A Beginner’s Guide To Mindful Meditation
Through the power of
meditation, we are able to instil extensive and substantial positive
changes into our lives. Our levels of stress dramatically reduce, we
feel more attuned with our emotions and our self-worth improves
considerably. By reading this guide we hope that you will learn not
only how to successfully meditate, but also gain a better
understanding of the positive influences that meditation can have for
one’s overall health and wellbeing.
What is meditation?
When we think of meditation, images of the famous ‘lotus position’ may spring to mind. For many of us, meditation is a nice concept but may appear gimmicky and impractical in solving our day-to-day human struggles. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth as meditation has permeated many different cultures, religions and spiritual belief systems for thousands of years. Naturally, as there is such a diverse range of communities who practice meditation, there is similarly a diverse range of ways that one can meditate themselves. No method of meditation is any better than any other, and often these nuances serve their own particular purposes. For example, the intention of ‘mindful’ meditation is for the practising individual to focus closely on one specific stimuli; this may be a physical sensation within the body, an emotional reaction or even an object of personal relevance in close proximity. The idea is that when the individual’s mind wanders, they must consciously draw it back to this focal point and silence any background noise in their heads. Conversely, ‘open-monitoring’ meditation involves an individual being receptive to all of the noises, sensations and stimuli occurring around them. By paying attention to everything in such an intentional manner, the individual is likely to feel more grounded and connected to their environment.
What are the health benefits of meditation?
Lowers pulse rate
Reduces blood pressure
Allows for greater blood oxygen levels
Reduces anxiety and intrusive thinking
Encourages feelings of well-being and self-worth
Reduces stress levels
Facilitates better sleep
Now that the benefits of meditation are abundantly clear, below is a simple step-by-step guide that can be adopted to perform a simple meditation routine at home. This article focuses on mindfulness meditation in particular, as it is a great place to start and is extremely helpful in soothing an overactive mind.
Step 1: Clear your environment
For all types of meditation, a calm and peaceful environment with as little background distraction as possible is optimal. Our lives these days are incredibly hectic, so finding complete solitude may not always be possible, but a great place to start is by turning off all devices and taking oneself to a quiet room. Anything beyond this point is purely preference but some extra touches can take the meditation experience to the next level. For instance, burning some incense or filling your surroundings with scented candles can add an extra layer of pure ‘zen’ feeling and make the practice more enjoyable.
Step 2: Breath work
One of the most crucial aspects to mindful meditation is the way in which we breathe. Special attention must be applied to how the body receives and releases each individual breath, making sure to be completely intentional in truly feeling the process. By focusing on our breath, we are able to quieten the mind and prevent intrusive thinking; we are practicing remaining present in the moment, anchoring ourselves in the here-and-now and releasing all worries that consume our past and future.
Step 3: Allow yourself to relax
Ask yourself, how relaxed are you truly feeling right in this moment? Physically, do you feel tension anywhere in your body? Most of us may assume we are feeling relaxed but on closer inspection, we may have tension in our shoulders, tightness in the jaw or any other kind of residual stress that prevents our bodies from loosening up. To completely relax, start by paying attention to your head and neck, making sure to bring your shoulders to your ears and rotate them slowly to loosen up the upper body. Next, bring your focus to your abdomen and lower torso by continuing to breathe slowly and deeply, visualizing your body filling with peace on every inhale. Finally, turn your attention to your legs and feet by relaxing each joint. The most important part of this relaxation step is to enjoy the process and completely soothe the body; the more you unwind, the more your sensations are heightened and your awareness of your innermost feelings is unveiled.
Step 4: Notice how you feel
At this point, your body is highly receptive to vibrations and energies. Notice the contact points between your body and the surface you are seated on, or notice the feeling of being fully grounded as your feet receive energy from the ground. Ask yourself how the air in your environment feels as it touches the skin and listen closely to the various background sounds that send vibrations towards your body.
As you continue to focus on these physical sensations, energy congestions and obstructions should become more apparent. It’s important to make an effort to relieve these areas of tension by deliberately centering your focus on them. Therefore, just like the previous step, start from the top down; begin by feeling the sensations in your head and moving your attention down lower and lower through the rest of your body. Visualize waves of energy rushing through and alleviating these blockages and allowing positivity to fill the void. Envisage any worries that you may be experiencing dispersing from your core, through to each limb and evaporating at the tips of your fingers and toes. Such practices of visualization may feel abstract or even futile for many of us new to meditation, but studies have shown that there is an inexplicable link between the mind and body. When we imagine positivity for ourselves, we are far more likely to experience a positive reaction within our physical bodies.
Step 5: Find your mantra
Once you have reached complete relaxation and engaged deeply with your innermost feelings, it is time to incorporate an internal positive mantra. Mantras are similar to positive affirmations in that they are typically statements that seek to reinforce self-worth and optimism. Think of the mantra as less of a wish and more of a declaration; for instance, ‘better times are lying’ ahead and ‘I will find complete happiness in the future’. Each mantra is unique and specific to you, so be sure to go with the flow and accept whatever feels right for you at that particular time.
Once you have decided on a mantra that you feel is most beneficial for you, begin by repeating it aloud in your head and make a concerted effort to truly feel the words you are reciting. Make sure your repetition is gentle and relaxed but ensure that it is loud enough to avoid it melting away amidst the background noise of your mind. In addition, repeating your mantra with every inhale is symbolic of fully absorbing the positivity that it professes. As previously mentioned, there is a profound bond between the mind and the body so these intentional gestures serve to heighten the overall meditative experience.
Step 6: Remember to return to the mantra
As we are constantly juggling different plans, ideas and thoughts throughout the day, it is only understandable that from time to time our minds will wander whilst meditating. In fact, this factor is one of the main reasons why people reject meditation, as sitting alone with whirring intrusive thoughts can seem like an intimidating prospect. However, it is at these moments that the repetition of your mantra becomes incredibly useful; every time a negative or pointless thought enters the mind, making an effort to draw your attention back to your individual mantra is great for silencing the distraction. Likewise, stressfully trying to empty the mind will not only dampen the meditative experience, but is also incredibly ineffective. Therefore, you must remember that when the mind drifts, you must calmly turn it back to your mantra and repeat it until it becomes second nature.
Step 7: Bringing the process to a close
After 20 to 30 minutes of breath work, relaxation and repetition of your mantra, now it’s time to simply sit with your eyes closed. By reaching this stage, niggling thoughts and distractions will have ceased to interfere with your meditation so completely silencing the mind will be a relatively easy process. Bask in the serenity of the moment and return to focusing solely on the physical sensations being experienced by your body. Ask yourself once again, how does the air in your environment feel against the skin and listen closely to the vibrations of various background sounds surrounding you.
In order to know when time is up, a quiet alarm that gradually increases in volume may be a good option. Otherwise, simply progressing through each of these seven steps in a timeframe that feels natural for you is also a good way to go. The key is to not startle yourself as it will disrupt all of the hard work you have just achieved in relaxing the mind and body.
In sum, mindful meditation is a deeply personal process that will vary person to person. The above guide serves as a loose foundation upon which individuals can alter and adapt steps to best fit their unique needs and desires. What we hope is universally achieved, however, is alleviation of stress and tension in the mind and body. In whichever way you wish to approach mindful meditation, make sure you give it your best shot and understand that reaching yogi status takes plenty of time and practice. Most importantly, have fun with it!