As December ticks into January we have probably all given a thought or two to ideas & ideals we would like to include more of in 2018. For me meditation comes up time and time again as one of the simplest and most effective ways to enhance my days. But if meditation has crossed your mind too, you might be wondering where on earth to start?
There are literally hundreds of different ways to meditate. The trick is trying a couple until you find the one that works for you. Read on for a quick and simple guide to getting started and the common questions that come up.
How to start?
The beauty of meditation is that you really don’t need anything to get started!
It could be as simple as turning off your TV for two minutes to sit on your sofa quietly and notice how you feel. Is your breathing fast or slow, are you aware of your heart beat, or even the soles of your feet?
As you notice these things in detail for quite probably the first time that day, your brain simply cannot also be working on its go to list of worries and anxieties. This brief change of gear gives your body a chance to reset and even make use of the ever helpful “rest and digest” side of the nervous system.
Of course there are many alternatives, but in its simplest form meditation is about improving self awareness. The more aware you become, the more you are able to choose your responses to life events and conversations or even to quickly recognise in yourself when you are feeling less than your best.
The physical benefits too are substantial, with changes seen on brain scans after just eight weeks! (If you would like to find out more about the neurological effects of meditation, subscribe below to receive part two of this article straight to your inbox). The benefits of these changes range from reduced blood pressure to an improved immune response and metabolism!
Tips to get you started
Time - “How long do I have to do it for?” is one of the most common questions I get asked. When getting started, the only true answer is, stop before you run out of motivation! Perhaps you can manage a minute a day to start with, or two minutes the next week. That short window of time is the beginning of all those brilliant benefits discussed above. But if you sit there frustrated or confused for a following 9 minutes you undo that lovely start.
Stop when you need to and trust that the time grows by itself as you practice more.
Alarm - Sometimes thoughts can wander as we simply wonder how long we’ve been sat there. At the beginning you might even have that thought very quickly, so perhaps consider setting an alarm. That way you can be comfortable that the time is one thing you don’t need to keep in your head.
Routine - Like any good habit it can take a bit of practice and commitment to fit it into your daily life. Creating a routine can help with this. Perhaps that means doing it at the same time each day or even after a specific activity that reminds you.
Space - With a bit of practice, you could really meditate anywhere, but when getting started its easier to find a place with minimal distractions and a comfortable seat. Picking the same place each time could help strengthen your new routine.
Expectations - We have all seen images of enlightened ancient yogis sat blissfully in the lotus position as they meditate. Of course we all know it’s pretty unlikely that we will feel enlightening peace and miracles the first time we sit to meditate, but it can be hard not to fix on an idea of how we want to feel after it. The irony of having an idea or goal for the end feeling however is that you have already created an agenda. Another to do list if you will - meditate, feel better, tick!
The paradox here is that we know that these benefits come with regular meditation, but not by trying to make them happen.
Meditation is the art of accepting the response you get, not expecting the one you want.
Instead of fixing on your expectation, simply keep noticing what is there; the breath traveling through your nostrils, the normally unnoticed sounds in the room, your thighs on the chair. Some days this is harder than others, but as you keep noticing, one day you will notice how much easier it is.
Don’t try to empty your mind - “I can’t meditate, my head is too full”...sound familiar? Meditation is not the art of thinking about nothing! Another paradox; as soon as you think about not thinking anything, you are of course thinking about just that! Brains are active places and if yours is full, it’s doing its job! Starting meditation is really about deciding what to let your brain be busy with. The minutes when your brain is busy noticing how your body feels and how you feel today, or when you truly notice your surroundings and hear the soundscapes, these are the minutes when it learns a new way of thinking or feeling, and eventually with practice, these new options get hard wired in.
Remember, it is called mind-ful-ness, not mind-less-ness after all.
What if your mind wanders off? - Don't worry, it will. The trick here is simply not to get frustrated by it. Just by noticing that it has wandered off, you are back on track.
Explore - There are so many types of meditation, if one type doesn’t work for you don’t write off all types or all teachers. No matter how your mind works there is a type that works for you.
Consider finding a local teacher or even signing up to a workshop or retreat where you can deepen your practice, try more than one option and ask guidance from your teacher. Most of all remember that whilst there are many types there is no specific right or wrong way to meditate and science just keeps telling us that it’s well worth finding the way that works for you. Enjoy!
This article is the first in a series of meditation articles by Latitude Wellbeing. Part two explains deeper into the neurological and physical reasons to practice. If you would like to receive part two directly into your inbox please subscribe below.
Hayley is a Chartered Physiotherapist, Clinical Pilates and Yoga teacher in London and the South East. With a Masters in Neuroscience, she specialises in combining mindfulness, movement and rehabilitation in classes and 1:1 settings. If you have any questions or thoughts about meditation or any of Hayley's work, she would love to hear from you at Hayley@LatitudeWellbeing.com.