A guide to meditation for beginners

Man and woman meditating on a beach for healing and relaxation

Meditation. For a lot of people, the word conjures up images of the yoga-obsessed or beach-loving hippies sat cross-legged happily swaying in an alternate state. But as mentioned in the previous article (Part 2: Think yourself better), it's fast being recognised as hugely beneficial to all of us, and becoming an integral part of healthcare and wellbeing in our everyday life, with group sessions even being offered in some doctors surgeries.

It's often mentioned in an airy 'give it a try' manner, but if you're not quite inclined to jump into a group session or class, it can be overwhelming to know where to start on your own at home. Because it can be of so much benefit, it's really worth a try though, so here's some info that might help you on your way...

Simply put, the act of meditation is to bring awareness to your breath, thoughts and self. It's the process of stepping back from your thoughts a little bit to get some space and internal detachment from them. This helps to clear your mind, allowing you to gain greater clarity and feel calmer.

Before we know otherwise, most of us assume our reactions to people and situations are 'just us being us'. Sometimes we can be so confused we can't even make sense of what our mind is thinking and find it hard to make decisions and act.

We also take our inner dialogue, that little voice with a constant running commentary in our head, at its word, even when it gets pretty nasty and makes us feel bad about ourselves (for example, labelling us as TOTAL failures every time we make one little mistake).

Meditation helps you to take a step back and simply become an observer to your thoughts, so you gain some control and don't get caught up in a whirl of emotions, frustration and confusion (which, let's face it, even sounds exhausting). By being objective in this way, you can then find clarity in them and make a conscious choice about how to think, feel and react.

Meditation helps us to live in the moment and promotes inner peace, and this really benefits your mind and helps you feel happier on an everyday basis. Not to mention the many physical health benefits from the increase in healing (the body needs to be in a relaxed state to facilitate deep healing).

One of the most important things to note is this: there is no right way or wrong way to meditate. It should be a non-judgmental and personal experience, and the aim is to use it to help you however it suits you best. There are various techniques and methods you can choose to help you though, for example;

Guided meditations Pre-recorded meditations and apps are a really good starting point and can help simplify the process to begin with, since the structure is already laid out for you. This helps you stay focused and keeps your mind from wandering. The recording will guide you through the process of relaxation, sometimes using a 'body scan' method, which helps you become aware of each part of your body in turn, and where you feel tension etc, so it can be released. You can find them on apps such as Headspace, Calm and Mindfulness, or search for one that suits you on YouTube.

Traditional meditation

This involves sitting in a comfortable position somewhere quiet that you won't be disturbed. As a beginner, you may want to set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, as guessing the time is one of those many things the mind can wander off and get distracted by! Let your thoughts leave your mind - some people like to imagine them floating away like little clouds. Then turn your attention to focus on your breathing, feeling the sensations as you inhale and exhale, and as you begin to relax, taking those breaths a little deeper. It might help to put your hands over your belly and feel it rise each time you inhale to focus you. For deeper breathing and to fill the whole of your lungs, inhale into your belly first, feeling it rise, and then into your chest, feeling it expand, hold it briefly, and then exhale slowly. You might also like to count (you can also use mala beads for this), or repeat positive affirmations or mantras to yourself to help keep focused.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation brings your full focus into whatever activity you're doing in the present moment, and is an excellent way of incorporating the benefits of meditation into everyday life, particularly when you're busy. For example, while making a cup of tea, or even brushing your teeth! Simply focus on what you see, the sounds you hear and all of the sensations you can feel, one by one. This helps take you 'out of your head' and often gives you a new perspective on the activity.

You can try walking meditations (nature brings an extra boost in helping clear the mind), concentrating on how the different areas of your body feel, and the sensations of the breeze or sun on you, for example. Or try a listening meditation wherever you are, zoning in on what you can hear going on in the environment around you, or even on the different instruments involved on a song playing. Painting, drawing or other creative activities can also be great opportunities to incorporate mindfulness - the only limits are your imagination.

It should never feel like hard work, and should be a part of your life that you look forward to that helps you feel refreshed and restored. You might like to try different lighting, diffusing essential oils or playing relaxing meditation music - make it about what you love, and watch the benefits unfold!

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