Whether you're familiar with meditating or not, this blog post is both for beginners and for people who are more familiar with meditation. There's an introduction, followed by a guide on how to meditate, the benefits that you gain from it, and some useful sources if you want to research more about it.
What is meditation?
According to Cambridge Dictionaries, it means
'The act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.'
The second meaning of the word 'meditation' is to think or reflect about a subject, or even to write something in-depth about a subject. But this is not the meaning we're looking for here.
'Giving your attention to only one thing' is the perfect way of describing meditation. It means to sit down, close your eyes, and detach from all your thoughts and only focus on one thing, like your breath. It is taking a break from the outside world and focusing your attention within. We are like a phone if you want; at some point during the day we need a break and we need to recharge. If you constantly think without a break, this can become very self-destructive and unhealthy. Now you might think that we are recharging when we sleep, which can be true. But only if you can really sleep without constantly thinking and stopping yourself from sleep. It’s important to give our thoughts a break during the day and if we consciously do that through meditation, we should have a better sleep too without worrying or overthinking or constantly being haunted by nightmares.
Even though, in the last couple of years, people have become more conscious about meditation, many people might still feel like this is something that only Buddhist monks are doing, which simply isn’t true. Meditation is not only a religious practice. Meditation is the simple act of taking a break from the constant unconscious thinking that goes on in our heads. It enables you to take control of your thoughts and stop being controlled by them because that's what most of us essentially are: the slaves of our thoughts! By meditating daily, you become more conscious of your thoughts and can detect any negative self-talk that is playing over and over in your head.
How do I meditate?
It's important to find a quiet, nice spot that you can dedicate for your meditation practice. If you live with other people, tell them you want to be undisturbed for the next couple of minutes. You can mediate alone or with other people but it's important to not be interrupted by your phone or people around you. The most well-known stereotypical meditation position is sitting cross-legged, hands on your knees with your palms facing up, and your back straight. However, you can also sit on a chair, kneel down, lie down, you can adapt a full or half lotus position. This is totally up to you because you are the person who decides. There are no strict rules. I personally find that I can focus more when I adapt the classic yogi position. Try different positions and see what works best for you, or change positions depending on what practice you're doing.
In order to get into the calm realm of meditating, you can do a pre-meditation breathing. Sitting in your desired position, you simply breathe in for 5 seconds and breathe it all out for 5 seconds. You repeat this 3 times, and then you will notice already how much calmer you are.
You can also take a 5 second break between breathing in and out where you hold your breath. This calms you down, energises you and wakes you up. Therefore, don’t do this before going to bed.
Then, you can do a body meditation and this can be your entire meditation if you wish. Or you can do a body meditation and then go over to the next step. Alternatively, you can skip this step and go to the next step.
A body meditation focuses, as the word tells you already, on your body. You simply feel your entire body loosen up and becoming relaxed, starting from your toes and going up to your head. You focus, step by step, on every single part of your body until you reach the very top. This is a way to both totally relax your body and at the same time to simply focus on one task. That way your mind will not drift off to the thought world. And whenever your mind wanders off, gently bring it back to your body.
There are an endless amount of meditations that you can do. There are the guided meditations that you can find on youtube and apps (which I'll mention at the end of the article), the traditional Buddhist mindfulness meditations Vipassana (insight) and Samatha (tranquility), transcendental meditations, visualisation meditations, moving meditations, mantra meditations, loving kindness meditations and spiritual meditations.
Samatha meditations focus on your breath, which gives your thoughts a full stop. This helps you to become conscious of your thoughts and to control them and notice them quicker as they arise. While focusing on your breath, you will notice that thoughts come in, that you gently send away. The more mindful you are and meditate, the more you can experience those 'thought-free' moments. This meditation gives you tranquility. Samatha meditations are quite limited since they only give you tranquility for the time when you are meditating.
Vipassana meditation is the oldest form of Buddhist meditation. It gives you insight after you have gained tranquility and concentration. That’s why this meditation is so important. It focuses on all your senses, everything you hear, smell, feel, see, taste. It encompasses everything except your thoughts.
The one does not go without the other, after you gained tranquility, you then can gain some clarity or insight about (your) life. In Vipassana, you focus on aspects of your own life. You begin to notice your own life experience and how it unfolds. You start being mindful with everything you do, like feeling, eating, listening and so on. You begin to be able to objectively listen to your thoughts without seeing them as your truth. The aim with Vipassana is to accept the flow of life, the fact that life is not permanent and constantly changes. This meditation helps you to gain awareness of life as it is; you begin to see your own life in a complete new, objective way. This takes a lot of practice but can be achieved.
Visualisation meditations are often incorporated in guided meditations. You imagine yourself at a different place. This can be anywhere, you can choose something calming and relaxing in order to make yourself feel good. And remember to focus on your breath.
Spiritual meditations are used for religious purposes in order to gain a clearer alignment with God and everything around.
Moving meditations can be done anywhere; people usually walk in a forest or somewhere else that is calming. You can count your steps or simply focus on your legs and your movement. You can even meditate when you go from A to B. Simply be present and focus on the action of walking.
Loving Kindness Meditations or Metta focus on unconditional love. Both for yourself and others. Simply focus on yourself and be kind to yourself during this meditation. This works just as well when you focus on a different person and simply send them love and are focusing on experiencing kindness and love towards them.
Mantra meditations focus on a mantra that you repeatedly say to yourself.
Transcendental meditations are like mantra meditations but you have a teacher who specifically customises your mantras for you.
I can’t meditate. My thoughts are constantly there. What can I do?
This is very normal and everyone had to deal with this at the beginning. Whenever you get distracted by thoughts, simply acknowledge them, then say to your thoughts that you will kindly focus on them after your meditation practice. You can imagine your thoughts as leafs that slowly float down a river. Something else that you can do, especially at the beginning, is visualising yourself sitting somewhere calmly and say positive affirmations to yourself. Guiding meditations are often structured this way, there is a calming voice talking you through your meditation. This might be the easiest form of meditating at the beginning: focus on your breath, do body meditations, guided meditations and then guide yourself through your own meditations.
How long do I meditate?
Start with 5 minutes per day and increase this amount every week. You might find that 15 minutes is the right amount for you. Guided meditations can be 5 minutes up to 2 hours or sometimes even longer. Simply see what works for you.
Meditation helps to become conscious of your thoughts and be able to control them and notice them quicker. The more you are mindful and meditate, the more you can experience those 'thought-free' moments. These moments, in turn, make you feel happier and contribute to a more positive thought pattern in general. In these moments, you are more attentive to everything. You basically live in the now. You simply are.
Through this focus that you gain, you are less prone to age-related conditions such as memory loss and dementia.
It is a proven fact that meditation reduces stress. Inflammations caused by stress can be reduced and research has shown that conditions that are stress-related such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia (a long-term condition causing pain all over your body) and post-traumatic stress disorder may be improved by meditating regularly.
Meditation helps with depression and anxiety (anxiety-related conditions such as obsessive-compulsive behaviour, phobias and social anxiety).
Meditation causes awareness, both of yourself and your surroundings. You will learn what you want from life and what really makes you happy and fulfilled.
Loving kindness meditations increase your ability to love yourself and others. You will act with more kindness and positivity.
Meditation can help fight addictions and unwanted impulses.
It naturally helps with sleeping problems since your thoughts are less prone to wander off when you want to sleep.
When treating chronic pain, meditation can help minimise the pain perceived in the brain. Hospital patients who had a difficult operation behind them, can, if they choose to do so, do a mindfulness training in addition to the usual medical care. This is something my grandfather did when he had an operation done and it really helped him to deal with the pain.
People with blood pressure issues should take to heart to meditate regularly. Not only does the blood pressure decrease while meditating but it also reduces when meditating regularly. It can prevent heart diseases.
I have first hand experience of the benefits of meditation. I am more aware of my thoughts, when negative self-talk arises and how to replace this with positive self-talk, how it reduces stress and just makes you calmer and more aligned with yourself and your values. It helps to dissociate yourself from your thoughts. We tend to forget that we are not our thoughts when we are wrapped up in our mundane life 'problems'.
There are apps that you can use to get into meditation. Guided meditations can ease your way into the meditation world.
There are a couple of FREE apps that I recommend. I'm not sponsored by any of them, I simply genuinely recommend them to you:
Stop, Breathe and Think
And some I heard of but haven't tried myself:
The Mindfulness App
Sattva Meditations and Mantras
And now, let’s do a 7 days meditation practice together. Whether you meditate in the morning, evening or during the day, do it at least once a day and see each day how you feel and let me know on instagram! I will post a daily update too so that we can support each other. #7daysmeditationbff is the hashtag that you can use in your stories and posts.
I hope you enjoyed reading my first Happiness post. I want this to be very informative and useful to practise at the same time.
Love, Viki xx