How to Meditate
By Deb Dorchak, LifeScript.com
Learning how to meditate needn’t be difficult, nor does meditation require an expensive meditation class, special tools, clothing or gear. Meditation for beginners is as easy as sitting down, closing your eyes and shutting out the noise of the world for an hour or so. Over the past several years, meditation has risen from a supernatural practice used only by holy men and mystics to one respected as a legitimate form of therapy throughout the world. Guided meditation and meditation class teach methods to help lower blood pressure, improve athletic performance, ease anxiety attacks, alleviate insomnia, and in general, help reduce the stress of everyday life. Meditation promotes the balance of an individual’s physical, emotional and mental condition.
What Is Meditation?
The concept of meditation is simple: to learn how to meditate is to learn how to clear the mind and focus on one particular goal. A goal could be winning an athletic event or healing the body of a difficult disease. Contrary to what one might think, meditation doesn’t mean removing all outside stimulation, but rather focuses on one aspect of healing. This could be breathing, a particular sound or tone, a word or a mental or physical picture. Meditation is about eliminating all the mental clutter that makes a person’s mind spiral out of control to plunge into an endless cycle of worry and stress.
The Japanese have a word that describes the essence of meditation: Mushin. Mushin means “no mind.” In a dojo or karate school, the students are required to sweep the floor before each session. On the surface that might appear to be a menial task, but on a deeper level, the act of sweeping is a form of meditation that symbolizes clearing the mind and preparing the body to train.
As the student sweeps the floor, he or she also sweeps clear the mind of all the debris of the day. Thoughts of what bills to pay, what child needs to be driven where, tomorrow’s presentation and any number of daily irritations are put to the side as the mind focuses on the task at hand. Learning how to meditate teaches one how to focus on the here and now.
Is There Only One Way to Meditate?
There is no specific method for how to meditate. Everyone will have their own way of meditating, whether it is quietly listening to a guided meditation tape, practicing with others in a meditation class or simply spending some time on a quiet beach to listen to the waves crash against the shore. However, according to Holistic-online.com, meditation does have two distinct categories:
People who practice concentrative meditation take an active role in their meditation and focus on the act of breathing, a particular image or picture, or sound, which could include chanting a mantra or focusing on the tone of a bell or Tibetan prayer bowl. A guided meditation might be classified as concentrative meditation in that a person listens to a tape or instructor guide her through a series of images or breathing techniques. This is probably the best type of meditation for beginners to learn the basics before flying solo.
When practicing this class of meditation, the goal is not to pay attention to thoughts at all.
The practitioner learns how to meditate in such a manner as to allow images, sounds, emotions and other sensations to float through the mind as if these were all on a movie screen. The trick is to not become involved with the thoughts. The person lets thoughts pass by rather than allowing them to linger and invite stress.
How to Meditate: A Few Steps to Nirvana
Set the Mood. Create a calm, relaxing atmosphere. Remove any distractions, turn off the cell phone and the TV, pull the curtains and make sure the rest of the household knows not to intrude. If the meditation is taking place outside, choose a level patch of ground.
Seating. A zafu pillow is a helpful item to have. This meditation pillow is 12 inches in diameter and filled with buckwheat hulls. The zafu is fairly heavy and firm, but the firmness is adjustable by simply removing some of the hulls. If a zafu pillow isn’t an option, then a yoga or exercise mat will provide enough of a cushion for a hard floor. A chair is also an option. Even a bed is a likely spot to meditate, but the temptation to doze off might prove irresistible.
Posture. Meditation doesn’t mean twisting up like a pretzel. After all, this is meditation, not yoga. While the crossed legs of the Lotus position are common, that position does require some degree of flexibility and not everyone can do it. Wear loose, comfortable clothing and sit erect. Keeping the knees below waist level will help the body to breath naturally.
Breathing. Start with closing the eyes and concentrating on the rhythm of breathing.
Breathing is an action not many people think about. The funny thing about concentrating on breathing is that the focus tends to make an individual change the rhythm of breathing. Try to focus on breathing without actually controlling the process. Draw each breath in as if the air pulls in from below the diaphragm. An easy experiment to try is to concentrate on breathing through the nose. When this is done, a person can feel the air hitting the roof of the mouth and the back of the throat. The lungs feel as though they are filled only at the uppermost level. When the focus shifts to the diaphragm, the air feels as though it is starting in the throat and seems to fill the lungs from the very bottom. Some people shift the focus to “breath through the eyes.” Again, by focusing on the eyes with each intake of air, one gets the sensation of air flowing through the eye sockets. All of these suggestions come down to one thing – focus. By focusing on breathing, the mind is already on its way to letting go.
Relax. Begin to relax the muscles of the body. Start at the toes and work through each body part up through the head. Don’t rush this step. The goal isn’t to see how fast the body can relax. Like a road trip, the enjoyment is in the process of the journey itself, not in the final destination.
Focus. Choose a word, picture, feeling or tone to focus on. Repeat the sound or word, or visualize every possible detail of the object or scene in the mind’s eye. Chant or imagine the scene repeatedly, allowing it to sink into the mind.
If a visualization of a specific event is used, picture each detail of the event, including the outcome. An example would be the athlete who envisions performance on the court or in the field. The athlete will picture every move executed to perfection, leading up to the big win. This meditation works well in any situation, from making a presentation in the boardroom to easing a young mother’s anxiety over a pending birth.
Returning. Any meditation class for beginners stresses the importance of coming back to reality as slowly and as easily as going into the meditation. Never snap back and jump up. Take the time to ease from the state of total relaxation to one of attentiveness. Some people will place both hands flat on the floor or earth and breath out, picturing any excess energy flowing into the ground. Gradually become aware of the body and extremities, reversing the process of relaxation to reach full awareness.
Learning how to meditate should be enjoyable. If a beginner finds frustration with the process, then it’s not working. Let it go and try again another time. Go slow and remember that it’s not a marathon or a test. Don’t sit for hours. In the beginning, just a few minutes will work wonders. Eventually, time will slip by unnoticed as the sessions get longer. Taking a meditation class designed specifically to teach meditation for beginners might be helpful for learning the basics.