A few years ago I started to practice meditation as a way to destress and calm some anxiety that I was experiencing. Hell, I even went on a 10-day silent and meditation retreat.
It took me a while to build the habit – damn monkey brain – but the persistence was well worth it. Within 30 days I was beginning to notice my anxiety disappearing and my mood improving.
Before I started a meditation practice I spent some time researching. I was nervous about starting because I’ve always had a hard time focusing and sitting still. I wanted to understand how to do it, what types of meditation there were, and which one would be right for me.
Below are my meditation notes. I hope you find them as valuable as I have.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation essentially means stillness of the mind.
Have you ever found yourself starring at “nothing,” without any thought passing your mind? That’s what’s known as a spontaneous meditation and emerges in specifically relaxing situations.
The aim is to concentrate the senses on a single object to calm the mind. The human brain is usually in a constant state of unrest. An agitated mind is unable to think with clarity, thus – ending in confusion. Meditation acts as a mental exercise that helps to keep the mind composed and thinking clearly.
The Benefits of Meditation
What does modern science say about meditation? Although contemporary medicine deals mostly with chemistry, physiology, and biology, there are still some measurements to prove the health benefits of meditation and make the skeptics pretty quiet.
Generally, the modern science of meditation typically uses the so-called OMM (Open Monitoring Meditation), where the meditation process is being constantly observed by specialists and apparatus, measuring all physiological changes in the meditator’s body.
The results almost always show the following:
- Stress hormone production radically decreases
- Physical and psychological relaxation radically increase
- Blood pressure stabilizes as well as the heart rate
- Brain activity switches from Alpha (the daily activity) to Beta and Delta (relaxation and deep relaxation) state by producing brainwaves and frequencies that calm and balance.
That’s not all. Oxygen is the essence of well-being. The rhythmic inhale-exhale process significantly improves blood circulation, bringing far more oxygen to all your cells.
Those are some of the effects of meditation that are strictly measured. However, what is not really measurable is described by some observers and/or specialists on human behavior as a far higher level of empathy in meditators than in other people.
The bottom line is that the benefits of meditation are immense.
A few moments of silence clears the mind of cobwebs and helps you to think with clarity. In fact, due to the stress and tough situations we face in our everyday lives, we often become negative and end up being unhappy. Meditation removes negativity from your mind. It helps you to cleanse your mind of unwanted thoughts.
So, let’s take a look at just some of the most typical physical and mental health benefits of meditation.
- Helps with digestion
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of heart attacks
- Decreases headaches
- Helps get rid of insomnia and/or sleeplessness
- Improves the immune system
- Improves focus
- Gives the face an attractive glow
- Helps with weight loss
- Improves blood circulation
- Helps with coronary diseases
- Balances the level of blood lactate
- It helps women deal with P.M.T.
- Increases vigor, energy, and strength
- Releases tension and stress
- Increases the level of the ‘hormone of happiness’ – serotonin (When a person lacks serotonin, he or she experiences insomnia, headaches, depression, etc.)
- Cures OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- Reduces anxiety and panic attacks
- Improves mood and behavior
- Good for anger management
- Helps kids with ADHD
- Improves memory power
- It helps to strengthen self-confidence.
- Keeps you calm
- Averts amnesia and dementia in seniors
Barbara Fredrickson, a Positive Psychologist at the University of North Carolina has shown that people who meditate daily display more positive emotions than those that do not (1).
In another study published in Psychiatric Research: Neuroimaging, just 8 weeks of a consistent meditation practice can change regions of the brain associated with attention, memory, stress, and empathy.
Other research has shown that a daily meditation practice can:
We could go further and say that there is spectacular evidence of meditation healing practically any known and unknown disease, but that’s a broader topic.
Different Styles of Meditation
- Transcendental meditation
- Vipassana meditation
- Guided meditation
- Kundalini meditation
- Mantra meditation
- Buddhist meditation
- Zen meditation
- Chakra meditation
- Muraqaba meditation
- Walking meditation
- Yoga Nidra
- Anter Maun
Though meditation practices may differ for each style, the basic reason for meditating is the same.
Different types of meditation work for different types of people. It’s your choice, according to your preferences. The broad spectrum of styles or types of meditation makes it possible for everyone to choose his or her way to meditate. It is recommended to try several types before choosing one or more.
The first distinction is dualistic, which generally separates meditation into two different types of meditation:
- Meditation for spiritual growth and achieving enlightenment (Buddhist, for example)
- Meditation with a specific purpose (Some practical goals, for example)
However, the primary distinction is based according to the Ancient, traditional differences with some modern attributes. So we have the following meditation types:
Buddha was inspired from the idea of liberating the mind from selfishness and from longing for material wealth. This meditation is a state of mindlessness by means of contemplation and rumination. During a séance, the practitioner has complete control over the mind and body, cleansing all unclear thoughts, caused by the ego. It is a liberation-from-ego type of meditation.
It is also founded by Buddha, and it literally means “to see things clearly.” Vipassana is used for healing the mind and body, cleansing them from toxins and impurities. It is very popular meditation today, practiced not only by Buddhists but by people with different spiritual backgrounds.
It has profound ancient roots, based upon awakening the Kundalini energy through the energetic channels in the spine. The two main channels “ida” and “sushumna” are connected with seven main energetic centers/chakras, affecting different body parts and emotional, cognitive, and other aspects of personality. It begins with focus on each of the chakras, starting with the base one and ending with crown chakra. A session may include focus on one chakra only. The final stage is when chakras are stimulated enough and Kundalini energy dramatically rises up, causing enlightenment.
It is founded by the famous guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and introduced to the West since 1960-s. The technique is simple and includes unique deep rest of the body and psyche, eliminating tiredness and stress in a natural way. The mediator pronounces mantras that are a kind of revealed sound (or amalgamation of sounds) developed spontaneously. One session lasts 15 to 20 minutes and is performed sitting with closed eyes in a suitable place.
Practicing transcendental meditation is a way to calm the body and the mind, to free it from the binds of the material world. You won’t need to exert too much effort to achieve this. No concentration is required. You do not have to do anything. With a “mantra” as your guide, you begin to transcend worldly thoughts. Transcendental meditation successfully assists you to close the gap between you and your inner self. It also helps you to identify the hidden treasures and strengths within you. In transcendental meditation, you chant a certain mantra that helps you to focus. Repeating the mantra has the power to heal and elevate you to a higher plane of consciousness.
It includes sitting and preparing the mind and body for full relaxation while opening the being for cognitive insight. Zen-meditation may include sitting in different positions with a mind clear of thoughts and images. In the moment of deep focus breathing becomes shallow and heart rate slows down, resulting in a full meditative state…and powerful insight into the true nature of reality.
Guided meditation is a form of meditation wherein someone guides you throughout the meditation process and helps you to obtain the result of certain descriptions. Guided meditation is done to:
- Achieve inner peace
- Improve concentration
- Change the state of your mind
- Improve learning and creativity
- Build self-esteem and confidence
- Focus on healing oneself
- Control external and internal pain
- Overcome fears.
In guided meditation, there is a guru who guides you through the process. So finding the right guru is very important.
A very simple type of meditation for the purpose of helping us achieve mindfulness, i.e. being aware of all sensations happening in the present moment inside or around us. Mindful meditation is done sitting with proper breathing, observing and analyzing all thoughts, visions, and other sensations in a friendly way, without judging.
There are four steps to practice mindfulness. They are:
When you decide to start meditating, sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Start deep breathing and keep your focus on your breathing. This will help you to calm the mind. Once you feel calm and that your breathing is under your control, focus on your body parts one at a time.
In mindfulness, you need to concentrate on every single body-part one by one. By doing this you become aware of yourself. Once you’ve focused on one side of your body such as right leg, right knee, right hand& fingers, right eye, right ear, you then move on to the left side. Next, you open your eyes and focus on a single object in the room. It can be anything like a flower vase or pen. Try to focus on it for half a minute and then turn away. While doing this keep your concentration on your breathing and your body parts. This triple focus makes you aware of your own self, your breathing, and your surroundings.
You can use an audio CD or mP3 to guide you through this.
In mantra meditation, you focus on a single mantra-like ‘OM’. Chanting it for a while (21 times up to 1008 times) helps to release the stress and strain from your body and mind. There are also mantras like ‘namyoho renghe kyo’ chanted in Buddhist meditation. Chanting it 108 times is said to help you to fulfill your wishes.
Here you use positive affirmations and visualization. Before you start to meditate ask yourself why you’re doing it. Whether it is to improve your financial status or to buy a big house or find a partner. Focus on one goal. Don’t be ashamed of asking. Believe that the Universe has an abundance to shower you with everything you want. So focus on your goal and start chanting the mantra.
This is perhaps the best form of meditation for one and all. Simply take a walk in the open. When you’re one with Nature, you find answers to all your problems. There are big businessmen who walk daily before battling in the boardroom. This helps them to think with clarity.
Anter Maun (inner silence) Meditation
This is an ancient yogic meditative practice to achieve peace of mind and inner silence. According to this meditation philosophy, our mind is constantly in an agitated state. All through the day, our thoughts keep churning as we react to outside stimuli like sights and sounds.
For example, if you see a person you dislike, you will continue to think about him all through the day, and anger will build up inside you. These thoughts will keep nagging at your mind. As a result, you will undergo suffering and your mind will never be at peace.
The technique used in Anter Maun is to withdraw your mind from the experience of the senses. This withdrawal cannot be achieved in a haphazard fashion but has to be moderated. You have to take your mind away from the sensory feelings in an orderly, organized, and systematic manner.
In the practice of AnterMaun, you are required to become a witness to the sensory feelings. Your mind should become a mere observer or spectator to what you perceive through your senses. Imagine that you are a bystander looking at the interaction between your ear and the sound. You are not a party to this interaction. It is as if two people or individuals are communicating with each other. You are the third person and just a witness. Follow the same process for your eyes and sight.
Once you become a third-party observer, you will notice that the sights and sounds which earlier used to disturb, bother, and annoy you, making you angry and distraught, no longer cause distress. As a spectator, you don’t involve yourself emotionally with sensory perceptions. Remember that your emotional involvement is what caused distress in the first place.
If you withdraw your emotions from the interaction of the senses, you will soon feel peace and calm. Let’s look at our earlier example. If you now see someone whom you dislike, you would no longer react emotionally, because you are a witness to the sight (the involved person) and your eyes. Therefore, you will not experience distress. You will not carry the sight in your mind through the day giving no scope for anger to build up.
As you advance in the practice of Anter Maun, you will learn how to become a witness not only to bodily sensations but to your thoughts as well. As a result, you will be able to control your thoughts. Ultimately, Anter Maun enables you to master your thoughts leading to complete inner silence and peace of mind.
Yoga Nidra means conscious sleep. In this state of conscious sleep where the subconscious mind is awake, you are receptive to learn and alter thoughts. You can even call it a hypnayogic state. Yoga Nidra can help you to direct the mind to achieve anything. Before practicing yoga nidra, you practice AnterMaun to maintain inner silence. Before you start yoga Nidra prepare yourself for it by doing the following:
- Choose a quiet room where you feel comfortable.
- Make a sankalp/resolve (goal/affirmation). Be clear about what you want as it penetrates the subconscious mind. Be positive about your sankalp. For example, “I’ll achieve success in my business or my health is improving.”
- Rotate your sankalp throughout your body to every single body part.
- Keep watching each part of your body as your sankalp travels through it. Furthermore, become aware of your breath.
- Next comes feelings and emotions. Pair the feelings like love and hate, happiness and sadness. This balances and harmonizes both sides of the brain in yoga nidra. This also helps to develop will power and philosophical feelings are revived.
- Last stage of yoga nidra is visualization. Here you visualize images that have universal significance and powerful associations. They bring out the message from the deep conscious to the conscious mind. While this happens, the images from the deep conscious mind and conscious mind dissolve and disturbing images cease to arise.
Other types of meditation include Taoist meditation, Heart meditation, Energy-absorbing meditation, Healing meditation, and many personally developed techniques. Some of them don’t even consider sitting in calmness, but moving or dancing, a.k.a. Dynamic meditation (introduced by Osho).
What to Expect When Trying to Meditate
So, what can you expect?
The Tibetan monks use the term “Monkey mind” to describe the usual daily state of existence and thinking under the influence of the materialistic mind and ego. “Monkey mind” is the biggest obstacle when trying to meditate or enter our deeper levels of being.
There will probably be a number of thoughts flitting through your mind. You may experience thoughts about your troubles or about your job or anything. Allow these thoughts to come in.
There may be distractions like a phone ringing or a vehicle blaring its horns. You may also feel itchy or numb in your legs. Some people experience drowsiness or lack of concentration. Some even feel bored.
How do you deal with these?
Well, simply use every hurdle as an opportunity by changing your attitude. Continue with your meditation practice and you’ll see all these obstacles vanish with time.
It’s important to stress the following: Don’t have too many expectations because you can easily get disappointed and de-motivated. Actually, experienced meditators would tell you “not to expect anything!” For you, as a beginner, it is most important to finally sit in calmness and face the silence inside you.
How to Start Meditating?
Initially start the practice of meditation with a session between one to 10 minutes. Start slow annd then gradually increase the length of your sessions.
I had the darndest time trying to learn to meditate – I struggled for years to build a consistent habit. What has worked best for me is what I like to call the “1 Minute-Medi” technique.
- On day 1 you meditate for 1 minute only.
- On day 2 you meditate for 2 minutes only.
- On day 3 you meditate for 3 minutes only.
Simply keep this process up until you’ve reached the desired minutes that you’re trying to meditate. If you are having trouble when you start meditating for a longer duration simply stay with a time that you’re comfortable with.
Start by determining your meditation place. It should be a pleasurable, isolated & quiet corner arranged according to your unique preferences. Meditation is probably the most intimate process you will experience during your life. Let that place be your personal ‘sanctuary.’ Keep it perfectly clear. If you like, you can place put some flowers around, some candles and pillows for sitting on the floor and so on. It should become the place where you feel most comfortable.
For the first few attempts, just sit and be like that. Just listen to the silence.
From the technical aspect, it is crucial to meditate totally isolated, nobody and nothing to disturb you during your session. Close windows and doors, exclude any sound, exclude everything – include only yourself.
The most recommended position is to sit on the floor with crossed legs, keeping your spine straight but relaxed – it is of enormous importance. You may meditate lying on your back, or sitting on a chair, but the crossed legs’ position is said to provide the best results. At first, you may find it not very comfortable, but you have to keep going. With time, it will become one of your body’s most natural positions.
Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes. After this, your breath should become rhythmic and deeper than usual. There are many breathing rhythms for meditation. For example, there is the 4-4-4 rhythm, meaning 4 seconds inhaling – 4 seconds pause – 4 seconds exhaling. Breathe with your abdomen, not with the chest.
Just focus on this rhythm for 5 minutes. Follow your breath from the moment it enters your nostrils (not the mouth!), through your throat, lunges, and down to the abdomen. Try to imagine and visualize how the light-blue oxygen, together with your life force enters every single cell of your body, bringing life, positive energy and love. While exhaling, imagine, and see all the negativity leaving your body.
In the beginning, the main obstacle will be your thoughts, your “Monkey mind,” as mentioned before. Once you are calm down, thoughts will rush through your brain, different ones, and wild ones, all in some kind of chaotic flow. Stay calm. Every time you get overwhelmed with unwanted thoughts, just re-focus on your breathing process. Breathing is the essence of meditation, and it will get you re-centered and focused again.
Remember, don’t fight your thoughts by paying attention to them. Just let them pass through your mind. After some time, as those thoughts find no reason to be, they will gradually vanish, up to a moment when you stop being aware that your mind even exists. This is the very moment where your meditation begins.
Don’t expect this to happen all at once. It might take days or weeks before you experience your first ‘flight’. Furthermore, only regular and disciplined daily meditations will take you “there.” Regularity and discipline are essential. With time, you will not feel your meditation sessions as a task, but as a quite pleasurable event in your life and day.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can meditate?
There is no age barrier to meditation. All age groups, including kids, can meditate.
How does it help in daily life?
It helps to keep you free of stress and strain. It helps you to think with clarity. It reduces anger and irrational behavior.
What is the best time to meditate?
The ideal time to meditate will be early in the morning when there is absolute silence around you. Even evening at sunset after a hard day’s work you can meditate. Actually, you can meditate whenever you find time 🙂
Do I need a teacher?
You don’t need a teacher. There are several CDs and mP3’s available. You can follow the instructions given in them to start your practice. The Calm App is a great resource as well as Headspace and Oak.
How do I get started?
All you need is a positive attitude, affirmations, and loads of enthusiasm to get started. Identify a quiet place at home or outside in the open. Sit there with your back erect and eyes closed. Rest your hands on your thighs and start concentrating on your wish.
Your cheat sheet for starting
- Have a desire to meditate regularly (what are you doing it for?)
- Make it a routine by starting small. Meditate for 1 minute per day if you have to. (use the 1-minute med technique above).
- Create an atmosphere of peace and quiet
- Wear comfortable clothes. No tight jeans or skirts.
- Select a quiet corner.
- Use a yoga mat or pillows to sit on
- Maintain silence in the room
- Begin the practice by telling yourself that “I am here, I am present, I am mindful.”
- Keep erect posture
- Concentrate on breathing (use the 4-4-4 technique mentioned in this article)
- Understand that this may be difficult. Let your thoughts and emotions pass. Don’t fight them.
Now that you’ve read this beginner’s guide to meditation, I hope that you put what you’ve learned into practice. And, I hope you experience relief from all the stresses as you witness your life transforming into a beautiful one.
Start meditating. Bless yourself. Once you begin meditating, your life will never be the same.
Do you currently have a meditation practice? How did you get started? Share in the comments below.