You know what it is, you know why you should do it, but you suddenly realise you aren’t sure how to do this meditation thing. You might turn to Google, but search for ‘how to meditate’ and you’ll get over 290,000,000 results in less than a second – enough to overwhelm anybody. You might decide to learn it the old fashioned way and pop into a bookstore to pick up a volume that will teach you everything you need to know, but which one should you buy?! The self-help section could be a meditation section all on its own and which type of meditation do you want to learn anyway: health, insight, visualisation, moving, relaxation… The list can seem exhaustive.
So where to start?
One of the best things about meditation is that it’s impossible to do it the wrong way and, given there are so many different styles, there’s always something for everyone. I find the best place to start with meditation is with your breath: take a moment now to pause and notice your breathing. Do you breathe through your nose, your mouth or both? Does your belly rise and fall or is the movement confined to your chest? Are you breathing quickly or slowly? How does it feel to breathe? Noticing the breath is the first step to mindfulness and a fantastic stepping stone to meditation. The breath will always be there, so we never have to worry about forgetting it or leaving it behind, which means we can take a moment to focus on our breathe wherever we are: home, work, school, on public transport, waiting in line, while we’re cooking, the possibilities are endless.
It can take a while to become comfortable noticing the breath and that’s perfectly normal. Some may even find it a little disconcerting to begin with, as becoming aware of the breath can sometimes lead to reflections on mortality, but the key to dealing with these kind of intrusive thoughts when you’re breathing mindfully is to acknowledge they’re there and bring your attention back to the breath. While the human mind can focus on many things at once, if you make a concentrated effort to focus on one thing and one thing only, it will obey you.
Once you’ve had some time to practice focusing on your breath, you can find a quiet, comfortable spot and prepare to meditate. Make sure you let your partner and children know what you’re doing, so you’re not disturbed, and keep any pets out of the area you’ve chosen. It’s also best to try and find a relatively clean space, as the external environment affects our internal environment and I have found in my own practice that a clear meditation area often results in a deeper and more focused session. When you’ve found a space where you’re not going to be disturbed, you can start to find a comfortable position. The most common position to meditate in is sitting cross-legged, however you can meditate any way that feels comfortable for you. The only criteria is that your head and neck should be in a neutral position and your spine should be relaxed.
And now you’re ready. You might like to place your hands on your belly the first few times you try this, and feel it rise and fall with your breath. This can be very grounding and gives you a second point to focus on, along with the breath. How long you stay here is entirely up to you; most teachers and coaches will recommend ten minutes, but, if you are brand new to meditation, this can seem daunting. When I started I would sit for just two minutes, and when that became too short I moved up to five, then ten, then twenty, and now regularly meditate for thirty minutes a day. Even starting with just two minutes, you will begin to notice some benefits, both immediately following and long term. US based psychologist and meditation coach Tara Brach says ‘everyday, no matter what’ and beginning your practice with just two minutes a day is a good way to cultivate this attitude and begin a lasting practice.
Article by J. Byers