Meditation was originally used for spiritual growth, to become more open to and aware of the holy and the guiding presence of the holy. Today, though, meditation has become a valuable tool even for those people who do not consider themselves religious. It can be a source of peace and quiet in a world that is seriously lacking in both.
It can be used for healing, emotional cleansing and balancing, deepening concentration, unlocking creativity, and finding inner guidance.
When you begin your meditation, put your expectations aside, and don't stress out about the 'right' way to do it. There are many ways to meditate and there are no fixed criterion for determining right meditation. What works for you is the right method for you. And finding out what works may require some experimentation and adjustments. I list a number different approaches below.
There are, however, a few things to avoid when you start meditating:
Don't try to force something to happen.
Don't over-analyze the meditation
Don't try to make your mind blank or chase thoughts away
Remember, there is no one "right" way to meditate. Just concentrate on the process and find the best way for YOU!
To start meditating, choose a time and a place where you won't be disturbed. That in itself may seem like an insurmountable task. Unless you are a hermit, there are probably people in your life demanding your time and attention. You may want to tell these people that you will help them find their socks, get the gum out of their hair, listen to their rants about the people at work, or whatever AFTER you've had a few minutes of peace and quiet. Let them know that this is something that you need to do for yourself but they will also benefit because you will be more relaxed, more energetic, and more loving.
When you are starting out, you only need 10 or 15 minutes for your meditation session. This is plenty of time when you are beginning and it may well be that this is all the time that you feel you can pry out of your busy schedule for yourself. That's fine – it's much better to spend a few minutes a day meditating than to put it off completely.
Over time, you may find your meditation time so beneficial that you want to increase the amount of time you spend in a meditative state. That's completely up to you. A good goal is to work up to two 20 minutes meditation sessions each day. Research has shown that spending this amount of time meditating leads to better health and can help reduce the stresses and strains of daily life.
The process is helped if you can make it a habit to meditate at about the same time each day. Some people find that meditating first thing in the morning works for them. Other people meditate last thing at night before going to sleep. There is no exact time that is best for everyone. Whatever works for you is good! Just make sure that you practice on a regular basis.
The actual place where you decide to meditate is again up to you. A few people set aside a room in their house as their meditation room but if you're just starting out, that's probably a bit too extreme. Instead, you may decide to meditate in your bedroom, the lounge, the kitchen or even the garden – wherever you are least likely to be disturbed. It is, of course, better if you don't try to meditate in the living room while the rest of the family is watching TV. Other than that the exact place where you meditate doesn't matter – it's much more important that you actually start practicing meditation.
If you find that the original place you chose isn't working for you, don't be afraid to change it. The same goes for the time and the method that you chose. The ultimate benefit of meditation far exceeds the precise method of meditation that you use to reach the benefit.
One of the easiest ways to start meditating is to use a guided meditation. This is a CD or MP3 that contains all the instructions you need to achieve a state of meditation. All you need to do is to find somewhere that you won't be disturbed, sit or lie down and play the audio file. Soundstrue.com has many such guided imageries as well as meditation music.
There are many different types of meditation. We'll cover some of the more common types below but if none of these suit you, you'll find many more to explore on the internet. Feel free to experiment with some of the different types of meditation explored below until you find one that works well for you.
Centering is meditation in action. Within you is a space that is always calm and at peace. This space is often referred to as your "calm center." Being centered means remaining in your calm center amidst the busyness of everyday life. Being centered means not allowing your inner light to be overshadowed by stressful circumstances or negative thoughts and emotions.
When you are centered, you are in a state of clarity, focus, peace, and balance. When you are not centered, you are unclear, unfocused, stressed, and off balance.
A good centering technique will require only minimal attention, allowing you to keep some of your attention on the activity at hand such as washing dishes, folding laundry, or gardening. Be aware, though, that your family may be more tempted to interrupt if they see you doing something. Just explain to them that you are also meditating and that unless they want to help you do dishes, fold laundry, or garden, they should leave you alone for a few minutes. Here are some quickie centering techniques.
Simple Breath Awareness
While involved in whatever you are doing, bring some attention to your breathing for just a few moments … it needn't be your full attention … just enough to bring you back to your calm center. Breathe naturally, or perhaps just a little more slowly and deeply.
Reclaiming Your Energy
When you are feeling stressed and scattered, take several slow, deep breaths. With each in-breath, imagine you are pulling all of your scattered energy and attention back to your inner self … your calm center.
This centering technique combines breath awareness with the phrase or mantra, "Let go." It is especially helpful when you are tense and / or fixating on a stressful situation or a negative thought or emotion. As you inhale, say (silently or aloud), "Let". As you exhale, say "go" … while letting go of all that is stressing you.
This remarkably easy and relaxing meditation makes use of a little-known secret about the eyes. Allowing the eyes to rest in a soft downward gaze has an instant, automatic relaxing effect.
Relaxation meditation provides a great deal of stress reduction and can be used as a quick 2 minute relax and refresh break almost anywhere (but not while driving). You will also realize a heightened sense of alertness.
Sit comfortably with your spine reasonably straight.
Allow your eyes to rest comfortably downward, gazing softly, but not focused on anything.
Without closing your eyes completely, let your eyelids drop to a level that feels most comfortable.
Continue gazing downward … the act of gazing is your primary focus (rather than the area at which you are gazing). You may notice your breathing becoming more rhythmic.
It's OK to let your attention drift a bit. If your eyes become very heavy, it's OK to let them close.
If you notice you've come out of your relaxed space, simply bring your attention back to your relaxed downward gaze.
In this meditation, you will be focusing on your breath. This is probably one of the easiest methods of meditation to begin with.
Start by adopting a comfortable position. When you sit to meditate, sit comfortably, with your spine reasonably straight. This allows the spiritual energy to flow freely up the spine, which is an important aspect of meditation. Leaning against a chair back, a wall, headboard, etc. is perfectly all right. If, for physical reasons, you can't sit up, lay flat on your back. Place your hands in any position that is comfortable.
Once you're comfortable, close your eyes.
Start to notice your breathing. We breathe so often that we tend to take breathing for granted. So take the time to notice your breathing.
Notice the air filling your lungs.
Then notice as you breathe out and the air leaves your lungs. Repeat the process of noticing your breath.
As you do this, you'll find thoughts coming up. They might be about family, friends, work or absolutely anything else. That doesn't matter – it's all part of the process and it is perfectly normal to continue to have thoughts whilst you are meditating.
But once these thoughts come up, let them drift out with your next breath. Each time your thoughts drift, bring your mind back to focusing on your breathing.
If you find it difficult to sit still and keep your eyes closed whilst meditating, then walking meditation could be good for you.
There are four components to a walking meditation:
Becoming aware of your breathing
Noticing your surroundings
Being conscious and attentive to your body's movement
Taking some time to reflect on your meditation experience
Become aware of your breathing in much the same way as you would for the breathing meditation process. Notice each breath as you breathe in and then breathe out again.
Become conscious of the air filling your lungs and use each exhalation to send out any distracting thoughts.
When you start noticing your surroundings, you'll likely be amazed. We take lots of things for granted in our everyday life and much of what is around us goes completely unnoticed. When you are walking around, notice the different colors that you see.
Don't just notice colors. Listen for sounds. There may be bird song, road noise or the chatter of people or animals. Consciously tune in to these different sounds. Notice the different tunes sung by the birds.
If you are in an urban area, pay attention to the different traffic noises. Each car's engine sounds slightly different. So does the sound of wheels on the different street surfaces. You'll find yourself hearing things that have merely passed you by before.
There are also smells to fill your senses. Maybe the aroma of freshly mown grass or the sweet smell that occurs just after a shower of rain. There are plenty of smells in the atmosphere and the chances are that most of these have slipped past your consciousness.
Tune into your body's movement. Start to notice the light pressure on the soles of your feet as you walk. Be aware of the air brushing your skin, whether it's a calm day or a windy one. Pay attention to your body's movement as you walk around. Feel how your arms swing. Notice how you hold your head – is it upright and attentive or a different position? Switch your attention to different body parts as you are walking and you'll be fascinated at what you find.
Once you've completed your walking meditation, take a small amount of time to come back to your normal world. During this period, mentally run through your thoughts and feelings that you experienced during your meditation time. Think what you can do to enhance your experience even further next time you choose to do a walking meditation.
Gradually come back from your peaceful site to your regular world.
Universal Mantra Meditation
This meditation comes from an ancient Indian text called the Malini Vijaya Tantra, which dates back about 5000 years. It is a very easy meditation, yet very powerful in its capacity to quiet your mind and connect you with your Essence or Inner Spirit.
This meditation uses a mantra as your object of focus. A mantra is a word or phrase that has the power to catalyze a shift into deeper, more peaceful states of awareness. The mantra most use for this meditation is: Aum. Aum does not have a literal translation. Rather, it is the essential vibration of the universe. If you were to tune into the actual sound of the cosmos, the perpetual sound of aummm is what you would hear.
Although this mantra is sometimes chanted aloud, in this meditation, you will be repeating the mantra mentally … silently.
Before we get to the actual steps, there are a few important points to be aware of:
One of the keys to this meditation is repeating the mantra gently or faintly in your mind.
The power of this technique comes from letting go and allowing your attention to dive into the deeper realms of awareness.
Therefore, even though you will be focusing on the mantra, staying focused on the mantra is not the aim of this meditation.
Trying too hard to stay focused would keep your attention from descending into the deeper realms. Instead, you will be repeating the mantra with "minimal effort", and giving your mind the space to wander a bit.
Resist the temptation to make something happen, and allow the mantra to do the work.
This meditation easily produces a shift into deeper, more peaceful states of awareness. (The degree of this will vary from session to session.) It increases the flow of energy to the brain and clears away a good deal of physical and emotional toxins.
Because of this detoxification, it is best to keep this meditation to 10 or 15 minutes a day when first beginning. After a month or so, it can be increased to 20 minutes, but that should be the maximum for anyone who does not have quite a few years of meditation experience. Also, it is advisable to drink a lot of pure water.
Finally, mantra meditation accelerates spiritual growth as you achieve a state of relaxation and self-awareness.
Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight.
Begin repeating the mantra gently in your mind.
Repeat the mantra at whatever tempo feels most natural. There is no need to synchronize the mantra with your breathing, but if this occurs naturally, it's ok.
Allow the mantra to arise more faintly in your mind … repeating it with minimal effort.
Continue repeating the mantra faintly, and allow for whatever happens.
If at any time, you feel that you are slipping into a sleep-like or dream-like state, allow it to happen.
If and when you notice that your attention has drifted completely off the mantra, gently begin repeating it again, and continue with minimal effort.
After 10 or 15 minutes, stop repeating the mantra, and come out of your meditation slowly.
After any meditation technique, allow yourself a moment to savor the sense of floating and calm that surrounds you. Take a deep breath, gird your loins (figuratively), and venture forth into your daily rounds with renewed energy and a deep sense of peace.