Here in this beginner’s guide to meditation, we will discuss what meditation is, how it works, why you should try to incorporate it into your everyday life, and how it can change your life for the better if you allow it.
Due to the increase in mental health problems in individuals all around the world, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and other holistic healing methods have been on the rise. Growing ever more popular, these techniques are slowing us down and changing our lives for the better. Schools across the world, and even here in Australia, are starting to include mindfulness and meditation practices in their classes, which is having a positive effect on the behaviour and wellbeing of the children. So, we ask you, can we really afford to ignore the benefits of meditation any longer? We think not.
Meditation is a wonderful art-form that has made its way over to the Western world, and so let us convert you into an active meditator with this helpful beginner’s guide to meditation.
- What is Meditation?
- Benefits of Meditation
- Different Types of Meditation
- How to Start Meditating
- Including Meditation into Everyday Life
- Final Tips and Tricks for Meditating
What is Meditation
Meditation is the art or practice of being still and quiet. It is contemplation, reflection, rumination, and more. It is stillness, oneness, harmony, and breath. Meditation may mean something quite different from person to person, which is why it is such a beautiful spiritual practice.
When you think of meditation, you may consider a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged on the ground, silent for hours. This is a wonderful visualisation, but it is not the only way that a person can meditate (which we will discuss in further detail later on).
A basic and useful definition to consider is as follows, “Meditation is an umbrella term for a range of practices designed to cultivate a calm, concentrated and absorbed state of mind” (Meditation Association of Australia). In this modern world that we live in, with the ‘GO, GO, GO’ mentality, productivity, screens, and technology, it can become stressful and overwhelming to simply go about your day-to-day life. This is where meditation comes in. With active meditation sessions, we can achieve a state of calm and detachment from the busy, noisy, stressful world around us.
Meditation can aid us in moving from a state of negativity, to a state of openness and positivity; from a place of attachment and worry, to a place of detachment and freedom from our thoughts. Thoughts aren’t a bad thing. They are not avoidable. However, with meditation, in time you will learn how to break free from your thoughts, not allow them to control you, and find a sense of peace and wellbeing instead.
Here are some words that strongly link to meditation:
- Inner peace
Reflecting upon these words, we can begin to truly understand that meditation is all about relaxation and wellbeing. In a world that is always on the move, meditation urges us to stop, be still, be aware, and be well.
It is believed that meditation has separate origins all around the world and in many religions. However, the most common types of meditation are often associated with Asia and Buddhism. As a whole, meditation can be therapeutic, developmental or spiritual depending on the individual, how they practice, and what they wish to “gain” from their practice.
Benefits of Meditation
It is thought that meditation is likely to “strengthen connections between the regions of the brain that regulate our emotional responses,” according to the NHS in England. Although findings for exactly how meditation affects the brain are small and somewhat overgeneralised, there is no denying that taking a moment to stop, be still, and be mindful can go a long way in relieving stress and relaxing us.
The website VeryWellMind.com suggests that meditation as a psychotherapeutic technique can have a paramount effect on the brain, mind, and body. Countless resources from healthcare professionals, holistic healers, and individuals who meditate for themselves have suggested that a great many benefits can come from meditation.
Here are some potential benefits of meditation*:
- Ease symptoms of depression
- Increased self-awareness
- Better stress management skills
- Decreased pain
- Improved blood circulation
- Changes in aspects of attention
- Lower blood cortisol levels
- Improved emotional wellbeing
- Better management of symptoms for conditions like anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, pain issues and so on
- Less perspiration
- Slower respiratory rate
- Improvements in working memory
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved sleep
- Lower heart rate
* To be clear, research has yet to catch up and confirm these benefits as a “definite benefit” scientifically.
These effects may be, in some circles, up for discussion, but there is one thing that we can all agree on: meditation aids in relaxation. Therefore, it can be said that meditation (due to the relaxation) will help with wellbeing, stress levels, concentration, happiness, awareness, and overall health.
One of the remarkable things about regular meditation is that it helps us to gain a heightened awareness of the world and ourselves as individuals. We develop a much deeper understanding, happiness, and gratitude towards what we have and who we are. Appreciation for life itself is, in some people’s belief, a true spiritual awakening.
There is real mental strength in being aware of thoughts and feelings that may be unhelpful. Noticing when thoughts are overwhelming, upsetting, or effecting our behaviour, we can instead let go of that attachment and no longer allow it to take over our lives. If you care for your mental health, mental strength, resilience in life, and overall wellbeing, then meditation is a great practice that will aid in all of these things.
It will help you to notice the warning signs that come from stress or anxiety, which can then help you to get better, fix the problem, or detach from it entirely. Practicing meditation helps us to better cope with the natural stresses in our world and everyday life, which is a useful tool to have under your belt.
Different Types of Meditation
Firstly, it should be said that there are many types and sub-types of meditation practices all around the world. Finding the one for you may take some exploring and trial and error. That being said, overall, there are two main types of meditation:
- Concentrative Meditation
- Mindfulness Meditation
Concentrative Meditation is about focusing on a set item (like a candle), breath, affirmation or other. Attention to one’s surroundings or mind or feelings is crucial for Concentrative Meditation. When your mind begins to inevitably wander, you refocus your attention on the set thing you’re supposed to be concentrating on. It is all about keen focus. On the other hand, Mindfulness Meditation is a very popular practice that we will discuss in more depth further down the guide.
Now, let’s look at some less common forms of meditation that can be practiced. Here are some different forms of meditation, according to Meditation Association of Australia:
- Breath Awareness
- Visualisation (creative imagination and visual objects)
- Mantra (including music or natural sounds)
- Physical sensations and inner feelings
- Movement (including yoga, walking, tai chi, and dance)
- Contemplation (including prayer, affirmation, quiescent introspection and reflection)
- Stillness Mindfulness (sati)
- Insight Meditation (vipassana)
- Choiceless Awareness (open monitoring)
This information may seem overwhelming at first, and if you want to explore various types of meditation then we suggest that you visit other websites for further research; however, don’t confuse yourself if you are still a beginner.
What you should take from the aforementioned meditation practices is that there is no set way to meditate; no one rule or practice. This should be freeing to you, as it means you can develop a meditation practice that suits you as an individual.
According to Healthline, there are these six popular types of meditation practices:
- Mindfulness meditation*
- Spiritual meditation
- Focused meditation*
- Movement meditation
- Mantra meditation
- Transcendental meditation
Some of these have been mentioned before, but there are also some new ones listed and new ways to phrase the same practice. The reason we have mentioned all of these is because it is important for you to know, especially as a beginner, that there is so much information out there today about meditation. One website or individual may follow one set of rules or use certain terms, whilst another can practice from a completely different mindset and “rulebook”. Be aware of this when you go looking for information. Don’t be put off by the confusing, potentially contradicting information available out there on the internet.
But let’s keep things simple for you if you are aiming to just get started with meditation.
Mindfulness Meditation is perhaps the most popular and universally practiced form of meditation in the Western world today. Mindfulness Meditation can be done alone without any guide or expertise. With Mindfulness Meditation, the aim is to concentrate and practice awareness. You let thoughts come and go, without judgement or attachment, while concentrating on something like your breath or the sensations running through your body.
When mindfully meditating, we can begin to pick up on patterns in our thinking or reoccurring thoughts. This is important in understanding ourselves and how we think and feel. Again, the important part is not to judge these thoughts and deem them as particularly positive or negative. The task is to simply notice them, and then let them go. With this, you will, in time, develop a balance within your mind and a healthier connection to your thoughts.
How to Start Meditating
There is a Zen saying that, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” Some see this as a humorous quote, but it is ideal to take this Zen saying quite literally. If you are a busy person, meditation is something that you need in your life even more than the individual who “has time to meditate”. Meditation is, as we say, most beneficial to those who have a stressful life.
In order to get started, you’ll be glad to know that you don’t need anything expensive or elaborate to begin with. All you need is a comfortable space and quietness. This could be your bedroom, living room, a class, or outside – wherever you feel safe and comfortable. Playing some calming music or nature sounds in the background can set the atmosphere and really help you to slip into the right headspace for calm and relaxation.
Next, whilst seated or lying comfortably, you should focus on your breath, following its movement through your body. Try not to control the breath necessarily; just breathe naturally and witness it. Notice how the breath feels and effects the chest, ribcage, and stomach, in particular. This is Mindful Meditation. Sitting in quiet, eyes closed if that’s comfortable, and simply witnessing the breath travelling and energising the body is Mindful Meditation. Notice how it makes you feel. Notice any sensations that stand out to you in your body. And if any thoughts come, allow them to come and go, and then keep bringing the focus back to your breath.
If you wish to go further in your meditation practice, or if you feel that you need guidance, then there is plenty of resources out there to help you. You could attend your local meditation class. This would be a group session with a licensed meditation expert leading you all in guided meditation. The practitioner will draw your attention to the right things, set the right atmosphere, and speak in a way that encourages a sense of calm and relaxation. There may be different types of meditation classes available, with different focuses. But why not give it a try? It’s the only way, after all, to know whether it is truly for you.
Now, if going to a class isn’t for you, or you want to go on your meditation journey solo, then there are apps that can help you. Headspace and Calm are two very popular meditation apps that will guide you through your session. You can select the music you want, the time you want to meditate, and even your goal for the meditation session: i.e. stress relief, anxiety relief, sleep, or relaxation. There are free apps that you can download and try out for yourself, just check in your phone’s app store.
Aside from apps, there’s the ever-popular YouTube. Yes, YouTube can even help with meditation! There are hundreds of thousands of videos that are simply just guided meditation, relaxing atmospheric sounds, or advice on best meditation practice. Again, simply do a search on YouTube and check out some of their videos to find ones that work for you.
Next, there’s the Spotify music app. Spotify is great for our favourite music, but did you know that you can also use it for your meditation practice? It has a section for relaxing music perfect for meditation. This music is known to encourage calming feelings and a clearer mind, which readies you for meditation. There are also playlists for Yoga, Deep Focus, Peaceful Meditation, Sounds of Nature, Zen and more.
Plus, they even have Guided Meditation sessions on Spotify. These feature a professional guide leading you into relaxation accompanied by relaxing, natural music or sounds. If you already pay for Spotify premium, then we definitely suggest that you give these a try to get you started with meditation.
Once you are becoming more active with your practice, you may wish to invest in a meditation cushion and/ or a yoga mat. This will help with your posture and encourage relaxation, as you will associate these items with your meditation practice every time.
Including Meditation into Everyday Life
At this point, we have probably convinced you to start meditating. It seems easy enough to try and the benefits are intriguing to you. But how do you make meditation a part of your everyday life? How do you keep it up? How do you make it important?
Well, our first piece of advice is to have a set time of the day for meditation. It will take some discipline at first but overtime, it will become a habit. You will always associate that time of the day with meditation, and your brain will naturally slip into a meditative state more easily because of this ingrained habit.
Next, you should try to have meditation as your go-to practice whenever you are feeling tired, unmotivated, sad, anxious, or stressed. It can become your safe space, your instant tool to calmness. This means that, again, overtime you will associate “I feel stressed” with “It’s time to meditate”. Meditation is great as a preventative measure, not necessarily as a “fix” when you already feel overwhelmed. However, with active practice, you may find that you become stressed less and less regardless because you will know how to calm yourself down and rethink your situation.
Another idea is to attach meditation to another habit that you already have. For example, reading in the morning or at night; simply finish your set chapters as usual then take an extra 10 minutes (at least) to meditate. This way, you will begin to associate a habit that you already have with meditation, and soon enough, meditation will be a habit, too.
If you’re really finding it hard to sit and meditate (for whatever reason) then you could try to do a less obvious form of meditation. Try mindfully walking, sitting, eating or something like that. As we said earlier, Mindful Meditation is the most popular so mindfulness in general is a form of meditation that you can include in your everyday life. Walking meditation is a great one, and easy one, to do regularly.
If nothing else, you can take a few minutes to just stop and breath mindfully and intentionally. At your desk, in your bed, at lunch, on your walk, while driving or whatever else, you can stop thinking too much for a moment and just breathe mindfully, paying attention to the breath, and allowing it to calm you. Deep breaths that fill your chest and slow your pace right down is a simple but effective thing to do. This momentary break in the busyness of your day will go a long way, we guarantee it.
Final Tips and Tricks for Meditating
We have provided you with a lot of information and advice in this beginner’s guide to meditation, but now we’ll leave you with some added tips and tricks.
Firstly, don’t stress yourself out by trying to meditate every day for long periods of time. As we’ve said, it takes time to become an “expert” and meditation needn’t be for any set amount of time at all.
Secondly, don’t try to be like other people who meditate; find your own way that works for you. Meditation is a personal practice for most people. It is an awareness and exploration of the Self, so don’t put added pressure on yourself by trying to do it like other people. Do it your own way.
Don’t expect it to be easy or beneficial right away; these things take time. It is ever so important that you be patient with yourself and give time for the meditation practice to become natural, routine, and beneficial to your life. Remember that it is not the goal to be thoughtless, instead to notice thoughts, not attach to them, and simply see them as passing events or passing clouds in the sky that is your mind.
If you find that sitting in meditation is difficult, which is common, then try moving meditation like yoga, walking, tai chi, qigong, or gentle dance. Each of these are valid and wonderful ways to enter a meditative state of calm and detachment.
Overall, keep in mind that our great aim is to be free from the past and future mindset; free from attachment to thoughts and feelings; free to just be. Meditation is not supposed to be a punishment, chore, or something you “have to” do. It should be something you want to do. Something calming and freeing for you as an individual. It is a wonderful way to achieve a better state of wellbeing and mental health, but if it is not for you, then don’t force it. That being said, we strongly encourage those who are interested in meditation to give it a try (a wholehearted, patient try), as it will, indeed, be life-changing in time.