A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation
Meditation practice has been used since ancient times to help practitioners regain calm and focus. It's the practice of calming the mind of all those racing thoughts that whiz around all day. Once the practice is down, you can examine a particular thought.
However, you'll find the practice beneficial even if you never progress further than stilling your mind. The upside is that anyone can meditate. It might take a little practice to get right, but with time you will.
In this beginner's guide to meditation, we'll teach you more about the practice and give tips to get you started on your journey.
Some History Behind Meditation
The term meditation is derived from the Latin "Meditatum." Translated to English, it means "ponder." There is evidence that the practice could go back a lot further than in ancient Rome.
The first official records we can draw date to 1500 BCE. However, that's merely the first written records of the practice. Archeologists now believe that it might have evolved much earlier and possibly before written records.
They believe that it dates back to when humans were still hunter-gatherers. Whatever you think, we know that the earliest writings about the practice stemmed from India. It was an integral part of the Hindu culture at the time.
Later, it was adopted by Buddhists in parts of India and Taoists in China. That's not to say that the west was left out entirely. Philo of Alexandria first introduced the practice to the west. Saint Augustine later ensured that it became firmly entrenched as part of his religious practice.
One thing that we must understand, however, is that there are different traditions of meditation. The Hindu tradition, for example, focused on meditation as one way of communing with their gods.
Buddhists, on the other hand, see it as a way to understand our connectedness with everything around us better. Therefore, Buddhists do not view meditation as a kind of religious practice at all.
This has led to the more modern view of meditation improving one's mental health, calming the mind, and reducing stress.
In modern times, meditation tends to be looked at as something "new age." Most psychologists and doctors have dismissed it as a result, and a stigma was associated with the practice. It was seen as primarily a religious practice.
That view started changing in the sixties. Since then, science has proven that meditation can be as effective as medication in reducing stress and reversing its effects. This new view has led us to the junction we're currently at, where meditation is acknowledged as a beneficial practice for body and mind.
Modern society now embraces many different kinds of meditation, and there are many different styles and practices. This is fantastic for the beginner because it means you can find a style that resonates with you.
If you find it difficult to clear your mind, you could focus on your breathing, which will allow you to hone your practice. Mindfulness – where you focus intently on whatever task you are doing, is another form of meditation.
There are many other forms, so do some homework when you're done here and see which might suit you best.
The Benefits of Meditating
You'll undoubtedly have heard that meditation is a highly beneficial practice that helps the whole body. It is essentially a mental discipline, but its effects can also assist with various ailments.
It's excellent for reducing high blood pressure, for example. As it calms the mind, your breathing slows, and your blood pressure lowers automatically. There are many other physical benefits of the practice as well.
The Physical Benefits
Not only will it help you reduce your blood pressure, but it can also lower the levels of unhealthy cholesterol in your bloodstream. You are calmer and less likely to binge on the wrong foods, which can help reduce your cholesterol levels.
Lower cholesterol and blood pressure reduce the chances of having a stroke or a heart attack.
Your immune system improves, meaning that you'll be healthier overall.
You feel less anxious, meaning panic attacks, tense muscles, and other anxiety symptoms are behind you.
You'll sleep better. It will be easier to fall asleep and easier to stay asleep as well. You'll wake up feeling more rested.
Your athletic performance will improve. You'll be able to focus more efficiently and stay on track with working toward your athletic goals.
Meditation can help you kick addictions to alcohol or drugs.
It can help give you relief from chronic pain like that caused by fibromyalgia.
Your mind will feel sharper and stay sharper as you age.
The Mental Benefits
Scientists are vigorously exploring the mental benefits of meditation today. There have been studies that prove that regular meditation can help you deal with emotional issues.
Help you focus on the present, which means that you can move on from past upsets and avoid worrying about what hasn't happened yet
Make it easier to deal with stressful situations at home and work
Help you deal with anxiety and severe conditions like PTSD
Make it easier for you to maintain an ongoing focus; you'll be able to focus on the issue without being sidetracked.
Improve the symptoms of depression. In the area of standard depression, it has been proven as valuable as pharmaceuticals without the nasty side effects.
It helps you improve your emotional intelligence. You'll be better able to know what you are feeling and be able to distract yourself from negative emotions. You'll also be able to be more empathetic to those around you.
Help you see things from a different perspective. Your relationships improve as a result.
Make it possible for you to work through your fears and phobias
Help you live a more honest life – you'll deal with personal issues through self-reflection.
The Different Types of meditation
Here's the fun part – it doesn't matter what style you adopt. You will find it beneficial. Some methods have different goals, so it's a good idea to discover a style that aligns with your goals.
Here are the main types of meditation.
You will work towards achieving an enlightened state and a deep sense of calm. The focus is on counteracting the stresses and strains of modern life and ridding yourself of negativity.
The idea here is to help balance your emotions, reduce stress, and make you more joyful. You'll choose a mantra that resonates with you and reminds you of our interconnectedness. This mantra is repeated over and over again until you effectively zone out.
If you're a stressed-out executive, this type of meditation is something to consider. The aim is to boost your energy while working towards altering your state of consciousness. From this point, you can meditate on your role in the world.
How You Can Start Meditating
We've chosen a few different types to see what resonates most with you.
With this type of meditation, having an instructor guide you through the visualization can be helpful. Plenty of guided meditations on YouTube are free, or you can buy yourself a CD. If you're meditating to relieve stress, check YouTube for guided meditation.
It's not essential to have an instructor, though. The idea here is to envision a goal that is important to you. What will it be like if that goal is achieved? See yourself in a situation where you have reached it already. Visualize every detail, from the sounds, colors, and smells, which athletes do to help them prepare for victory.
This is what is known as a moving meditation. You adopt a series of poses and focus your mind. The result is that your body and mind relax completely. Qi Gong is a good option for overcoming chronic aches and pains.
Being mindful is one of the most accessible forms of meditation. You don't have to sit in a dark room or try to force errant thoughts out of your mind. All you need to do is to concentrate on the task at hand. So, if you're washing dishes, focus on every aspect.
Feel the soap bubbles against your skin. Note the feeling of the water, the warmth, and so on. Focus on washing the dishes, and you won't have time to worry about anything else.
Here we'll teach you about one of the simplest forms of meditation – a breathing meditation. If you have a problem with thoughts that keep intruding while trying to clear your mind, you'll want to try this.
Set aside a time when you won't be disturbed. Make sure that you can sit in a quiet room with no distractions. It's better if it's tranquil. If that's not possible, consider putting on some calm and soothing music.
You'll also need to ensure that the area that you choose is at a comfortable temperature. Strong smells might distract you, so keep the scents in the room as neutral as possible.
Now get yourself comfortable. You can adapt the standard meditation pose if it's comfortable for you, which is seated, with your leg crossed and back straight. If this is uncomfortable, sit up in a chair instead.
We don't recommend lying down as you might fall asleep. Just keep your back straight and otherwise stay relaxed.
Close your eyes and breathe in deeply to the count of four. Hold your breath for the count of four. Now release to the count of four. Work slowly and deliberately, and focus all your attention on your breathing.
Your mind will clear automatically, and you'll feel more relaxed. You can continue this for the whole session or move on to the next step. As a beginner, it might be easier to stop here. You can choose a shorter session of five minutes to start with and increase it as you go along.
You'll want to start learning to control your thoughts as you progress. You should be nicely relaxed because of the breathing exercise now. If thoughts start creeping back into your mind, refocus on your breathing.
Then you can start to bring a specific thought to mind. Perhaps you want to replay a scene in your mind to see what else you could have done. Maybe you want to actively ask your subconscious what it wants to communicate with you.
Here's the rub – you only want to deal with one thought at a time. If you find that your mind is bombarding you with many different items, gently pull back focus to the thought you want to concentrate on. If that's not working, refocus on your breathing and try again later.
Sit quietly for a moment and enjoy the calm. When you feel ready, open your eyes and bring your focus back to the outside world. Give yourself another minute to enjoy the calm, and then go about your day as usual.
Meditation is not all that difficult if you're willing to put in the time to practice. We've given you a fundamental way to start. See how well that works for you, but don't be afraid to branch out and try other styles.
What works for one person might be less effective for the next, so change things up a bit.
Finally, incorporate a simple session into your everyday life. Even if all you can spare is five minutes, you'll find that the rewards are well worth the effort.