How to Start Meditating

Meditation is practiced for a many reasons. Some people practice it to relieve or control stress and anxiety. Others wish to gain a greater awareness of their own self and the environment around them or they practice for religious or spiritual reasons. And still others practice meditation to relieve and control physical pain.

One ‘aim’ of meditation that comes from a Buddhist perspective says that meditation helps us gain a better understanding of our nature. This can be physically, mentally, or spiritually, and this happens by mindfully observing how we perceive what we take in through our senses. One is observing our observations you may say.

Many people who wish to start meditating do not know how to begin. I will address this question today. Meditation is an intensely personal experience, and what works for one may not work for the other. Recognize this when beginning your mediation practice. If something is not working for you, try something else. Find a technique that works for you, so you may begin your practice. Later in your practice, when you want to push yourself further, you can revisit techniques that did not work for you. Do not dismiss a technique forever if it did not work for you the first time. There are good reasons for the many techniques of meditation. Sometimes people find tremendous benefit from a technique that did not work well for them at the beginning of their practice.

One of the simplest techniques to begin meditating with is referred to as ‘just sitting’. The technical name is Zazen. It is practiced as follows:

  • Find a comfortable place to sit where you will not be disturbed by people or electronics. You can sit in a chair or cross legged on the floor. Make sure you are comfortable but sitting with good posture. Rest your hands on your lap and close your eyes. Begin breathing deeply. Get this into a natural breathing rhythm. Focus on your breath. When a through enters your mind, acknowledge it. Let it pass and turn your focus back to breathing.

Thoughts will come into your mind. This is natural and inevitable. Acknowledge the thoughts and let them pass. Do not become angry or frustrated.

Start by doing this technique for only ten minutes. Feel free to add more time if you feel this is too short. Practice once or twice a day every day.

A variation of the Zazen meditation technique is to do it with music. Calming music is your best bet (obviously!), and there are numerous cds and websites that will provide this type of music. I find some types of classical music work well.

Visiting a local meditation group can be very helpful when it comes to guided meditation and learning and trying new techniques. Social interaction is also very good for our minds. You may make some new friends.

You can find local meditation groups by doing a simple Google search. Some search terms to try include, ‘zen meditation group’, ‘Buddhist meditation group’, ‘life bliss foundation weekly satsangs’, and ‘eckhart tolle silent groups’. Be sure to do these searches with your locality in the search term. You can also join the website MeetUp.com and search ‘meditation’ for your local area. Be sure to do these searches with your locality in the search term.

One final technique to mention are recorded guided meditations. These can be found on the internet or for sale at many brick and mortar or eCommerce retailer. There are many to choose from. Some popular recordings have been done by Deepak Chopra and Nithya Dhyan. These are only a few. Check out some online forums or ask your friends that meditate for recommendations.

When you start a meditation practice, it is important to approach it with patience and the understanding that consistency will pay off. If you are having trouble in your practice, reach out to others that can help. Those that can help can be found in the places I recommend above or by turning to the meditation community on the internet.

More on Meditation for Health

It was only last week that I wrote on meditation for health, but I just came across a great article on the topic posted on MIT’s website. My previous post talked about the mental and physical benefits of practicing meditation. The article I found is about MIT and Harvard neuroscientists studying the human brain in order to figure out exactly why meditation helps tune out distractions and relieves pain.

The MIT and Harvard scientists discussed in the previously mentioned article were motivated by studies showing that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in those who suffer from chronic pain. The underlying biological processes that produced relief were not clear, so these scientists decided to try and uncover the biological mystery at hand.

The study of these MIT and Harvard neuroscientists was published online on April 21 of 2011. It was published in the journal Brain Research Bulletin. A link to the abstract and outline can be found by clicking the following link: Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex.

The basic finding of this study, which followed people over an 8 week period who were trained to meditate, found that these people were better able to control a specific type of brain wave called alpha rhythms.

But so what—what does this mean to us laypeople. The alpha waves help us suppress irrelevant or distracting sensory information. The meditation training makes you better at focusing and therefore, regulating how things will arise and affect you. In other words, those that meditate have more mind control.

This study was small. There were 12 people recruited who had never before meditated. Half were in the control group that did no meditating. The other half were trained in a 2 ½ hour session and then instructed to meditate every day for 45 minutes. They used guided meditations played on CDs for their daily sessions.

Something that I failed to mention in my previous meditation article was the availability and value of guided meditation CDs and such. These are great tools for all levels of practice. They are especially great for beginning meditation practitioners as they take away part of the worry and stress of “how do I do this”.

In case you had not guessed, the researchers did brain scans of the subjects. The scans were performed before the study began, three weeks after the start date, and at the end of the 8 week study period. One researcher was quoted as saying that practicing meditation helps people to turn down the volume on pain signals. This is a great way to think about what is biologically happening.

In closing, the study group that meditated reported feeling less stress that the non-meditating group. This is a little proof that meditation allows you to handle the stresses of daily life better. The researchers that conducted the study want to follow-up by studying patients who actually suffer from chronic pain and cancer patients. Both of these groups have been shown to benefit from meditation. It will be interesting to hear about the underlying biological processes uncovered by the MIT and Harvard researchers.

Meditation for Health

Meditation can get the ol’ hippie stereotype from a lot of people. This is unfortunate because there are proven benefits to the practice. Meditation is usually not what you picture when you hear the word. In fact meditation is practiced by billions of people around the world and especially in the east.

One of the reasons I find meditation so powerful is the fact that it is the practice of controlling the mind. Working to control your mind has a lot of different benefits. The benefit I like the most is the reduction of stress.

Practicing meditation also doesn’t have to be an involved, hippie like process. Sometimes you can just meditate when you have a few minutes of free time. When I lived in Thailand, I would see Thai people stop at a park or other sitting area on their way to work for a bit of meditation. It simply consisted of sitting quietly, sometimes with eyes closed, and relaxing.

Many people in American would say taking the time to meditate is not productive. Scientific evidence that this is just not true has been making its way into peer reviewed publications over the past decades. Anectdotal evidence is everywhere as well. I have found that meditation increases my ability to focus for extended periods of time and reduces my stress. This makes me far more productive and, I suspect, gives me a great return on investment (ROI) in terms of time spent meditating to the increase of productivity in my daily life.

Meditation is not always as easy as it looks though. Beginners can often become frustrated and wonder if they are doing it right. We often hear that we are supposed to clear our minds and focus on one thing or have no thoughts when meditating. This is not exactly accurate. The practice of acknowledging our thoughts when they come and sending them quickly on their way is one aspect. Like any other practice in life, this takes time to master. You have to practice your meditation.

Let’s go over a few tips for beginners. You have to make meditation a consistent priority to get its full effects. Set aside time every day to practice. Practice your breathing. It all starts there. You will find lots of advice on meditation techniques through a Google search or YouTube search.

Notice when you become frustrated. This frustration is common for beginners. Acknowledge your feelings and let them go. If you are having problems doing this, do not worry. You will get better as you practice more.

Remember to experiment. There are many types of meditation. Find the ones that work for you. If you feel like you are in a rut, experiment with a new meditation style. Experiment with a new style of meditation to keep your practice fresh. There are many techniques out there and a lot of knowledge.

Read some books on meditation. Internet resources are great, but there are many great texts on the subject as well. Do some research and get a few of these texts. They will help open you up to new techniques and provide tips on taking your practice to the next level.

Meditating in the morning is wonderful. Try it. Do not hesitate to try meditating during different times of the day though. Try not to stress about your practice. Just do it. Be conscious of your progress or lack thereof. Learn about ways to progress. If your interest in meditation starts to go away, then practice more and learn a new technique. Learn the discipline it takes to get a great meditation practice going.

If you have never tried to meditate, give it a go. It is a great way to reduce stress and increase productivity. If you are already meditating, keep it up.