Some people struggle with the notion of meditating. I know I certainly did when a good friend tried endlessly to persuade me how good it was. I viewed it as vague and fluffy and questioned why I would waste perfectly good time “being lost in thought” or “contemplating life” when I could be doing other more enjoyable activities.
However, I found it difficult to ignore the proven benefits of the practice. So I tried it every morning for 10 minutes before work for 4 weeks and I was surprised by how much calmer I felt and how much clearer my thinking was after such a short period of time.
So, what is meditation? It’s not “sitting and thinking” or “letting your mind go blank” as I assumed it was. It’s about reducing
the amount of thinking and the ongoing thoughts that arise seemingly without cause. It’s normal for our thoughts to continue to occupy our mind and meditation is about trying to limit those thoughts and fill the mind with awareness of sensations, emotions, and images rather than thinking about what you have to do that day, solving work problems, or worrying about the past or what may happen in the future. It’s about focusing your attention on one specific thing such as your breathing, parts of your body, an object or a word. The point is to focus strongly on that particular element and continually bring your attention back to that focal point when your mind wanders, which it inevitably will.
Everyone can mediate or learn to do it and benefit from it. The notion that you need to be “spiritual” or have an inbuilt ability to meditate is untrue. While some people take more naturally to meditation than others, anyone can do it and everyone can reap the benefits. The main obstacle for people is making the effort and having the conviction to persevere with it. We all experience good mediations and not so good mediations where the mind seems to challenge you and wander more than at other times. It is important to remember that this is normal and there is no such thing as a bad meditation. The more you practice mediation and bring your mind back to the focal point when it starts to wander, the easier it becomes. It’s very much like trying to increase your physical fitness, you need to go to the gym more than once to see any improvement.
There are many different ways of doing meditation and people often have questions about what style of meditation is best, and how long, how often, when, and where should you do it. So, here is a quick guide to basic fundamentals of mediation practice.
Types of mediation
There are different ways to mediate and science has categorised them into two types of meditation. The first is known as focused attention meditation, where you focus on a single object during the whole session. With practice, you will be able to keep your attention on the chosen object for longer and focus deeper while distracting thoughts will lessen and become less intrusive.
The second type is called open monitoring mediation and this is where you pay attention to everything that is happening around you. So all aspects of your experience, the noises, visual elements, and sensations and feelings, are monitored without judgement or reaction.
When is the best time to meditate?
There is no best time to meditate and it really depends on what works for you and your schedule. However, telling yourself that you’ll “just fit it in” as some point is not a good strategy as that point rarely comes and you need to schedule it in as part of a daily routine just like brushing your teeth so that you know you’ll stick to it.
Many people prefer doing mediation first thing in the morning to put them in good stead for the rest of the day before the pressures of the day mount up. It can help them prepare for the day increasing the changes that things will go well.
Lunch time is a good time to de-stress and revitalise if the morning has been hectic or pressured and it can break negative thinking cycles and heighten your attention, creativity and efficiency when you return to work.
Some people find it difficult to make time to meditate during the day and doing it after work helps them “unwind”. It can also serve as a clear boundary between work and home life by deterring thoughts about work from occupying your personal time.
It is not recommended that you meditate too soon before going to bed as it may relax you into falling asleep and meditation is not sleep but conscious awareness. So try to leave sometime between your mediation practice and going to bed.
Where should I meditate?
Mini-mediations can be done almost anywhere. For example, if you sitting in a traffic jam, taking some deep breaths or being mindful of the sounds and things going on around you can ease the tension of being stuck in traffic and put you in a better frame of mind.
You can also meditate while you’re waiting at the airport, train station or bus stop or whilst commuting. Even sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment which can be boring or anxiety provoking. Being in nature is also conducive to practicing mediation such as during a bush walk or sitting on the beach.
How Often & How Long
Daily meditation helps to reduce stress, improve sleep, and enhance concentration and memory. You can do brief mini-meditations (such as one minute of deep breathing) throughout the day if you need to calm or mind and body.
If you’re new to mediation, try to start small and build up your mediation practice. As mentioned, I started doing 10 minutes per day and noticed the benefits pretty quickly. In fact, research showed that just eight weeks of doing mindfulness meditation on a daily basis, increased brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. So spending as little as 10 minutes per day is a good start and working your way up to 20 minutes per day will heighten the positive results, as long as you do it regularly. Meditating twice each day will really hasten the benefits and help transform you in positive and permanent ways.
See Simple Steps to Evoking the Relaxation Response for a short guided meditation exercise that you can practice each day.