How To Meditate
Sat on the rooftop of a restaurant in Shoreditch the other day, I overheard some women catching up with a bottle of rosé and good food. Amongst stories of love and work woes, fashion and new food trends, they came onto the topic of health. Specifically, how they struggled with the idea of meditation. And more specifically; just how to meditate properly?
This same question comes up frequently with my friends too and I definitely struggled with it when I first started. The concept seemed flimsy to me... "Think of nothing. Focus on your breathing." Admittedly, I thought it was complete rubbish and way too abstract. I needed practical instructions, I couldn't just sit and think of nothing - really, how many of us can?
Meditation for Beginners
To just be still and focus on our breath at first seems impossible. I found that people who did manage to get close to such a state would end up falling asleep. We are all busy after all and a spare half an hour seems fitting for a quick cat nap.
I think the most important eureka moment for me was when I figured out that meditating can be taken in steps. You don’t have to start with a complete blank mind and maintain it for an hour every morning at 5am.
Since that realisation, meditation and I have become fairly good friends and so, I thought I’d share some guidelines/tips I use personally for finding peace with finding peace.
Meditation Techniques for Beginners
- Start with ten minutes, even five. Don’t commit yourself to a package, a set of sessions like once a week or once a day. Just do one and see how it goes. When I bought a whole heap of sessions and didn't stick with them, I ended up feeling like a failure and that's not the best start to your meditation practice.
- Sit up straight, imagining a string pulling you up from the top of your head. Legs crossed, or on a chair in a comfortable position. It’s all about settling into your physical self, your body. By turning your attention to something that just is still and concrete in the physical world, you gradually encourage your mind toarrive, calm and be. Your feet should be firmly on the ground, or the weight of your hips on the chair or floor. Essentially you’re looking for grounding - like the roots of a tree.
- Yes, do start by counting your breathing - but once you have that in a nice slow rhythm, direct your mind to scan through your body. From that point on top of your head, all the way to down your toes, just observe how everything is feeling. If it helps, give each part a slight wiggle. Isolate all your body parts, really feel that they exist from the inside, through your nervous system.
- Once you’ve settled into your physical, it becomes about the mind. Instead of trying not to think, I let my first thought come up. Then I acknowledge the contents of that thought, I tell myself, “Okay, I am thinking about this. This is a thought I have in my mind.” Then, the practice is to let that thought be, let it go, without reacting to it and allowing it to spiral into something bigger. If I really don't want to let it go, I say to myself, “Okay, brain, I see you are concerned about this. I acknowledge your message. Thank you brain, I will respond to this at the appropriate time.” Then I refocus on my breathing, settle into my body again, and wait for my next thought.
- If focusing on the breathing is too little to concentrate on and you find your mind is whizzing continuously, try a different approach. Concentrate on another sense, I find sound very helpful. Listen to all the sounds around you, one by one and focus more on the physical ability to hear, rather than think what the sound is. For example, if you hear cars, focus on the pitch of the sound, through your physical receptors, your ears, rather than thinking “This is coming from an engine” which is received by the mind (which which will happen, but gets easier with practice). If sounds don’t work, open your eyes and use your vision. Focus on things you can see in front of you, around you, in this space. Mediation is about bringing your attention to the present, to what is happening here and now, and your senses are there to help you.
I hope by continuing this process, that eventually you will be able to slow down the speed and the number of thoughts, until you reach a stage where you are able to have a still mind that accompanies your still body.
Please remember, every practice is different. Sometimes you will be completely in tune and some times not. The progress isn’t linear. You won’t always do better next time. This is a time for you to not think about conquering yet another task, but is rather an exercise to create space and encourage clarity.
Whatever comes up for you, whatever your practice looks like, let it be and let it go.