I’ve meditated on and off for years. Towards the end of 2013 I did a course in Primordial Sound Meditation courtesy of The Sleep Guru, and since then I have been practising this type of meditaiton.
Whenever I mention meditation, people seem to have endless questions about it. Just lately I’ve had several conversations with peopleasking how you do it, whether I see a benefit, what it’s all about, whether you need to download a special app or buy special clothes or sit in the lotus position chanting Om while burning incense.
Here are some basic tips to get you started, if you’re thinking about meditation…
- Decide whether you want to use a mantra or a guided meditation. You can download an app like Insight Timer which has loads of guided meditations, or there is the Headspace app which has several days’ free mindfulness meditations you can use before you need to subscribe.
- Guided meditations are useful when you first start out, but you can always use a mantra instead. A mantra can be anything you choose really, just something you repeat over and over as you meditate. A lot of people choose So Hum which is a yogic mantra meaning “I am that.”
- If you really want to, you can buy a set of mala beads. They’re sort of like the Buddhist equivalent of a rosary, and you use them to keep track of how many times you’ve repeated your mantra. They’re not necessary though, and that’s the beauty of meditation: you needn’t buy anything!
- If you’re not using a guided meditation, you might want to set a timer. Don’t choose an alarm on your mobile that will jolt you back to consciousness though; the Insight Timer app has a nice bell tone that you can use, or choose something gentle from your mobile.
- Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed. Switch your phone off – or at the very least, to silent so that there’s no chance of it bothering you.
- Make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothes – nothing digging in or itching. Consider a shawl or blanket around your shoulders to keep you warm, since you’ll be sitting still for a while.
- Sit comfortably. You don’t need to sit in the lotus position, or even with your legs crossed if you don’t want. Ensure there is something behind you to support your back. I usually take a cushion from the sofa and sit on the floor, against a wall. As you sit, try to ensure your back is straight.
- Close your eyes and breathe. Try to take deep breaths, filling your lungs from the bottom up. This is often called breathing through the diaphragm. If you find it easier, you can put your palm over your stomach; as you breathe in you should feel your stomach expand as your lungs fill with air.
- Don’t worry if your mind wanders; that’s perfectly normal and something that everyone struggles with. The trick is to just quietly notice that you’re not focusing on your mantra or the guided meditation any more, and gently bring your mind back to it. You might have to do it a hundred times the first time you meditate; just keep going!
- When you are finished, don’t get up right away; give yourself a couple of minutes to “come to” and become aware of your surroundings again.
“But I can’t meditate!”
The main reason people give up on meditation is that they think they can’t. There seems to be this big myth around meditation, whereby everyone who doesn’t do it, thinks the people who do, are party to some big secret or have some amazing ability they don’t have. People often think that because their mind immediately jumps to their shopping list or the argument they had with their mother-in-law two weekends ago the moment they sit to meditate, that they’re just not able to do it. Not so!
When you first learn to drive, you don’t know which pedals to use, what to do with all the buttons and levers – until you learn. Or you could just get out of the car and say “I can’t drive!”
The whole point of meditation is to calm the mind. When you sit down to meditate, your mind is used to running a mile a minute to keep up with everything that’s going on in your life. The first time you meditate you’ll find yourself wanting to sneakily open one eye to check the clock every couple of minutes. It’ll feel interminable and you’ll wonder why you bother. That’s normal.
In this world of endless distractions, it can be really hard to just sit with yourself, without a mobile or a tablet or a TV show or a podcast or something to distract you. It takes time to get used to, to learn how to just let your mind be without distractions. But I truly believe that if we stick with it, everyone can get past the initial hurdles and reap the benefits of meditation.
When I first began to meditate, I was advised that I should commit to meditating every day for 30 days – so as to form a habit. By commiting to meditate daily, you can train your brain. If you dip in and out every now and then, you will find it difficult to quiet your mind when you do sit down to meditate.