I was fortunate enough to learn how to meditate as a child, and, on and off, it has been part of my life ever since. I have been meditating now for probably about 25 years, and I am convinced that this simple practice, which I will explain below, has given me an ‘unfair advantage’ in almost every aspect of my life: my ability to concentrate, understand and absorb information, in reducing mental distress and anxiety, and in my personal life and relationships too. Not that I’m perfect, and not that meditation will definitely solve all your life’s issues – that’s not what I’m saying – but I think life would have been much much more difficult for me, and for many others, without meditation and the physical, mental and spiritual benefits it brings.
I’m going to give you an outline of the practice and underlying principles of what worked (and continues to work) for me, and has also worked for many people I have shared this with.
My experience is that if you continue to meditate for 10 minutes at the same time everyday for two weeks you will start to notice significant improvements in various aspects of your life
The first time you (properly) meditate
If you have never meditated before or have never had a regular meditation practice, there’s a chance you may not enjoy it the first few times, or that you may feel it is not working for you. This is often true whenever there is an attempt to change established habitual patterns.
For example, if you eat chocolate every night then you will likely meet psychological and physical resistance when you try to stop or change this habit. Most people are addicted to doing and thinking, and meditation is a full-frontal attack on both of these, so attempts at meditation also often meet both psychological and physical resistance.
If you enter a meditation practice with your eyes wide open and actually expect to experience both of these forms of resistance, you are already well on your way to succeed. So don’t let the resistance put you off – realise that it is part of the course, and continue to persevere with the practice. It is well worth the effort.
My experience is that if you continue to meditate for 10 minutes at the same time everyday for two weeks you will start to notice significant improvements and changes in various aspects of your life – your ability to sleep, your happiness and stress levels, your relationship to food, your energy levels and your capacity for perspective and insight into everyday matters. If you continue to do this daily for 1 month, the improvements become more significant.
If you enter a meditation practice with your eyes wide open and actually expect to experience both psychological and physical resistance to the practice, you are already well on your way to succeed.
That said, not everyone is the same, and the main thing I would say is for you to try to do some kind of formal practice everyday, regardless of what it is, with the aim of physical and mental relaxation. This essentially means sitting with a straight back, relaxing your muscles, allowing your breathing to naturally slow down, and allowing your thoughts to reduce in quantity and improve in quality.
Some background about these techniques
Although I have often gone long spells without meditation, I often find myself returning to some basic techniques. When I was a young child my mother initially taught me basic pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), and then sometime after this she introduced me to a basic meditation technique. I used to do pranayama every night for 10 minutes before I went to bed and then I spent another 10 minutes meditating after that if I felt like it. At some point I also learnt some very basic yoga asanas (poses/stretches) and learnt to regulate my breathing in these poses.
In this article I’m not going to go into pranayama or yogic asanas – feel free to look these up too though if your are interested as they will likely enhance your meditation practice. But the point I want to convey is that what I learnt was very basic. Nothing fancy, no frills, no secret techniques or ritualistic initiations – just basic technique. But basic doesn’t mean ineffective. I have found that the more basic techniques are often the most powerful, at least that’s what’s worked for me. Feel free to find what works for you and let me know in the comments below if and how your experience has differed from mine – I’d love to hear from you.
It’s also worth noting that whilst my mother had a strong spiritual inclination, I was taught this method in a fairly secular context – ie. I was told that this would be good for my physical and mental wellbeing, would improve my mental clarity, etc. It was a few years later as a teenager that I came upon all the spiritual aspects of meditation and started to explore these things more, and I think that these basic techniques formed a good base and grounding from which I was able to explore more subtle aspects of life and my experience of it.
There are various things you can do prior to meditation that will likely improve your meditation, which I will touch upon later on below. It is also advisable to meditate at the same location at the same time everyday in order to establish a ‘meditation habit’.
Now, without further ado, here is the basic method:
Sit comfortably with your back straight, either on a meditation cushion or chair, preferably with your knees lower than your hips which allows the back to naturally straighten.
Aim your gaze slightly down so that your chin is not too raised and position your head so that your nose is directly above your navel. This should allow for a straight upper part of your back.
Feel free to shuffle about your hips and roll your shoulders a few times so you feel comfortable.
Take a few deeps breaths and a few loud sighs to discharge any excess tension from the body
– You can meditate with your eyes open or closed, depending on what feels most comfortable for you.
– Gently allow your mind to focus on your breath and just notice the breathing. Don’t force anything, just gently direct your mind to your breathing.
– Allow you breath to naturally slow down. Don’t force anything, allow your breath to gently and naturally slow down.
– Allow yourself to feel happy and well (if you can). This is best done by relaxing and even smiling. Meditation is not meant to be a chore or hard work. So relax and enjoy. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come easy to start off – the more this is practiced, the easier it gets, and eventually it becomes second nature.
– If thoughts come, let them come. Just keep your mind on the breath which will take the energy away from the thoughts and they will naturally die down.
– If you get lost in thoughts, as you probably will from time to time (this happens to even experienced mediators all the time), then don’t worry, relax and come back to the breath.
– If you become frustrated or have some other feeling, then allow these feelings in. There is no need to forcibly push them away. Allow them to arise, and when you are ready come back to the breath.
– If you are able to do just this, then stay here, just follow the breath.
– If this is difficult for you then try one of two suggestions:
1) repeat a mantra such as the word ‘Om’ or the sound ‘Ahh’. Just repeat the work on every out-breath. This can be done by a verbal repetition out loud or an internal mental repetition. Try both and see which you feel more comfortable with. This forms an additional focus of attention and can allow for easier concentration and deepening of the meditation.
2) alternatively you can count the breaths. I recommend counting each out breath. Count a single 1 count for each breath up to 5, then for the next 5 breaths count back down to 1. If you lose your concentration or otherwise get distracted from counting breaths, then start again from 1.
The basic principles of this meditation are:
– relax, relax, relax
– remember to enjoy it – focus your attention but don’t stress and force it too much
– allow thoughts and sensations but don’t give them energy – instead focus on the breath.
– if there are strong thought patterns or feelings/sensations, then don’t try to fight them. Allow them to come in, be mindful of them, and when you can, come back to the breath when it feels right.
– if you lose concentration feel free to open your eyes or have a little stretch, but get back to the practice asap.
How to have a ‘better meditation session’
If you have trouble meditating, then try one or all of the following before your meditation practice:
-take a brisk walk or do some light exercise prior to meditation
-do 3-5 minute of chanting. If you don’t know what to chant, try chanting ‘Om’ or the sound ‘Ahh’ on every outbreath
-do some light stretches or a basic hatha yoga practice
-learn some basic relaxation breathing techniques or basic yogic pranayama and do these at the start of your meditation session
-do a ‘body sweep’ to consciously relax all the muscles in your body prior to meditation. Do this by allowing yourself to relax and then, starting at the top of your head, mentally go through all the parts of the body and consciously relax them. Places tension are often held are in the forehead, jaw, neck and shoulders.
Taking your practice further – spiritual enlightenment
There are many reasons people meditate – for improved mental health and intellectual functioning, for better sleep, to improve relationships, to improve problem-solving abilities, etc.
Of course there can also be a spiritual aspect to meditation. If this interests you there are many ways to take this forwards. One way is to gradually extend the meditation time to at least 30 minutes per day. Please explore this website which has many articles or attend one of my group meetings or contact me for a one to one if you wish.
Here are some other articles that may be of interest to you:
One size does not fit all
Remember, one size does not fit all, so try the above out, but find out what works for you. Above all, keep a regular practice, even if it is only 10 minutes per day, and listen to your heart.