Meditation has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years. Many civilizations throughout recorded history have practiced some form of meditation as a method of clearing the mind and reducing stress. In many cultures, meditation even took on a religious or spiritual nature.
There are many ways to meditate. It can be practiced while in a seated position, or while lying on the ground; it can be down while repeating a mantra, or without a mantra. Over time, the practice has developed and branched off into several different forms.
The origins of meditation are rich and diverse, but meditation does not have to be complicated. In fact, meditation can be one of the easiest and most natural exercises we can do. All it requires is a little patience, perseverance, and focus.
The truth is that meditation can be one of the more joyful and rewarding experiences you can have. Think you’re up for the challenge? Check out our guide to learning how to meditate. After only a couple days of practice, you will be on your way to mastering one of life’s greatest simple pleasures.
Historically, meditation has been practiced by ancient Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Taoist, and Islamic civilizations. While each civilization has practiced their own unique style of meditation, they all share the same basic premise: to focus one’s attention.
In modern times, the need to focus one’s attention is more important than ever. Technology has blessed us with countless conveniences that have improved the quality of our lives. However, they have also caused us to become more distracted, isolated, and emotionally unwell.
Most forms of meditation are secular and have no spiritual or metaphysical aspect. In fact, there is a mounting body of scientific research that supports the view that daily meditation can have a positive impact on well-being and cognitive performance.
At their core, all forms of meditation are simple. It simply involves the repetitive practice of focusing on one object, message, activity, or thought. As a result, the mind lets go of needless distractions and allows one’s emotional state to become more relaxed and at ease.
Your First Meditation
Meditation does not have to be hard. There is no one “correct” method of meditation. Despite what you might see on TV or in the movies, meditation does not have to be performed in a seated position, or with your hands on your knees, or with a recurring mantra. In fact, it can be as simple as lying in bed and counting your breaths.
One of the most common forms of meditation today is known as mindfulness meditation. In recent years, the practice of mindfulness has sparked a worldwide movement the emphasizes the importance of simple, daily meditation. Likewise, the mindfulness movement promotes the feeling of “presence” during day-to-day life.
To get started with mindfulness meditation, you should set aside at least 5-10 minutes. Although this is certainly better than nothing, 15-20 minutes is often cited as the ideal span of time for daily meditation. To remain consistent, it is a good idea to meditate first thing in the morning.
Once you have set aside some time, you can sit or lie down comfortably and gently close your eyes. After you have closed your eyes, simply take notice of your body and how it is contacting the ground. Scan your body from head to toe and make a note of how each part of your body feels at that moment.
Then, being to count your breaths. Gently, and without judgment, count your inhales and exhales until you have reached a count of ten. Once you make it to ten, start over and repeat.
Do not become upset or disappointed if you become distracted or preoccupied. This is perfectly natural, and it happens to even the most advanced meditators. When this happens, simply return your attention to your breath. Whenever you notice your attention waning, gently remind yourself to focus on your breathing.
Continue counting your breaths until the time has elapsed. It helps to set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself when to stop. Once the alarm rings, gently turn it off and look around the room. After some practice, you will start to feel refreshed, focused, and reinvigorated at the end of every mindfulness meditation session.
One of the most popular reasons why people ditch their meditation habit is that they feel they are not good at it. This is impossible, because meditation is not something that one can be good or bad at. Rather, meditation is a purely judgment-free practice.
Whenever you find yourself distracted or carried away during your practice, do not take it personally. Simply guide your attention back to where it belongs and carry on with your practice. Do not hesitate to forgive yourself whenever the situation calls for it. Meditation should never bear negatively on your mind.
There are many ways you can enhance your meditation experience. If you own a smartphone, laptop computer, or tablet, you can easily put on a guide or track of music that can help you get in the zone.
Many novice meditators prefer to use meditation music to help them focus during their practice. Meditation music is generally very soft in nature, and often does not feature any overlaying vocals. Rather, meditation music is designed to induce a trance-like state by introducing percussion and nature sounds into your practice.
It is sometimes said that the “mind abhors a vacuum”. For even the most advanced meditators, this rings true. When we sit, it is natural to sometimes find ourselves lost in thought or distracted. Our minds cling on to whatever stimulation it can find to keep ourselves distracted. In the absence of stimuli, the mind can create its own by conjuring up unwanted thoughts.
The use of meditation music is beneficial because it provides white noise. White noise gives our minds some stimuli to focus on during our meditation session. While this may seem counterproductive, it is certainly not. This is because focusing on music while you breathe is simply another form of meditation—and no one form of mindfulness is superior to any other.
One of the greatest advantages of meditating today is that we have access to countless expert meditation teachers at the touch of our fingertips. With the popularity of apps like Headspace and Insight Timer, we can tap into communities of meditators that have years of experience in the practice.
If you find yourself struggling to advance in your meditation practice, it may be a wise decision to seek out a guide. These are expert meditators and gurus who can talk you through the meditation. This takes a great deal of doubt and apprehension out of the meditative experience.
To find a guide, simply search for the best meditation apps on the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Find a highly rated app, like Headspace, and download it. Create an account and select a guided meditation. Whenever you sit down for your daily practice, place your phone by your side and follow the guide’s instructions. It’s as simple as that!
Meditation as a Lifestyle
Many inexperienced meditators believe that meditation only lasts for the few minutes you spend on the floor every day. However, meditation is a constant practice that, after some practice, begins to seep into many aspects of daily life.
Don’t let that worry you. Just because meditation is an all-day practice does not mean that it should consume your life or interfere with anything you want to do throughout your day. The lifestyle of mediation simply encourages the meditator to remain “mindful” and in tune with the present moment throughout the entirety of the day.
To realize the full range of benefits that meditation has to offer, it helps to remind yourself throughout the day that you should slow down and clear your mind. Whether you are walking to work, or sitting at your desk, you can always benefit from telling yourself to take a moment and focus on one task, thought, or activity.
Learning how to meditate should not be a difficult or stressful experience. To help you along the way, there are many useful mental cues that you can incorporate into your daily life. These serve as small, gentle reminders to be present and remember the insights derived from your daily meditation. Here’s a quick list of some of our favorites tips and tricks:
- Make a pledge to take a deep breath and remind yourself to be mindful every time you get up out of a chair throughout your day
- Meditate at the same time every day, to help build a routine
- Throughout the day, pause and close your eyes while you take three full breaths
- Wear a memento, like a cheap ring, to remind yourself of the value of presence every day
- Whenever possible, go easy on stimulants such as caffeine as they can interfere with your ability to stay present and mindful