How to Meditate
When we meditate, we inject far-reaching and long-lasting benefits into our lives: We lower our stress levels, we get to know our pain, we connect better, we improve our focus, and we’re kinder to ourselves. Let us walk you through the basics in our new mindful guide on how to meditate.
This is a guidebook to the many different styles of meditation, the various benefits of each practice, plus free guided audio practices that help you learn how to meditate.
How do you learn to meditate? In mindfulness meditation, we’re learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, and notice when the mind wanders from this task. This practice of returning to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness.
When we pay attention to our breath, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present moment—to anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement.
In mindfulness practice, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present moment—to anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement.
The idea behind mindfulness seems simple—the practice takes patience. Indeed, renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg recounts that her first experience with meditation showed her how quickly the mind gets caught up in other tasks. “I thought, okay, what will it be, like, 800 breaths before my mind starts to wander? And to my absolute amazement, it was one breath, and I’d be gone,” says Salzberg.
I frequently get queries on how to meditate so I thought it’ll be helpful to write an article on it and share with everyone. My intent for writing this post is to share what I’ve learned from my personal meditation practices. I’m not an expert in this area and my exposure to meditation thus far has been through personal lessons since there aren’t many people around me who have a habit to meditate.
Key Forms of Meditation
Since meditation is such an age old activity practiced by different religions and cultures, there has been a huge range of different meditation techniques developed and amassed over the years. To date, many books and articles have been written on this topic.
Below is a list of three key forms of meditation which encompasses majority of meditations today. Many popularized meditation methods such as the Jose Silva method and Se dona method fall under one of these forms. I once came across a meditation book which covered over 100 meditation techniques — but most of them were really just nuance variations of the below:
- Still Meditation or Mindfulness Meditation — Meditating by focusing your attention on an object or process, such as your breathing, a flame, a mantra, a visualization, music, etc. An open focus is maintained. This means even though you are concentrating on something, you keep an open awareness of everything else that is happening around you and inside your mind.
- Moving or Walking Meditation — Gaining awareness through using simple repetitive steps. Some examples are Tai Chi, yoga or even simple walking exercises.
- Concentration Meditation — This is usually practiced in religions. It is similar to mindfulness meditation with 2 differences (1) you concentrate on a religious prayer (2) you are required to maintain a closed focus where you close your awareness off from anything other than the prayer.
Brainwaves in Meditation
Most people use meditation to achieve the Alpha brainwave frequency — where deep relaxation occurs. It can also be used to access the other brainwave frequencies, especially through the aid of meditative music (read section below on meditative music). There are five different types of brainwaves: — Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. Note that our brain displays each type of wave every time, just that one of them tends to dominate at a certain consciousness.
- Gamma (100-38 Hz): This is when we encounter a situation of extreme stress and anxiety, leading us to transcend our typical activities and achieve peak performance. Think of the times when people perform incredible feats of behavior beyond their normal capacity- for example, a mother lifting a car to save her child, the underdog winning against overwhelming odds. People who play video games, such as Final Fantasy 7~8, will be able to associate this with limit breaks.
- Beta (38-15 Hz): This is our waking, conscious state and normal frequency we operate in. It’s characterized by logical, analytical ‘rational’ thinking and mental alertness.
- Alpha (14-8 Hz): Alpha state is the bridging state where the conscious mind meets the subconscious mind (between Beta and Theta) and the gateway to deeper levels of consciousness. It is a very tranquil, serene state — we get into this frequency when we are daydreaming and relaxed. Here, we retrieve information from our subconsciousness and experience intuitive guidance, creative ideas, and even epiphanies. As mentioned in Reason # 6 in 10 Reasons You Should Meditate, meditation provides you inspiration — through the Alpha state. Many famous people such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison have used the Alpha state to gain clarity and gain insightful solutions to problems which they could not solve in their conscious state.
- Theta (7-4 Hz): We shift to this frequency when we enter REM sleep. In this state, our subconscious mind is dominant and we enter into a trance state. This is a very expansive state of meditation — we can feel our mind expanding beyond physical boundaries — including our body.
- Delta brainwaves (3-0.5 Hz): The slowest of all brainwave frequencies, delta occurs when we are in extremely deep sleep. We are completely unconscious at this state. In this state, our physical healing is accelerated due to the trigger of the human growth hormone.
Meditation Guide: A Brief History Of Meditation
Although meditation is enormously popular, you may not have heard much about its origins. The word has its roots in the Latin term “meditatum”, which translates to “ponder.” But who first suggested the practice, and how did it evolve?
Ancient History Of Meditation
There is some compelling evidence suggesting the hunter-gatherer culture involved meditation, the earliest proper records that we have of meditative practices indicates that the history of meditation truly begins around 1500 BCE. In its earliest incarnations, it appears to have been part of early Hindu tradition in India. Over a thousand years later, it was also seen as part of Buddhist practices in India and Chinese Taoism. Meanwhile, interest in meditation was later cultivated in Western society first by Philo of Alexandria and later by Saint Augustine.
To fully grasp the history of meditation, it’s important to note the split that appeared in the Eastern traditions of Hindu and Buddhist meditation respectively. While Hindus believed that meditation could be used to essentially commune with God, the Buddhist perspective held that we could use the practice to better understand the interconnections between all things. It is this non-religious reading of meditation that is most commonly adhered to today, with people of all spiritual backgrounds considering it a plausible way to improve mental health, combat stress and induce feelings of calmness.
Modern Day Meditation
The modern perspective on meditation can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s, when medics and psychologists began to abandon the stigma associated with religious meditation and started to investigate the possible benefits in a healthcare setting (partly in conjunction with the development of hypnotherapy practices). As research continued, scientists found proof the meditation could reduce the physical signs and symptoms of stress.
Now, there are dozens of different types of meditation, ranging from mindful breathing to body scanning, creative visualization, and loving-kindness meditations.
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Benefits Of Meditation
As you probably know, the health benefits of meditation are incredibly wide-ranging. Once viewed as merely a way to gain calmness or perspective, it is now a suggested part of a whole host of different treatment programs.
A regular meditation practice can impact on both mental and physical health, and it can also take advantage of the most important links between the two.
We’ll explore the major positive effects of meditation below, with reference to some of the most exciting new research that proves how meditation impacts on the body and mind.
Physical Benefits Of Meditation
Scientists are constantly studying the physical benefits of meditation, but some of the most well-established include the following:
- Improvements to heart health by way of reduced blood pressure and lowered cholesterol. This means a concurrently reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes.
- Enhanced immune system function, including both better resistance to disease (e.g. cold and flu viruses) and better outcomes in cases of serious illness.
- Reduced physical symptoms of anxiety, such as numbness and tingling, tense muscles and panic attacks.
- Better athletic performance, with participants reporting spikes in concentration, balance, and flexibility. This is a benefit noted by both laypeople and professionals.
- More restful sleep, including a reduction in the time taken to fall asleep.
- Quicker and longer-lasting recovery from physical dependency on drugs or alcohol.
- Greater resilience when dealing with chronic pain (e.g. as part of a condition like arthritis or fibromyalgia).
- A potential reduction in age-related memory loss.
Spiritual Benefits Of Meditation
Since it seems that meditation first originated as a religious practice, it is unsurprising that it offers spiritual benefits. Even if you are agnostic or consider yourself an atheist, you can still have a fulfilling spiritual life. Some of the benefits of meditation in this respect include:
- An enhanced ability to put things into perspective, dismissing unimportant things and focusing on what matters.
- A greater sense of peace regarding one’s own, modest place in the universe (which in turn reduces the temptation to live an ego-driven life).
- A more well-defined sense of purpose, which informs relationships, career choice, and daily life.
- Heightened levels of compassion for others, and an associated ability to empathize with people owing to a new awareness of your basic similarities.
- A feeling of unity between the mind, body, and spirit, so that you are more “in tune” with your true self than you have ever been.
- A further feeling of unity between yourself, others, and the whole world around you. This is sometimes called “oneness.”
- Easier and more honest self-acceptance, especially when it comes to things that you cannot change about yourself.
- If you are religious, a sense of a deepening relationship with a higher power.
Mental Health Benefits Of Meditation
Meditation has recently received a lot of attention as a tool for coping with mental health issues and improving your emotional well-being. This is with good reason–the mental health benefits of daily meditation include the following:
- Connection with the present moment, at the expense of ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.
- Improvements in how you deal with stress, at work, and at home.
- Reduced feelings of anxiety (owing in part to reduced heart rate and respiration rate). Sufferers of PTSD report similar benefits.
- Enhanced ability to concentrate on what you want to focus on, dismissing racing or unproductive thoughts.
- Proven improvements in depression symptoms. In fact, meditation has been shown to be just as effective as medication when it comes to treating standard depression.
- Heightened emotional intelligence. This means that you can better identify what you’re feeling, accept it, and regulate it as needed.
- Relationship benefits, such as being more thoughtful and patient when in conflict with your partner.
- The potential to overcome phobias, including life-limiting fears (e.g. fear of flying, or fear of open spaces).
- Increased self-knowledge. This is partly because you spend more time on self-reflection, and partly because meditation involves honestly tuning in to who you are and what you feel.
Types Of Meditation
The benefits of meditation are fairly consistent, regardless of which type you practice. However, some personalities are better suited to some types than others, and some forms of meditation do place a particular emphasis on certain benefits. Your main choices include these forms of meditation…
TM aims to reach a state of enlightenment and deep calm. It focuses on disconnecting from negativity and counteracting the busy nature of everyday life.
Heart Rhythm Meditation
HARM emphasizes breathing and the repetition of a mantra that reminds you of your oneness with all things. It is said to promote joy as well as counteracting stress.
Kundalini focuses on boosting energy in the major areas of the body, and on entering an altered state of consciousness in which you gain a better perspective on yourself and your place in the world.
Guided Visualization Meditation
This type of meditation helps you envision a future goal so that it seems real to you, helping you to attain it.
Law of Attraction experts believe this form of meditation changes your vibration frequency, creating the reality you desire.
Meditation For Beginners: How To Meditate In 5 Steps
Meditation Step 1: Search For A Tranquil Environment
For successful meditation, you will require a quiet environment in which to practice.
Background noise, such as the television and radio, will cause distraction and disrupt your train of thought. Instead consider peaceful, tranquil and meditation friendly audio and music.
It’s also best to choose a fairly cool or warm area to meditate. Being too cold or too hot won’t allow you to concentrate, so make sure you’re in a suitable area where you won’t be disturbed.
Meditation Step 2: Sit Comfortably
To meditate, you’ll need to find a comfortable position in which to sit for ten to fifteen minutes. You don’t need to adopt a specific position if you are going to find it hard to adapt. Generally, the regular position for meditation is with crossed legs and hands on your lap. However, if you struggle with this at first, find a position you are comfortable with. Just ensure that you are not slouching.
Meditation Step 3: Breathe
Focusing on your breathing is an important process in meditation. However, you want it to be natural.
Start by closing your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Let it begin with shallow breaths, and just continue to breathe for a few minutes. Your intake of breath will become deeper as you progress. Take your time to breathe slowly as there is no need to force it.
TIP: You can learn more here about breathing techniques.
Meditation Step 4: Focus On Your Thoughts
Through deep breathing, you should feel more at ease. Once that happens, turn your focus to the actual process of breathing. Be conscious of each breath that you inhale and each that you exhale. It may take a while for your mind to fully focus on your breathing. Don’t worry if you struggle with your train of thought. It’s perfectly ok for your mind to wander onto other subjects. Simply let it drift and gently try to bring your attention back to your breathing.
It may be difficult to concentrate, whether you’re a beginner at meditation or not, however, as you start to continually practice, your attention should gradually improve. If you find it easier, then use numbers to ‘count’ your breathing. So, for instance, count one to inhale and two to exhale, and continue to repeat these numbers as you breathe in and out. This can be an effective way to get into the mindset of learning to meditate.
Meditation Step 5: Open Your Eyes
When you are ready to end your meditation, open your eyes. You should be in a calm and serene state.
Meditation Tips For Beginners
When you’re first learning how to meditate, it’s important to view it as a skill that you cultivate and strengthen over time. When you’re just getting started, use these meditation tips to enhance your practice…
- Keep an eye on your posture, ensuring your back is straight. This will help you focus, and infuse the practice with positivity.
- Try meditating first thing in the morning. This sets a wonderful tone for the rest of your waking hours and also takes advantage of the receptive state of your mind before the rush of the day begins.
- If you can’t relax into your meditation, try counting your breaths for a while. This will calm your thoughts, guiding the brain into a more focused state.
- Let thoughts drift by, rather than trying to stop them. It is natural to get distracted; the important thing is to gently refocus your mind as soon as you noticed that it has wandered.
- Meditate in silence if at all possible, in a quiet room. If there are background noises, try listening to some quiet instrumental music.
- Commit to meditating for at least a month. This will allow you to acquire the basic skills, and begin to see the real benefits it can bring.
You may want to explore other meditation techniques in the future, such as meditating while listening to soft music or other audio.