A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO MEDITATION
Although it can take many forms, one of the most widely researched forms of meditation, mindfulness meditation, is awareness of the present, moment by moment. Meditation may look like a difficult practice. But when you let go of what you think it should look like and adapt your practice to your life, it becomes second nature.
The benefits of meditation are from the journey, not the destination. “Meditation is a way to experience and appreciate joy in the present moment, regardless of circumstance,” says Sarah Elmeligi, who teaches a meditation circle at the Yoga Lounge in Canmore, Alberta. Research studies find that meditation practice leads to increased feelings of calm and decreased anxiety.
Researchers have also found positive effects for improved sleep, stress management, self-compassion, and the ability to focus. Simply bringing your attention to your breath can bring on a relaxation response and calm your nervous system.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Meditation requires commitment. It is helpful to have a guide facilitating your meditation when first beginning to develop your practice. Attending community classes, participating in an online introductory course, or using a phone- or tablet-based meditation app can help you develop your new meditation habit.
FIND THE TIME
Check your schedule to see if you might schedule a few minutes for yourself at the beginning or end of each day. Once you start your practice, you might find you don’t want to stop because of the many ways it benefits your day. “I encounter people who think they can’t meditate,” says Elmeligi. [But] everyone can meditate. Everyone has five minutes!”
CHOOSE A PLACE
Creating a peaceful atmosphere in which to meditate is important to begin a successful practice. If possible, find a quiet place with as few distractions as possible. When first starting your practice, it can be helpful to use a consistent space to meditate. Simply select a comfortable chair or meditation cushion.
Once you become more adept at practicing meditation, you may not require a consistent space. “Sometimes, I meditate in the airport, waiting for my flight,” says Elmeligi. “There is chaos all around me and the seat is uncomfortable, but I can do it. It’s not perfect. You don’t need to sit in a certain way in a certain place. It’s not what is happening around you or where you are. It’s an internal experience. It’s about being aware of this moment.”
HANDLE INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS
It is normal to have thoughts while meditating. Try not to judge yourself for thoughts that enter your mind when trying to focus on the present moment. Try to be an observer of your thoughts and treat them as something transient and passing. You can think of thoughts as clouds passing through the sky or scenes in a movie. Watch your thoughts arise and watch them move away. For example, if you think, “Did I remember to send that e-mail?” just acknowledge the thought and let it pass, let it be transient. Elmeligi reminds the people she guides “to bring their focus and awareness back to their breath. Eventually you can let the thoughts fall away. You don’t need to follow the thoughts.”
jump-start your journey
Start both meditations in a comfortable, seated position. Consider setting a timer to let you know when your meditation time is complete. Then, follow the guidance below.
Focus your attention on your breath and on how your body moves with your inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body while you breathe. Try not to control your breath. Instead, focus your attention on the act of breathing. When your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
Focused Attention Meditation
Try to focus your attention on the act of breathing. Once you have taken a few quiet breaths, bring your gaze onto one steady object. Any focus will do; for example, you could gaze at a tree swaying gently in a breeze or waves lapping the ocean. Tratak, or candle gazing, involves watching the constant yet ever-changing candle flame. Allow the candle’s subtle movements to consume your thoughts.