Meditation has a calming and relaxation effect on the body and the mind. It’s used for treating a number of psychological conditions such as PTSD, anxiety or depression. Meditation also improves memory and focus. In addition, being more calm and in control of your emotions will lead you to have better relationships with the people around you.
But what is meditation actually? Meditation is about learning how to sit still and empty the mind of distractions.
But to understand meditation, firstly we have to take a crash course into our minds. More specifically how our attention works. It is important to differentiate between peripheral awareness and attention. Peripheral awareness is everything you are perceiving. It is sort of a filter system for information. Attention on the other hand is what we place our focus on. It is the information that grabs our interest in the peripheral awareness and we ‘zoom in’ to find out more. This could mean focusing on what your friend is telling you in a busy café or reading a book on the train.
In meditation we firstly place the focus on our breath. That is where we will attempt all of our attention to go. Of course, your peripheral awareness is still active and you might notice different sounds, smells or sensations. The goal here is to let them pass, acknowledge them without placing too much of your attention on them and letting them go.
It’s all about increasing your ability to be mindful. Mindfulness in this case means the optimal interaction between attention and peripheral awareness.
And now to the fun part! Actually beginning the practice of mediation. Here's the Six-point Preparation for Meditation.
1. Fire up your motivation
Be honest with yourself about why you want to learn how to meditate. Keep this reason in mind will make it easier on you to follow through and sticking to a routine.
2. Set reasonable goals
The key here is keeping it simple. Aiming to do three-hour meditation sessions within your first week will most likely lead to disappointment. We want to feel happy and empowered after meditating. That’s what will help us in establishing a practice. Therefore, even a seemingly simple goal like “I will keep a positive attitude towards meditating” will help you in your practice.
3. Beware of expectations
Be kind with yourself and remember the only “bad” meditation session is the one you didn’t do.
4. Commit to diligence
This means engaging wholeheartedly in the practice. No judgement.
5. Review potential distractions
This point is really great. Do a quick check-in with yourself before you begin. What could distract you during your mediation? Anything from relationship trouble, work-related issues or worries about the future can take up mind space. Acknowledge them before your practice and set the intention to set them aside during your meditation. Even if they arise during the practice, these thoughts or emotions will become easier for you to handle.
6. Adjust your posture
Get comfortable. Your head, neck and back should be aligned and don’t be shy to use support to make yourself feel more comfortable. Try to keep your lips closed with your teeth slightly apart and breathe in through the nose. You might find it easiest to focus with your eyes closed. Minimize the physical distractions and relax & enjoy.
Easing into a meditation session can be done with a series of the following four steps:
Establish a relaxed awareness. Be present and try to focus on sensations rather than thoughts.
Keep being aware of the things around you but place your focus on your bodily sensations.
Focus on your breath. This might mean your belly or chest expanding with each breath and continue to be aware of everything else.
Focus on the air that’s being moved in and out of your nostrils and again, continue to be aware of everything else.
One of the things that might help you when you’re new to meditation is counting your breaths. Try to follow the sensation for ten breaths. Remember, never more than ten, never less than five. If you lose track, simply start over at one.
Overcoming consistency in meditation practise When we are starting out with meditation, consistency in practice will be one of the main challenges. Tip of the day for that problem? Make meditation your priority. The recommended time to meditate is about 15-20 minutes per day over the course of the first two to three weeks. See how you feel as time goes by. If you feel comfortable meditating longer some days, go for it. Just make sure you enjoy each session. This will make it easier for you to keep the habit and maintain the routine in the long-term.
One of the main challenges I’ve encountered with meditation after my first session was mind-wandering. I kept thinking and thinking until suddenly I realized I wasn’t focusing on my breath anymore. But this isn’t a bad thing. It’s a natural thing. And it’s not something that is entirely in your control, especially at the beginning.
One of my favorite things I’ve read in a book about meditation ‘The Mind Illuminated’ addresses exactly this issue. It says: “…. Inevitably, your mind will get distracted and drift away. As soon as you recognize this has happened, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you have remembered your intention to meditate, and give yourself an imaginary ‘pat on the back’. The tendency is to judge yourself and feel disappointed for having lost your focus, but doing so is counterproductive. Mind wandering is natural, so it’s not important that you lost your focus. Remembering and returning your focus to the meditation object is what’s important. Therefore, positively reinforce such behavior by doing your best to reward the mind for remembering.”
So when we do notice that our mind has wandered off and we realise that we should be mediating and focusing on the breath, we actually accomplish something pretty great. Experiencing this moment of introspective awareness is one of the early benefits of meditation. You simply become more conscious about what you are thinking.
What happens with time is that the time periods between the wandering of the mind and realizing you’re not focused, will get shorter and shorter. One of the ways you can help the process is enjoying the moment of “waking up”. Compliment yourself on realizing you weren’t present. Try to avoid being critical or annoyed. What self-criticizing will do is to teach your mind the association between the process that stops mind-wandering and your discouraging feedback.
Consistent, immediate positive reinforcement is far more effective than self-punishment. This is true for so many areas in your life, so let me repeat this again for the message to really sink it. Consistent, immediate positive reinforcement is far more effective than self-punishment.
We just learned what meditation is, how our attention works, six-point preparation for meditation and how mind wandering is actually natural part of any meditation session. Now it’s your turn to try it out for yourself.
So after reading this guide, do you think meditation is something you will try? Let us know your thoughts or experiences in the comments bellow.
I started meditating recently and have put together a video about the first 12 days of meditation. If you are curious about what meditation feel like, you can check it out here.
Bea is a writer, speaker, YouTuber and believer in the power emotional intelligence. With a background in psychology and business, Bea seeks to bring insights about psychology and emotional intelligence to the millennial generation in an entertaining way.