Meditation for Beginners: How to Jump-Start your Practice.
When I first tried to meditate, I hated it. I remember sitting in my room, trying to think of absolutely nothing. I’d been taught that this is what meditation was; complete nothingness. How do I think of nothing? By thinking about thinking about nothing, aren’t I thinking about something?
This is what I had been taught. Sitting in my grade nine Social Studies classroom, my teacher was explaining meditation practices of Eastern cultures. Though now I realize she was mistaken in her understanding of meditation. A curt French lady, she probably had no time for this meditation nonsense, and wanted to press on with her curriculum (sorry, Mme H.). We sat in agitated silence for about two minutes, as people looked around, shifted in their chairs, and stifled exasperated sighs and yawns. Our “meditation” was complete, and we pressed on.
This experience has stuck with me, and I believe scared me off of meditation for a long time. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t quiet my mind. I failed at meditating.
The next time I tried meditation was in a yoga class. I was about seventeen, and went with a friend to try out yoga at the local rec centre. Once again, I hated it. What is this Savassana nonsense? I had no time for stillness. Stillness was not productive, I thought.
Years later, I’ve grown to love and cherish my meditation practise. These moments, whether for a minute or an hour, are so special to me and an integral part of my mental health. It was a big learning curve to get to where I am now with my practise, and I’d like to share some tips with you to make your exploration of meditation a little bit easier.
Often I hear of people trying to shut off their brains for twenty minutes right from the get-go. While twenty minutes might be a nice goal, it can be a setup for failure for your first try. Try just five minutes at first. I find timers really helpful in lots of areas of life, and I sometimes like to set a timer for my meditation practise as well. Allow yourself 3-5 minutes at first, then build up to ten, fifteen, and beyond.
This might seem like a no-brainer when trying to quiet the brain, but as most North Americans live these days, distractions are basically inherrent. Our mind is rampant with lists; to-do’s, groceries, schedules, and the like. Music may be playing; perhaps the TV is on in another room. Pets are making noise, children are making noise, all the noise, noise, noise. I suggest wearing earplugs or headphones at first. I continue to wear headphones in my daily meditation practise; it helps my thoughts stay in my own head. I imagine the earbuds as bookends, holding my thoughts between them, shutting out the outside world. I also like to dim or turn off the lights to limit visual stimulation, and make sure to find a comfortable seated or laying position before I start, so as not to be pulled out of my meditation by bodily distractions.
Try Guided Meditation
I know, I know, I just told you to limit distractions, and YouTube can definitely be a distraction. It can also be a wonderful tool, and there are some really great guided meditations found online. Meditation doesn’t have to mean complete nothingness in the brain; for me, it just means I am in a quieted state of deep relaxation and realization. Guided meditations can be great for beginners and veterans alike, as they give the brain some sort of direction to follow, while inducing a calm, introspective state.
Here are some of my favorite YouTube channels for guided meditations:
Meditation Relax Club: https://www.youtube.com/user/meditationrelaxclub
There are many more available; search guided meditation in the YouTube search bar, and hundreds will pop up. Sometimes you’ll have to fish around a bit for one you like. Not every meditation will feel right to you, and sometimes, a meditation you’ve loved one day can feel like it clashes with your soul the next. The body is a great guide… listen to it!
Focus on the Senses
Focusing on the senses can be a great way to bring us into the present moment, which is a big part of what meditation is all about. This is a big principle of mindfulness, which uses the principals of observation, description, and acceptance of our current environment. We can use mindfulness in our lives at any time, such as when eating a meal, brushing your teeth, or at work.
You can even try some mindfulness right now:
What do you hear? Find three different sounds. Is the furnace pumping? Can you hear rain outside? Is your cat meowing? Is your stomach gurgling? Are you kids playing?
What do you smell? Find at least one smell. Is there coffee brewing? Is there something cooking? Can you smell your perfume, your deodorant, your shampoo?
What do you see? Find three different textures or patterns. Are your carpets patterned? Are your drapes ruffled? Are your pants wrinkled? Can you follow the grain of your wooden floor?
What do you feel? Find three textures using touch. Try feeling around with your hands. Are your jeans cold? Are your carpets rough? What are the textures around you?
What do you taste? Try to feel at least one tastes sensation. Have you just brushed your teeth? Can you still taste your morning coffee? Is your chapstick sweet?
Focusing on the senses is a great way to take a break from everything going on around you, and feel the moment in your body. The exercise above can also be a great way to calm worries in moments of anxiety.
Focus on your Breath
Focusing on our breath is a great way to ground ourselves and become aware of our own bodies. This doesn’t have to be any time of fancy practice. Try breathing into different parts of your lungs. Do I sound crazy yet?
Try breathing quick and shallow, and you’ll notice that it feels like the breath is going into your upper chest. Try breathing while focusing on the heart region, and you’ll feel your chest rise. Try breathing into your diaphragm, and your stomach will expand. This diaphragmatic breathing is what we aim for when meditating. Focus on the feeling of cool air entering through your nose, and warm air exiting through your mouth. Experiment with making your exhale last longer than your inhale.
Another tool is counting and visualizing your breath. Picture a perfect square in your mind’s eye. As you inhale, picture a dot travelling up the first side of the square to a count of 4. As the dot rounds the corner, hold your breath for a count of 4 as the dot travels across the top of your square. As your dot hits the next corner, exhale to a count of 4. Your dot is now in the bottom corner; hold for a count of 4 to complete the square. Repeat as many times as you like.
Be Gentle with Yourself
When it all comes down to it, there is no right way to meditate. Meditation really has no rules; it is not a competition, nor something you can be graded on. This is your practice. Experiment, play with different methods, and find what works for you. What works for you may change and evolve over time, and that’s totally OK. The ultimate goal is to find peace, space, and quiet in the mind. However you get there is really up to you.
I hope that these tips have sparked you to try to find your own version of meditation. Stay tuned for future posts about my own meditation practise, use of props, and other ways I find my own meditative state. I’d love to hear what works for you guys, and anything about your experience that you’d like to share.
Until next time,