A Beginner's Guide to Meditation
There are tons of different kinds of meditation and lots of great resources to help you successfully meditate, but how do you get started?
Meditation can seem kind of daunting; sitting or lying peacefully with your thoughts seems impossible if you are anything like me and can’t sit still for five minutes without thinking about that random cute dog video you saw on Instagram ten minutes ago. Lucky for you, if I can manage to meditate, I promise you can too!
Meditation is a great tool for relaxation, coping with mental stress, reading your body and mind, and developing tools to manage tough days. Meditation is centred around your breathing in all forms, so the top tip I can give you today is to remember your breath and always revert back to the deep breathing if you are struggling or need to re-centre yourself.
I am going to focus mainly on two forms of meditation in this post. First, I will outline how to use body scans to help meditate and then we will expand onto some areas that focus on mindfulness and resting awareness.
Body scans are my favourite way to end my day and get a good night’s sleep, but you can do them at any time. First, find a quiet place and get comfy, either sitting with your palms on your knees or laying down with your hands by your side.
The next step is to focus on your breathing. Take deep, calming breaths and try and make your exhale as long as possible. I like to breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, and release my breath for eight counts. You can do this for as long as you’d like – also, this is a great way to manage a panic attack or anxiety episode.
Once you are comfortable in your breathing, begin to bring awareness to your body. What I mean by this is to breathe into each part of your body as you scan. Beginning at your feet, visualize breathing in through your feet, and while you do so, acknowledge any sensations or lack of sensations. Feel where your heels make contact with the ground or mattress and see if you can release any tension by continued breathing. From here you work your way up: you move to scan your lower legs, upper legs, hips, abdomen and lower back, upper back and shoulders, your chest into your arms and fingers, and finally your neck and face. Using the same idea of breathing through each body part.
Remember to just acknowledge and accept the sensations you feel in your body, there are no right or wrong feelings. A body scan is a great way to address stress in your body and work to release it through breathing.
Another method of meditation which can be utilized alone or in tangent with body scans is that of mindfulness meditation. This simply means being aware of your thoughts and worries but acknowledging them and letting them go for the time being. Meditation is a time meant for being present and mindful of your body and mind, so its focus is on not letting those worries, negative thoughts, or to-do lists cloud your mind for the time being. This also becomes a tool you can use in your day to day life. Instead of being weighed down by stresses, you learn to acknowledge them and let them go until you can successfully deal with them.
The practice of resting awareness and mindfulness is not as structured as a body scan and can be frustrating at first because it is easy to become overwhelmed in your thoughts. You again begin by getting comfortable sitting or lying down and focusing on your breathing. You can utilize a body scan from here as we discussed above, or you can just focus on the breathing and try and remain present in your mind. The main focus of this meditation is to reach a state of peacefulness, address areas of tension in your body and mind, and consistently remember to let your thoughts go. As someone whose mind runs a mile a minute, this has been tough for me, so I have slowly built up my meditation sessions from five minutes to thirty minutes overtime. A metaphor that has helped me to be more comfortable in my mind is to picture your mind as a stream: memories, thoughts and worries all float down this stream and it's okay to notice them and be aware they are there, but then they keep floating. They do not remain still water in your brain, nor are you deep-diving into the river after them. You are simply watching the river peacefully float past and acknowledging each feeling that passes with it.
The last meditation I want to talk about is loving-kindness meditation. Its main focus is cultivating an attitude of love and kindness towards everything and everyone. It implements the same breathing as the ones above, but instead of only looking inward for the peace, you open your mind to loving-kindness from the world and in your mind send out loving-kindness to the world, whether you direct those thoughts to certain people or places, or just to the world in general. There is no prescribed way to meditate, so you can choose to visualize how you give and accept love and kindness. Sometimes I like to imagine I am speaking to a person or writing a note, and other times I merely embrace the image of receiving and giving a warm light. You need to take the time and find what works for you.
Repetition is key to this meditation as it is to the ones I already mentioned. Setting aside time each day to meditate, embrace and give love and kindness takes practice and repetition. It takes time to cultivate the right attitude and find peace, but it is totally worth it.
Resources to learn more
Now, there are many different kinds of meditation other than what I have discussed and there are lots of great websites, apps and information available to you to learn more. I personally use the CALM app for great guided meditation and sleep stories, but Headspace is also great. I also found this great article from Medical News Today that outlines some key aspects of meditation. YouTube can also be a great place to search for guided meditation.
All the resources are listed below!