Meditation for beginners
This ancient practice is gaining popularity even as it continues to elude many; here are some non-typical tips.
Wed, Oct 26 2011 at 3:05 PM
The strange thing is that when I was 15, I meditated quite a bit. I was dealing with some anger issues (mostly anger about being a teenager in a not-challenging-enough school system whose friends had started to act in inexplicable ways) and I’m not sure how I learned about it, but I had a regular practice for almost a year. Fast-forward 18 years, and I have a regular practice going again, but barely engaged in the practice in the interim.
Beginning to meditate again was a challenge, and it took almost a year of knowing I should, wanting to, and planning on doing it before I finally started down the path.
I’m a believer in the positive effects of meditation, because I remember them from when I was 15; I could go from the throes of an almost-hysterical freak-out to relative calm in less than 15 minutes, using breathing and visualization. And if you need convincing about how meditation reduces stress levels, prevents heart disease, ameliorates Alzheimer’s symptoms, or any of the other hundreds of benefits regular meditators claim, you can read more here.
But if you’re like me and have wanted to start, but have found it to be less easy than you expected, here are some thoughts that might help. (And here's a bit of a primer online.)
Meditation is simple
You don’t need any special props, training, tutoring or complicated instructions to meditate, and you can do it in all sorts of places. Though it helps to have a quiet place when you first start, that doesn’t mean that one can’t meditate on a bus or train, or even at a concert.
All you need to know is these three steps: Find a comfortable seat (it’s fine if it’s in a chair, it can be on the floor, it can be outside or indoors). I find cross-legged on the floor with my back leaning against a couch for support works great. Next, close your eyes. Breathe normally for a three or four breaths, then take four or five deeper breaths, focusing on the air moving in an out of your lungs. Then, keeping your eyes closed, just sit. When thoughts come into your head, push them aside gently, keeping your mind open and clear of anything in particular.
This last part is the most challenging. But just keep going, and keep practicing it. As thoughts float across your mind, just push them away, and keep sitting and breathing. That’s it.
Meditation isn’t easy
While meditation is simple, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Even though it seems like you’re just sitting quietly, until you are used to it, meditating can be a real challenge. It’s hard to know if you’re doing it ‘right,’ it’s not always obvious in what position you can sit for 15 minutes without moving too much, and how do you keep track of time when you’re supposed to be not thinking about anything anyway? (I use the timer on my phone and have been adding a minute a week. I started at 8 minutes and am now at 13. I think I’ll stop at 15, because that’s what feels right to me.)
It's OK that meditation isn't easy; and it's less frustrating if you go into it thinking there might be a few challenges for you, and that it's normal for it to be so.
Make meditation yours
You’ll hear all kinds of advice about meditation. That you should do if for a certain amount of time X times per day (many people say twice a day for 20 minutes a session). That you should chant mantras (some people like to, I don’t.). That you should visualize things like flower petals, clouds or ocean waves. That you shouldn’t use visualizations because they are distracting. That you shouldn’t have music on when you meditate, or that you should.
Try out what works for you. I find I like different kinds of meditation on different days, and as a person who doesn’t really like a regular schedule or following rules, it works for me to mix it up. The opposite might be true for you – maybe the same time, same place, same breathing sequence and mantra is how you will make meditation yours. But you’ll never know unless you try.
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