The coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in the popularity of people practising meditation. Meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm are reporting record numbers of people downloading and subscribing to their apps. Apps have a role in helping people through guided meditations but they are only a start. In my view, to truly practise meditation, one should learn to meditate by yourself. In this post, I’m going to teach you the technique of mindfulness meditation and show you how to meditate better to improve your overall wellbeing.
But first, let us look at the practice of meditation itself.
What is Meditation?
I first started meditating back in 2006 when I met my late spiritual guide Sunil Rathod. Sunil was instrumental in showing me how to meditate. Meditation is a form of attention training, focusing your attention on a specific object. Usually this is the breath, but it could be the body (in the form of a body scan), or it could be an external object such as a candle or even simply noticing or monitoring the environment around you. Even ‘walking meditation’ is possible.
To find out more about what is exactly meditation, read my post here. You may have heard about mindfulness, and mindfulness can be a meditation itself with various forms of mindfulness meditations.
What meditation isn’t though, is some form of mind control where the aim is to ‘blank the mind’. Meditation requires thoughts in order to provide some form of training for the mind. Insights may also arise through these thoughts so thinking is entirely a part of the practice.
The benefits of meditation are known to be reduced stress (through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system), improved concentration and even increased immunity. To learn how to meditate (in the style of mindfulness of breathing), follow these 6 steps:
- Find your seat and establish your posture. You may sit cross-legged, kneeling or even on a chair. You may even be lying down if you are practising a body scan, but the risk is that you may fall asleep! The aim of meditation is, as Jon Kabat-Zinn likes to say, to ‘fall awake’. You may wish to close your eyes, if you wish to find more ease in your life. Or, you may wish to open your eyes if you wish to become more ‘awake’ to the world.
- Find comfort in your body. Take some time to settle into the position, noting your surroundings and begin breathing gently. You may wish to take a deep breath and then settle into the posture.
- Placement. Place your mind somewhere on the body where you can feel the breath the most and pay attention to the breath. This is usually the nostrils, but it could be the belly or the chest.
- Recognise. Recognise when the mind wanders (which is completely normal!) Thinking after all is what the mind does.
- Replacement. Replace the mind at the nostrils (or wherever).
- Start all over again!
It’s that simple.
Don’t worry though if you find this process difficult. The meditation technique is simple, but to maintain this over a period of time can be challenging. No meditation is ‘good or bad’. Every session is different. The most important point is to notice when the mind wanders, and then return the mind to the object of attention.
To stay focused on the breath requires some training and effort. To this extent, follow these 5 simple tips on how to meditate better.
1. Meditate at the same time every day
The key to meditation is to practise. If you set aside some time every day to practise, you are more likely to make meditation a part of your life. Developing a routine is important, and so it is with mediation. It could be the first thing in the morning (when the mind may be calm), or it could be later in the afternoon at sunset. Whilst some people recommend meditation before bed to help them sleep, for me at least, I find that meditation stimulates my mind so I do not sleep well, especially practising mindfulness meditation. To find out more, read more here.
2. Stick to the same style of meditation
There are many different styles of meditation. Once you find the style that you like, stick to it. Not only will you become more familiar with the practice, it will become easier and the benefits of meditation will start to be more transparent.
3. Start slowly
When you first start out, set an achievable goal. Maybe it is 5 minutes of meditation, then increase that to 10, may be 15 minutes. Research suggests that 20 minutes is enough to see the benefits of meditation over a longer period of time. You may even meditate for a longer period of time once you get really into it.
4. Be gentle
Adopting an attitude of curiosity and acceptance, means no matter what is the quality of your meditation, whether you think it is ‘good or bad’, every session will be beneficial. Remember, every time you turn up to meditate, you bring with you whatever is ‘on the table’ at the time. This may affect your meditation, but the most important thing is not to judge yourself harshly if the mind is disturbed. As Shunryu Suzuki famously said:
“With beginners mind there are many opportunities. In the expert’s, there are few.”
Adopting a beginners mind to every session means that whatever comes up is a new opportunity to practise and cultivate qualities of self-compassion and kindness as well as training the mind.
5. Be comfortable
Your seat and posture is the most important part of the practice. Being comfortable, upright and in a position where we can easily drop into the meditation practice is important. If at any point, you feel discomfort or find yourself slumping, readjust your posture and start again. Maybe a gentle twist or stretching one leg out is fine. That said, if you find yourself with the urge to scratch an itch, resist that urge and let it pass. Remember, everything in life passes, and so to it will pass. Moreover, it provides the perfect opportunity to cultivate your skills during the practice.
Meditation is an incredibly easy thing to do. But let’s be honest, it is also very hard at the same time too. It requires focus and discipline but it’s available to everyone if you try. By meditating on a consistent basis, the practice may transform your life, helping you to find more ease. By following these simple suggestions, you too can learn how to meditate better and improve your wellbeing.
If I can help you during this crisis through yoga, please feel free to get in touch, or join me for one of my weekly online yoga classes. You can find out more about my classes here.