How to Get Started with a Meditation Practice
The rewards of a daily meditation practice are numerous and can be life changing. Scientific research findings into the benefits of meditation demonstrate that a daily meditation practice can lower blood pressure, increase one's sense of well being, increase ability to focus, relieve anxiety and stress, and promote the body's natural healing processes. Increasingly, psychotherapists recommend meditation to help clients with self-understanding, getting to know their inner emotional states, and learning to recognize and manage mood changes.
The science is encouraging, and articles and web sites touting the benefits of meditation appear everywhere. Yet, the idea of sitting quietly for even 15-20 minutes a day runs counter to our culture of busyness-where multitasking is a given. So we resist and justify that it is too hard. It can seem daunting to figure out how to meditate on one's own. I would like to expose some myths about meditation and offer some simple steps to help you get started on a practice of your own. Once you get started, you will be on an amazing journey of inner growth that can help guide you to live a more balanced and healthful life.
Myths about meditation.
Meditation is a religion. Some people express concern that to meditate you must have certain religious beliefs or become part of a religious system. This is not true. Meditation is the exploration of your inner world. It is about your direct experience of consciousness. Religions may apply meaning to the meditative experience, but it is a personal choice if you resonate with that religion.
Meditation is about stopping thoughts. Meditation is about observing all that is happening in our bodies and minds. It is not about stopping anything. It is learning to be accepting of our mental activity and noticing that we can watch our thoughts without getting caught up in them.
Meditation means going into some trance-like, spaced-out state. When we learn to meditate, we will experience many different feelings and emotions as we settle into being quiet with ourselves. Our minds are used to being very busy, thinking externally-not looking inward. When we take our attention away from the thoughts and look inward we can reach a quiet, still place within. The sense of stillness is alert and awake and can put us in touch with our natural energy and creative flow.
Meditation is hard. Like any new activity, when we start to meditate there can be resistance to making it a daily habit. Meditation is a natural process-once we set aside all of our concepts and fears-it is simple. We are reacquainting our selves with who we already are. We are discovering our consciousness that is aware of all our activity-mental, emotional and physical. One meditation can allow you to experience that sense of inner knowing, perhaps peace (if only for a second) that you will instantly recognize as the truest part of who you are.
How to get started with a meditation practice
Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Know that you are giving yourself a great gift-the gift of getting to know yourself more deeply and of connecting with consciousness. This is a powerful place that can be transformative in your life. Allow any feelings and thoughts that come. You may feel emotions, think all kinds of thoughts, your body may want to itch, twitch, and move. It is OK. Start to put more attention on the one that feels, senses, and thinks all of these things. Notice that the sensations all come and go. You as consciousness remain as the witness, as the awareness.
Take a seat. Set aside 15-20 minutes each day for your practice. First thing in the morning is a great time or mid-day or early evening-whatever works for you. Have a space for you to use for meditation. Most importantly, find a chair or cushion that will allow you to sit comfortably with your feet on the floor and your back straight. Support your back, if needed. Allow your hands to lay comfortable in your lap. Close your eyes. You can use quiet music for the background, if you wish.
Breathe. Relax your body and mind by taking a few deep breaths. Breathe through your nose and into your belly-in and out--for three breaths. Focus your attention on the breath as you breathe in and out. You may feel like stretching your body a little and relaxing more deeply into your chair.
Concentrate. It is helpful to focus the mind to help it settle down. The nature of the mind is to think and at first, it may be difficult to quiet the mind and have it feel relaxing. That is perfectly normal. To help the mind focus, you may want to continue to notice your breath gently going in and out of your nostrils as you sit. Some find it useful to light a candle and to gaze at the candle when meditating. Others, may find it useful to repeat a word or affirmation that has meaning for them.
Be curious and accepting. You may notice that you get frustrated, annoyed, scared of all of the thoughts. There are so many distractions! Again, with compassion and curiosity notice where the mind has taken you and gently bring your attention back to the breath or object or sound you are focusing on. In the beginning, you may feel that your mind and body are taking you on a wild ride. That is normal. You may fall asleep. Also normal. Keep accepting what is and do not judge yourself. With each moment, you are improving your awareness of your inner world. That is the beginning of meditation. You may notice some moments when you are completely present-where your attention is aware of itself and a sense of well-being, peace, spaciousness may be felt. This may also seem to come and go. Let it be so.
Ending the meditation. When you feel the meditation is over, gently bring feeling back into the hands and feet, stretching them and other parts of the body and then slowly opening your eyes to come back to the room. Be grateful to yourself for taking this time for self-discovery.
Get support. You may want to purchase a meditation CD to follow a guided meditation. There are many to choose from-Jon Kabat-Zinn, Eckhart Tolle, Andrew Weil, and thing in the morning is a great time or mid-day or early evening-whatever works for you. Have a space for you to use for meditation. Most importantly, find a chair or cushion that will allow you to sit comfortably with your feet on the floor and your back straight. Support your back, if needed. Allow your hands to lay comfortable in your lap. Close your eyes. You can use quiet music for the background, if you wish.
"To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer to the universe. I call it stillness, but it is a jewel with many facets: that stillness is also joy, and it is love." -Eckhart Tolle from The Power of Now
Pam McDonald, LCSW-C 301-712-9015,m Ext 1022
Pam offers a weekly mid-day meditation group every Thursday from 12-1 p.m. You are welcome to join us at any time.