Meditation seems to be popping up everywhere. Everyone seems to be trying it and talking about the benefits. But what actually is meditation? How do you do it? What kinds of meditation are available and how do you know if you’re doing it right?
The first thing to know is that meditation is a practice, not something you can really learn from a book. Even a teacher can only give you the space and tips to practice. It is something you have to actually do; do regularly – preferably daily – and over time you’ll begin to see the benefits. Even five minutes of daily meditation over time can make a major impact on your life. And I’m sure that’s less time than most of us spend putting on make-up or repeatedly checking our phones.
Guided meditation is when someone talks to you, to literally guide you into a meditative state. Sometimes it can be a vivid narrative to access specific parts of your imagination. Other times it can simply be very relaxing. There are many tools like this, to help you to fall into a calm, relaxed state. Try some of my guided meditations on YouTube. Especially now we can access audio online, for example via Audible or Spotify or other services. Listening to an audio podcast or downloaded track that guides your meditation can help you keep focus and allow you to slip into a state that can feel like floating or relaxing in a warm bath.
How to start meditating
When you first begin a practice, guided meditations can help because your mind and body won’t be used to this idea of ‘doing nothing’. You may not be aware of how you are breathing; how you are sitting; or how your body feels, right now in the moment. Listening to an experienced teacher can help you concentrate on the meditation, instead of drifting off or thinking about other things. Gradually, if you take the time out every day, you’ll start to feel lighter, happier and more relaxed in your everyday life. But it won’t work straight away and you may even feel uncomfortable or annoyed with yourself at first. Stick with it. You can start small, with short meditations, to see how you get on and decide what kind of guide most suits you. Even once a week for 20 minutes is better than nothing at all.
Where to meditate
Anyone can do meditation, you don’t need any special equipment. You need a place where you can sit comfortably. It doesn’t need to be quiet or private: on the train, for example commuting, can be an ideal time to listen to a guided meditation, once you’ve got used to the process.
Different kinds of meditation
is a popular label that means to practice awareness in everything you do. Bringing yourself back to the present moment is certainly good to do. I check myself throughout the day, when I feel I’m drifting off or worrying about my ‘to do’ list.
If I’m washing my hair or washing up, I say to myself: I’m doing this now. I’m here, now. Rinse and repeat. Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh is always a good read. Mindful eating and mindful walking are super helpful in a world where we constantly staring at our phones and rushing around without awareness.
What can meditation do for me?
It could make you a nicer person to be around, for a start. Your problems and issues may feel in a healthier perspective, even smaller overall, and you’ll be generally happier. There are powerful benefits of perspective from bringing yourself ‘into the moment’ more often. I definitely laugh more and don’t worry so much, now that I regularly meditate. Long term meditation practice can reduce stress and anxiety. One woman who came along to one of my live Refigure events suffered from severe anxiety. She said that doing the guided meditations with me was the very first time she’d been able to truly let go of her anxious thoughts.
Thinking about yourself
Another form of meditation is self-inquiry and contemplation. Making space and time for yourself is key to developing a meaningful life. What do you really want or need? You can spend a lot of time thinking about what you should or ought to be doing – worrying about others – that you can make yourself unhappy and stressed out, trying to please everyone except yourself. Part of your self-care is to carve out some ‘me time’ to reflect on what you like, what makes you happy and your own ambitions and purpose. This can help so much with your self-esteem and confidence. Being more compassionate to yourself, can help you be nicer to everyone else too.
“But I’m no good at meditating”
There is no good or bad with meditation. Your experience is unique to you and the more you do it, the easier it will become. You’re not trying to stop thoughts altogether. Thoughts will come and go, meditation is about noticing them but not engaging with them. In other words, if something pops into your mind, don’t leap up and start emailing someone. Just wait and let the thoughts pass. You will start to get glimpses of peaceful moments which will gradually get longer and longer, until you know them as a comfortable, supportive part of your life. Like that feeling of being underwater.
It will all come in time, so for now, just sit still and breathe.
And do nothing.