Goals of Meditation - Decrease Stress, Increase FocusMeditation can benefit everybody differently. Your own personal benefits will manifest in forms that are unique to you. Those discoveries are all part of the journey, and you may even find that meditation can take to you places you didn’t even know existed. In general, some benefits you can expect to experience from meditation are:
- Reduced stress
- Emotional awareness
- Higher levels of focus
- Heightened sensory experiences
- Increased concentration
The BasicsSo you’ve thought about meditation and have done some preliminary research. You may have read about other people’s personal journeys, the different types of benefits you can achieve, or even come across the countless disciplines or schools dedicated to meditating. Remember: it’s perfectly normal to meet resistance in the early stages of your practice. Be realistic with your goals and do not expect to have life-changing meditation experiences overnight. Your mind is a muscle. Start slowly and steadily so as not get discouraged. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure of where to begin, do not despair. Many traditional forms of meditation begin in the exact same way, and you can start practicing with very little study or preparation. The steps below outline a very basic meditation practice. Begin with these for a few weeks and see how it suits you:
- Sit comfortably. Choose a chair, the floor, or even a cushion. Just make sure you are comfortable – keeping your back straight is a great trick to center your body.
- Set a timer. For beginners, we recommend starting with 10 minutes per session.
- Breathe deeply through your nose. After a few breaths, slowly close your eyes and continue breathing.
- Focus on the physical sensations. Think about how your chest feels as it swells and falls with each breath. How do your feet feel on the floor? Do you feel the air around you pressing on your skin?
- Count your breaths as they rise and fall until the timer rings. When you reach 10 breaths, start back at the beginning. This will give your mind something simple to focus on and prevent distractions.
Different Methods of Meditation - Which is Right For Me?As you continue your meditation journey, you will undoubtedly come across different meditation styles and techniques. Many beginners report feelings of uncertainty and indecision when it comes to following a specific approach or school of thought: "Should I be practicing mindfulness meditation or spiritual meditation?" "Does yoga have anything to do with this?" "Why am I not feeling the famous 'Zen' everyone keeps talking about?" "Do I need to be religious to meditate?" There is one simple answer to any concerns you may be having about meditation: the best form of meditation is the one that you enjoy doing and fits your individual goals. There really is no “correct” path for you to take. Part of the fun of meditation is experimenting with different techniques and discovering which ones you prefer. No method is objectively better than another; think of them as different roads all leading to the same house. Below are a few popular methods of meditation:
This is a basic meditation practice1 we outlined above. We won’t go through the steps again, but if you are looking to start simple and develop core meditation principles, this is the place to start. Focusing on the body and breath will gently reel in your noisy mind and make you aware of the brain’s tendency to jump from one thought to another. And that’s okay! Meditation is not just relaxing, it’s about acknowledging your thoughts and accepting their presence.
Time Required: As little as 10 minutes per day.
Common Mistake to Avoid: Frustration. Beginners may have difficulty recognizing their progress, which leads to disappointment. Keep at it! Every time you meditate, you become more in tune with your mind and body. Remember: you wouldn’t see huge results after lifting weights only once. Combat your initial disappointment with dedication and discipline.
Body scan meditation encourages a greater sense of intimacy with the physical sensations of the body.2 It increases your awareness of touch and inspires a curiosity about the body. Over time, you will be able to identify areas of stress or tension in your body and make the necessary adjustments to relax.
How to Do It: Get into a comfortable position. Sitting on a chair with your back straight is a great place to start, or you can even try body scanning while lying flat on your back. Close your eyes as you begin to breathe deeply. If you are in danger of falling asleep, close your eyes halfway! That’s perfectly fine – use a posture that is totally comfortable for you. As you continue breathing, concentrate on the physical sensations happening with your body. Notice your body against the chair, or the sensation of the floor pressing back against your body. Begin the “body scan” when you are feeling relaxed. Imagine you are studying your entire physical body from top to bottom. Start with the top of your head and slowly move downward. Is there any tension in your face? Stress in your jaw? Take note of these as you scan downward and make small adjustments to ease any tension. Notice your neck and throat. Soften the muscles and allow your shoulders to relax. Continue the mental scan down through your arms. Your hands. Your stomach. Feel the sensations and relax accordingly. Concentrate on your thighs. Your legs, then your ankles, then your feet. Focus on the body parts as individuals. Finally, take notice of your body as a whole. Breathe deeply and slowly open your eyes.
Time Required: About 20 minutes
Common Mistake to Avoid: Getting stuck on one part of the body. Make sure you complete a full scan, even if you have a particularly annoying itch or area of discomfort. Similar to the technique of acknowledging your thoughts without labeling them as positive or negative, just recognize the sensations happening within your body and move through the scan. This trains your mind to observe negative thoughts or sensations from afar, reducing their importance and impact on your mind.
When you think of the typical meditation pose or comic portrayal, you may already know about mantra meditation – it is commonly portrayed with the “Om” sound.3
Mantra meditation has become increasingly popular and is widely practiced. It involves the repetition of a chant, word, or phrase to create vibrations throughout the body. A popular mantra is “Shanti,” which means “peace” in Sanskrit.4
How to Do It: Think of a word, prayer, or phrase you would like to use for your mantra. You will want to choose a mantra with only a few syllables so it can be easily repeated. Sit comfortably in a chair or on a cushion and begin with several deep breaths. Slowly close your eyes as you begin to relax. Repeat your mantra in a slow and even tone. Concentrate on the sound you are producing and how it aligns with your body. If necessary, speak half of your mantra while you inhale and the other half while you exhale. Focus on the vibrations caused by your voice and allow the vibrations to travel throughout your body. As you progress through your session, gradually lower the volume of your voice until you are simply mouthing your mantra with your lips. Next, work towards repeating your mantra internally without making any sound or movements at all. Continue your meditation and return to your mantra when outside thoughts occasionally surface.
Time Required: At Least 20 Minutes
Common Mistake to Avoid: Improper Breathing. You may have your heart set on a particular phrase or prayer. However, if reciting your mantra is interfering with your breath control, you may want to choose something simpler. Your mantra does not need to be an actual word or phrase; sometimes sounds are the best choice.
This meditation is unique to Zen Buddhism. Like most meditation techniques, it requires concentration on the breath and the focus on the present moment.
Zazen meditation translates to “seated meditation,” so you must be in a comfortable seated position to practice this method.5
How to Do It: Begin with some light stretching. Since this technique relies heavily on the posture of the body, increasing your flexibility will prevent pain from creeping in during your sessions if you are not used to sitting in these positions. Get into a stable position. This practice requires seating, so investigate the many forms and positions to decide which is best for you. Hold your head in a comfortable position that is free of any tension or stress. Tucking in your chin helps align your neck and back. Beginners can start with a simple cross-legged position. If you are more flexible, you can try the half-lotus or full-lotus positions which involve placing your feet above or underneath the opposite thigh. Focus on your breath and the physical sensation of your body. You should not feel any pain or tightness because of your posture. If you do, do not be afraid to engage in a more relaxed position. Maintain your position without straining and continue your breathing routine for your predetermined amount of time.
Time Required: At Least 10 Minutes
Common Mistake to Avoid: Bad posture. Begin with a simple seated position and then only attempt advanced techniques after you become comfortable with sitting for longer periods of time.
Mental Noting Meditation
Mental noting is not necessarily a standalone meditation technique. Rather, it is a helpful tool which can increase your focus. It is similar to counting your breaths during mindfulness breathing – making simple mental notes about your present experience can aid in awareness. Mental noting “takes inventory” of your current sensations and emotional state.
How to Do It: If you find your concentration slipping away from you during your meditation routine, begin applying short and simple mental notes to the present moment. For example: “In…out…in…out…” is a simple label you can apply to your breaths as they enter and leave your body. When physical sensations distract your attention, you can apply notes such as “tingling,” “itching,” or “soreness.” Recognize the sensations and apply a note to cross them off your mind’s list. Labeling your sensations provides a sense of detachment, and the goal is to eventually be able to keep your mental notes to the equivalent of a whisper in your mind.
Time Required: As long as you are performing your chosen type of meditation.
Common Mistake to Avoid: Thinking too much about which words to use. You should not exert any mental focus into making accurate mental notes. For example, do not debate whether the sensation in your left arm is more of a “burning” or a “tingling.” The word itself does not necessarily matter. You can even label all your sensations as either a “yes” or “no” if you are having difficulty focusing.
What Will I Experience During Meditation?If you have some experience under your meditation belt, it is common to wonder whether you are reaching your full potential. Although everyone’s experiences will differ, there are some common benchmarks many people describe. When reflecting on your own meditation progress, think about these experiences as you develop your technique:
Time: As you advance your meditation skills, you may notice more time passing in each session without your even realizing it. If you are not using a timer to designate a stopping point, you may sometimes notice that 20 or 30 minutes have passed when you only planned on meditating for 10. This is a great indicator of progress in your meditation journey.
Relaxation: As we’ve discussed, your starting posture plays an important role in your meditation practice. If you are finding difficulty in maintaining a straightened back or a lifted chin, do not immediately despair. It could be a sign that you are doing all the rights things and making your body too relaxed! Gently take note of your experience and make adjustments accordingly, but do not take these adjustments as signs of failure or incorrect technique.
Sensory Experiences: After some time, your routine experience with meditation may begin to change. In addition to all the wonderful feeling of relaxation and awareness, you may begin to experience visions of lights or patterns in your subconscious. This is a sign that you’ve entered deeper into your subconscious. While these extra-sensory moments are undoubtedly beautiful, try not to focus or dissect them at the moment as this may distract you from your progress.
Reduced Stress: Your meditation skills may carry over into other areas of your life without you even knowing. If you notice a decrease in stress and tension, your brain might be viewing or perceiving problems from afar – just like when you meditate!What once seemed difficult or worthy of anxiety may now only be a passing thought. You’ve been lifting “brain weights” this whole time and this is a reward for your efforts. We hope this guide will be useful in showing you that although the practice of meditation may seem difficult from the outside, it can be broken down into steps that are simple to comprehend. Meditation can be practiced in many ways, and there are certainly many more techniques than those outlined above. Tell us in the comments what methods you will be starting with as you begin your meditation journey!