apps and online outlets available offering all types of guided meditations. You may be looking for a general meditation or something more specific, to help with sleep for example. Do some research online and choose the one that sounds right for you. Try out a few and you’ll soon develop your personal requirements and preferences. It is important that you relate to and enjoy the guided speaker’s voice and attitude – that it suits your own. Once you have chosen a platform, incorporate the practice into your daily routine and apply the same approach and techniques as with the mindful meditation.
This practice includes guided movement techniques such as yoga, tai chi and some other forms of martial arts. You can even try it walking. It works well for those who struggle to sit still. The movements are designed to coordinate with the meditation techniques involved. During any yoga or tai chi move or position, for example, focus your awareness on your breathing and each physical sensation you experience during the practice. If your mind begins to wander bring it back to these focal points one more. This is best practised within a guided class with a qualified teacher, but once you gain experience you’ll be able to practice at home.
This is where we tune in to our higher powers, relating to self as well as your personal god or belief system and work on achieving a deeper connection. This can be a silent meditation practice, or you may want to involve a prayer or personal words relating to your chosen spiritual direction. Repeat affirmations if you prefer and surrender to your faith and trust. This form of meditation, as with most, requires a peaceful, calm and comfortable surrounding.
I find that mantra meditation is a great practice for those who don’t enjoy the guided meditations as much but do require a focal point in order to be able to delve into the meditative state itself. Repetition of a string of meaningful words, which have relevance to the purpose of the meditation itself, for example if you wish to start the day with energy and focus to be ready for a big day at work, your mantra would reflect this need and help prepare you for it. If you want to focus on being kinder and more compassionate to others, your mantra would reflect this. This repetition eventually becomes somewhat automatic during the practice, allowing the words themselves to seep into our consciousness, and for us to really connect with them and their purpose. You can look up specific mantras online or simply develop your own.
One of the great things about the practice of meditation is that you can generally practice it pretty much anywhere. Though if you do bring this into your daily life it is highly beneficial to dedicate a specific area of your home to it. Furnish this space for comfort with gentle aromas that relax or even invigorate you; home diffusers, aromatic candles, flowers, etc. A plant helps to balance the atmosphere too, and an open window if the noise from outside isn’t too disturbing. The main purpose is to focus our awareness inward, so the less distraction the better.
Practising regularly, whichever technique you decide to try, is imperative for the true nature of meditation to take effect. The most important advice I can give you is to realise that you are never doing it wrong, this is a personal journey which you embark on in your own way, you will eventually find that your attention is redirected in the way you are aiming for and you’ll achieve positive and rewarding results.
Good luck and namaste.
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