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Meditation is a practice that helps find peace and much-needed stillness in the body. (1) It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, leading into a cooling and restful state, which in turn helps in achieving good sleep.
For seasoned practitioners, 10-day silent meditation retreats, known as “vipassana,” are recommended, where the sessions run all day long. Vipassana aims to purify the mind and become insightful.
However, for beginners, the mere thought of practicing meditation can sound intimidating as it conjures an image of an ancient yogi seated in complete stillness with a tall, straight spine, eyes closed in deep concentration, and legs in “padmasana” or lotus pose (crisscross with foot crossed over the opposite thigh) for extended periods.
Different Kinds of Meditation Techniques
There are many different kinds of meditation techniques, and one size does not fit all. Several guided meditation apps, such as Headspace, and guided sessions on social media channels, such as YouTube and Spotify, are available for beginners.
These options can be overwhelming, and you might end up paying a premium price. Also, the usage of electronics might defeat the purpose behind the practice.
To practice meditative yoga, all you should need besides an open mind is a quiet space, a yoga mat, and a cushion (or bolster).
- One simple beginner-friendly meditation technique is known as “anapana,” which requires no technology, exaggeration of breath, or any complex technique. The word “anapana” means “observation of natural breath” and is the first step toward the bigger goal of vipassana.
- Patanjali in Yoga Sutra 1.2 states, “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha,” which translates as “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.” This meditation technique helps control the fleeting mind, as focusing on your natural breath improves concentration, thereby enabling you to stay in the present moment.
- Other common traditions and forms of meditation you may hear about include transcendental (mantra), vipassana, mindfulness, Buddhist, breath awareness, and loving-kindness (metta) meditations.
How to Meditate
- Start in sukhasana, which is an easy, comfortable sitting position on your mat, with your legs crossed or extended long. You can also sit on top of your bolster or place the cushion behind you to support your back.
- Close your eyes, or if that makes you uncomfortable, maintain a soft gaze with eyes very slightly open.
- Simply place your hands on your lap. Alternatively, use the “jnana mudra” hand position to promote wisdom, by folding the index finger into the base of the thumb, hands-on knees with palms facing up and the other three fingers straight.
- Continue to breathe normally. Observe and acknowledge your thoughts, both good and bad. It is completely natural to think about what occurred before or your list of things to do after. If your eyes are slightly open still, close them fully now if you are comfortable.
- Gradually draw your focus to the triangular area beneath the tip of your nose and the space above your lip, where you feel your breath most distinctly.
- Soften your jaw and continue to focus there. Eventually, your thoughts will start to fade. At any point during this session, if discomfort is experienced within the body, feel free to make adjustments to your posture before you refocus on your breath. A constant reminder to come back to your breath greatly helps.
Meditation Tips for the Novice
1. Set aside time for daily meditation
You can practice at any time during the day. However, morning meditation helps set the tone for the rest of your day as it not only calms your mind but also helps you focus better.
2. Find a designated quiet space if possible
An allocated space away from distraction will help with consistency and assist with “habit formation.” Eventually, you may be able to meditate anywhere, even in the midst of noise, although it could take years of practice to get there.
An unknown author once said, “Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
3. Start small
Begin with 5 minutes daily and gradually increase the duration by a few minutes until you are comfortable to stay longer. Use a timer in the beginning to help you track until you can go without it.
4. Practice “ahimsa”
Practice “ahimsa” by being kind and nonjudgmental toward yourself. Have an open mind, and try not to assume you will be bad at it. If you experience agitation or struggle with thoughts, be assured that it is normal, especially if you are new to the practice. Practice makes progress.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Cara Anselmo, Yoga Teacher, RD
While meditation does not have any side effects per se, certain meditations can bring up difficult mental, emotional, or physical experiences. However, it is unlikely that a day-to-day nonrestrictive meditation practice would cause any harm to most people.
The surrounding area can certainly affect meditation practice. However, the ultimate goal for many practitioners is to be able to meditate effectively no matter what their physical environment looks, sounds, or feels like.
It can be easiest to start in a comfortable seated position, in a relatively quiet space, and at a comfortable temperature.
However, you can meditate on a crowded subway, in a loud hospital, in a hot room, or in a very tiny space if you wish to, and it can be as effective as meditation performed alone on a mountaintop or in a fancy yoga studio!
In fact, practicing meditation in all sorts of “real-life” surroundings can be extremely useful, and it is a lovely and informative way to deepen one’s practice.
People may consider meditation difficult because they think it requires prolonged physical sitting or a lengthy time commitment. The truth is you can meditate while walking, running, swimming, or lying down if you choose, and even 5 minutes of daily meditation may be beneficial.
Many people also believe meditation means they have to “stop” their thoughts, which is, in fact, almost impossible and certainly not the goal with most meditations!
Finally, meditation can be hard because it is hard to intentionally look inside the mind and be alone with yourself and your thoughts.
Listening to music during meditation is a personal choice. It may be beneficial for some but not appropriate for others.
It is certainly possible to learn to meditate on your own, but a little help can go a long way! If you have never tried meditation, it can be useful to read a book in the beginning or follow a meditation app.
That said, in some traditions, having a teacher is of utmost importance. A given lineage may be quite specific in the role of the teacher and how teachings are passed down (orally, written, in what setting, to whom).
When you start a meditation practice, it is important to remember that, as with any practice or skill, there is a learning curve. You have to train yourself. You wouldn’t expect to go to the gym for the first time and suddenly be physically fit, nor would you expect to learn a different language in one or two or even twenty lessons.
Every meditation session will be different, and some will not feel very peaceful or joyful, just as every physical workout may not feel great. It is important to remember that each time you sit down to meditate, you are training your mind and helping create a future mind of peace.
A daily meditation practice certainly makes a positive difference in your life. The result is improved quality of sleep, a calm and focused mind, and positive energy. Prepare to be the best version of yourself, ready to face any curveball that life throws your way. Namaste!