Introduction to Meditation

So, you’ve decided to start meditating? Fantastic! But you have so many questions: How long should I meditate for? Where should I meditate? How can I meditate if I can’t sit still? How will I know if I’m doing it right? I’ve tried it before, but didn’t like it, so how can I make it work this time? How will my mind ever be clear? Rest assured, these questions and concerns are commonplace. There are many benefits to meditation, including: relaxation, stress management, a less cluttered mind, improved sleep, and increased focus. But, like any new habit -- and with so many mindfulness and meditation options out there -- it can feel overwhelming to start. Here are a few key tips to help you begin a meditation practice, and make meditation a habit that works for you.

Start Simple

Twenty minutes of sitting still and being silent can seem daunting at first. Short, simple guided meditations are an effective way to start, because you can listen and follow verbal cues as you become accustomed to meditating regularly. Begin with a meditation that is approximately five minutes long and, as you become comfortable with your practice, you can gradually increase your meditation time as much or as little as you would like. Ideally, you should find a quiet space to meditate, where you won’t be disturbed. Traditionally meditation is practiced sitting on a cushion in a cross-legged position, but you can meditate sitting on a chair, or lying down. Most importantly, find a position that is comfortable for you for the duration of your meditation.

Schedule It In

When creating any new habit, consistency is key. Meditation is called a practice -- there is no finish line, or trophy -- and you are most likely to see and feel the positive benefits with regular, repeated activity. Determine what time of day is best for you to carve out a few minutes of quiet, block it off in your calendar, and commit to making it your meditation time. We all seem to be short on time these days, but research shows that we don’t have to meditate for long stretches to reap the benefits. The important factor is that you just show up. There will be days when you don’t feel like meditating, and those are often the days when you need it most!

Don’t Judge Yourself

Meditation is often referred to as a moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts and feelings, without judgment. There will be times when your meditation practice feels easy, your mind is quieter, and you feel a sense of calm and contentment. But there will also be days when meditating feels difficult, your mind is racing, you can’t concentrate, and you feel like you’re just not “good at it.” Resist the temptation to judge yourself on the bad days, and appreciate the days when you notice the positive benefits. One of the greatest pieces of advice for meditators is: “a good meditator is one who meditates.” As you develop your meditation practice, you may begin to observe (without judgment!) the conditions in your life which contribute to more challenging meditation days and subsequently which circumstances support the easier ones.

A Clear Mind vs. an Uncluttered Mind

The goal in meditation is not to have a clear mind, because one thing is for certain: your mind will never be clear. As humans, we’re designed to think, and there is no way to prevent thoughts from happening while we’re meditating. We can however learn which thoughts to give our attention to. We hold a lot of information in our heads at any given time. In meditation, we’re learning to become aware of our thinking patterns, be discerning about where we put our focus, and train our minds to manage our thoughts. By not attaching weight to every thought that passes through our minds, we can quiet the extraneous mental noise, get rid of unnecessary mental clutter, and connect more effectively to the present moment.

Different Types of Meditation

As you become familiar with your meditation practice you will appreciate that it can be practiced anytime, anywhere. While a seated meditation practice which focuses on the breath is a strong foundation to begin with, there are many other types of meditation you might like to explore. A few common types are: mantra meditations, which involve repeating a word or a phrase; guided visualization meditations, which involve visualizing images or scenes in your mind; moving meditations, such as yoga or walking, which involve moving the body while focusing on the breath; focused meditations, which involve concentrating on an external object, such as a flame or a stone; loving-kindness meditations, which involve invoking loving feelings towards yourself, others and the world around you; progressive relaxation meditations, which involve a conscious relaxation of each part of the body; and self-led meditations, which allow you to navigate the experience of sitting with your breath and your thoughts on your own.

Regardless of which style(s) of meditation you choose, all meditation practices offer two things: a chance to pause and breathe, and the ability to connect with the present moment. When we pause and breathe, our stress levels decrease, our thinking becomes clearer, and we are able to approach our days with a more positive mindset. When we are in the present moment -- and not caught up in analyzing the past or worrying about the future -- we can recognize, and engage with, what is happening right in front of us, right now. Meditation isn’t an elixir for the challenges of life. It doesn’t take away our to-do lists, or alleviate daily stressors, but it can help us approach our days more consciously, provide perspective on our circumstances, and aid us greatly in maintaining our mental and physical health. And who couldn’t benefit from that?