There are lots of different ways that you can learn about meditation. Whichever way you decide to use, the best thing to do is to dive straight in and begin to learn about meditation.
Whilst we tend to expect to pick things up immediately, almost all the things we take for granted took a while to learn. You didn’t start walking as soon as you were born – it takes a lot of trial and error to perfect the art of walking upright. The same goes when you start to learn about meditation. Whatever subject you choose to learn about meditation (or anything else) for that matter you shouldn’t expect to pick up everything at the first session when you begin to learn about meditation.
That said, the method I personally use to learn about meditation is designed to work without any training or practice. It just involves listening to a specially designed MP3 file.
These MP3 files are designed to bring on the correct brainwave frequencies and make the process you use to learn about meditation super-simple. I figured there had to be a simple way for me to learn about meditation, otherwise I just wasn’t going to get round to doing it. Partly because I’m lazy and partly because I just didn’t have the time to learn about meditation in the more traditional ways.
Different Ways To Learn About Meditation
A local meditation class works well for a lot of people as their preferred way to learn about meditation. You have the support of other people, many of whom will recently have been through the same learning experience as you are about to start. You’ll also need to pick a meditation class that fits with your intended method of meditation, which may restrict the places and times that you can learn about meditation.
Another alternative way to learn about meditation is to take a meditation class on the internet. A lot of people find that this is a good way to learn about meditation because they can learn at their own pace and they can fit the lessons around themselves rather than the other way round.
The beauty of the internet for this kind of learning – whether it’s to learn about meditation or any other subject you’re interested in – is that it really is under your control: you can decide when is the best time to take your meditation class, you can pace the meditation learning experience to your own personal preference and you can repeat sections that you didn’t quite “get” the first time round without being embarrassed or worrying what other people think – you can just press the replay button and no-one but you and a computer will know.
Another possible way to learn about meditation is to use a course on CD or MP3. It’s similar to taking a meditation class on the internet but has extra portability. If you’re the type of person who likes to know the background behind what you’re learning, the convenience of being able to listen to this kind of information about meditation (or whatever other topic you’re currently learning about) can make the difference. Just put your headphones on and listen whilst you’re commuting, jogging or whatever.
A New Method To Learn About Meditation
In recent years, dedicated meditators have been thinking that there must be a better way to learn about meditation than to take years perfecting their meditation. So they decided to hook up a machine that measures brainwaves to people’s heads whilst they were meditating.
They then took these measurements and set about recreating them using a fancy sounding technology called binaural beats. It’s just a modern way that you can use to learn about meditation without really having to learn much.
What this technology does is to slightly confuse your brain by playing two almost identical tone beats into your ears. The difference is so slight that you wouldn’t notice it if you were listening to each beat in turn on your regular stereo. But it’s enough for your mind to notice. So actually you’re not having to do much in the way of pure meditation, rather you’re using other people’s discoveries to shortcut your own learn about meditation experience.
You brain then tries to match up the two tones and, in doing so, reaches a point where your brainwaves slow down to the same kind of speed that would be achieved with years of practice with normal methods used to learn about meditation.
Different binaural beat tones bring on different brain states but you don’t need to worry about this too much. When you learn to meditate this way, you can just sit back, relax and let the technology handle all the complexities of learning how to meditate.
I personally decided that, whilst I would like to learn about meditation, I’d also like to get on with meditating effectively at the same time.
Breathing meditation for beginners
A breathing meditation is one of the simplest ways to meditate and is an excellent beginners technique (although you can take it to a much higher level if and when you decide to do that).
As with every meditation technique, the aim is to get your mind clear of the chatter that seems to be a constant companion for most of us.
Whilst you can perform a breathing meditation anywhere you choose, I’d suggest that the best place to start is in a quiet place at home (or at work if you have access to a break-out room that can be used for this type of thing) and at a time when you’ve got a few minutes when you’re not likely to be disturbed.
If you’re able to turn your cell phone to silent or leave it in a separate room, that helps reduce the chance of being disturbed whilst you carry out your meditation.
And initially it helps to plan this session so that you’re not expecting a knock on the door from a delivery driver.
Once you’re in your quiet place, sit or lie down or choose any other position that makes you feel comfortable.
Then focus on your breathing.
Notice how the air flows in through your nostrils. There may be a slight sensation if the air temperature is significantly different from your body temperature or there may not be anything perceptible if you’ve gradually got used to the particular micro-climate of the room you’re in.
You might even notice the hairs in your nostril move with the air you’re breathing in – if you do, congratulate yourself on being really in tune with your body. If you don’t, that’s fine as well. We breathe so often that it’s rare for us to pay attention to the process unless we’re out of breath or on an adrenalin rush.
Then notice the air making its way down to your lungs.
Again, if this isn’t something you’re used to paying attention to, it’s fine to just get an inkling of an idea that this is happening. It’s part of the meditative process of deepening your state of relaxation and awareness and things will be changing whether or not you’re conscious of the change.
Then notice how your lungs fill up with air. This is normally easier to do as you can put a hand on your chest to feel the movement of your lungs as they fill up with each breath you take.
There’s no need to go overboard but it usually helps if you can take deep breaths – so often, our breathing is shallower than it could be, partly because our bodies don’t tend to exert themselves unnecessarily.
If it’s comfortable to do so, hold the breath for a second or two. You can extend the time a bit as you get used to doing breathing meditation but it’s not essential to do this. There’s no specific right or wrong ways to carry out a breathing meditation so long as you’re actually breathing in and out, which I hope is a given.
Then exhale slowly.
Again, notice the way your lungs deflate (hold your hand on your chest if you want to get closer to the sensation) and how the air that you were holding in your lungs makes its way back into the atmosphere, following your wind pipe and being released through your nose or mouth.
That’s the essence of a basic breathing meditation: slowly breathe in and breathe out.
How long you do this for is up to you. Most people find themselves getting more and more relaxed as they follow the process.
Start with a relatively small number of breaths. Maybe as low as 10 or 20.
Then work your way up gradually so that you’re spending a longer time on the process.
As well as concentrating on the breaths you’re taking, notice how the chatter in your mind seems to reduce as well.
The first few times maybe it doesn’t drop much. That’s normal – we’re so used to our minds racing nineteen to the dozen as the pace of modern life seems to almost force that reaction.
But gradually, with practice, your mind will become calmer and will stay calmer even after you’ve finished your meditation practice for the day.
You can help the process by imagining your thoughts as though they were wispy clouds in the sky, drifting along and vanishing just as quickly as they appear. Or you could even tie a balloon to the thoughts in your minds eye and let them float off into the atmosphere – that’s a fun visualisation to do but might take your focus away from the breathing so see how you get along with it.
Focused attention meditation
This is probably the most traditional form of meditation – it’s the kind of thing you’ll probably see in the movies when they show someone meditating.
The basis of a focused attention meditation is:
- Find somewhere comfortable to sit, lie down or even stand up if you prefer. If you choose to sit, you can sit in a chair or on a bench or the floor. You can site in the lotus position with your feet placed on your opposing thighs. Or near enough any other position that you find comfortable enough to keep for the duration of your meditation.
- Calm your thoughts. Most of us have our minds buzzing most of the time – it’s something we’ve learned to do as part of our move into civilised society. But trying to multi-task – checking Facebook or replying to messages whilst you’re watching TV or cooking or walking (there’s a reason they’ve started putting traffic lights into pavements) – isn’t helpful to calming your mind. It’s worth taking a minute or two before you really start to focus in order to at least reduce the thoughts that are going through your mind at seemingly warp speed. Imagine your thoughts just slowly drifting by – maybe floating, maybe following a stream as it trickles away, maybe just drifting in the expanse of open space – and let yourself gradually relax. Taking longer, deeper, breaths usually helps the process.
- Decide on something to focus on. There are lots of options here including focusing on your breath or a part of your body, watching the flame flicker on a candle, fixating on a spot on the wall or ceiling, repeating a mantra (lots of ones to choose from) or anything else that you can focus on for a period of time. Most people start with something simple and a relatively short period of time and then gradually work their way up in time and/or intensity.
- Don’t sweat about whether or not you’re doing it right. There are so many variations in the available methods for a focused attention meditation that there’s no rigid right or wrong way to do it. Equally, your thoughts will be in a different mental place each time you practice this (or any other) meditation which means the process will be slightly different, even if it seems the same as the last time you did the exercise. Just like no two snowflakes are precisely alike. So long as you take the time to get comfortable, relax a bit and set your focus on something for at least some period of time, you’re doing it right.
The depth of a focused attention meditation generally increases with practice. As you get more proficient, you’ll find that your mind chatter – and the associated distracting thoughts that accompany it- gradually reduce in quantity and duration.
In my view, using a guided meditation is one of the best places to start your meditating path.
The format is simple:
- There’s sometimes a backing track of soothing music or natural sounds. Sometimes it’s just the voice of your guide.
- You’re talked through the process of relaxing so that you’re in a receptive state for your meditation session.
- Your guide talks you through whatever the guided mediatation is about. This could be a connection with your higher self, a purpose such as attracting more abundance into your life or healing part of your body, getting a good night’s sleep, or near enough anything else you want. There are literally thousands of guided meditations available to download or watch or listen to.
- Unless the guided meditation is to help you drift off to sleep, you’ll be brought back to an alert state at the end of the track.
The major benefit of using a guided meditation is that it’s a lot harder to over-think the process of meditating.
So long as you follow the instructions of your guide reasonably closely then you’ll achieve whatever it is the meditation track has been crafted to do.
Sometimes you’ll be able to get a preview of the track before buying. Since we all react differently to different voices, it’s good if you can do that. Some voices are more strident than others and we all relax in slightly different ways which means that a track I find easy to listen to won’t necessarily be the same as one you find easy to listen to.
If you’re just starting out with using a guided meditation, be prepared to sample a few different people until you find one that you resonate with. It’s a bit like discovering the foods you enjoy most and the price of finding that out is about the same or even cheaper than one meal with the added advantage that you can replay the guided meditations you get on with as many times as you want. MP3s don’t wear out in the same was as albums and cassettes used to.
If you really don’t want to spend any cash before you decide whether or not using a guided meditation is right for you, there’s always YouTube to turn to. You can play the videos on your phone and plug in some headphones for the best meditation experience.
Mindfulness meditation is normally carried out from a sitting down position. Obviously make yourself as comfortable as possible while you’re practising this technique – if you’re sitting on the floor, a cushion or even a folded up towel will probably be a better experience. A lot of people choose to sit cross legged if they’re sitting on the floor.
Do your best to sit in an upright position rather than one that’s slumped or slouched.
Let your hands rest, face down, on your thighs.
You’ll be keeping your eyes open for this process – if you catch yourself letting them close, just gently remind yourself to open your eyes again. If you’ve been used to doing other meditations where you allow your eyes to close and shut off the visual elements of the outside world then mindfulness meditation may take a bit of getting used to but we’re quite adaptable so it shouldn’t take too many sessions before you get used to the idea.
Then decide on a spot to focus on.
This could literally be a spot – a small blemish on the wall, something in a photo or work of art you’ve got hanging on the wall in front of you, anything that you can place your attention on.
Gaze at the spot you’ve chosen.
There’s no need to focus specifically on it – if you’re able to let your eyes focus as though they’re looking towards a distant horizon, that’s great. If you’re not, that’s still great.
Don’t get hung up on whether or not you’re doing this technique perfectly. Like most other meditation techniques, there are a multitude of different ways that you can practice mindfulness meditation which means there isn’t one way that’s correct and another way that’s wrong.
It could even be that your meditation technique varies from day to day. That’s fine – you’re in a different “place” mentally and probably even physically each and every time you meditate which means that there will always be variation. Personally I use a pre-recorded binaural beats meditation – it’s something I’ve got accustomed to over the years – and you’d think that because it’s pre-recorded it would be the same experience every time but that’s not the case. So if something that “should” be identical every time isn’t, don’t be surprised when a meditation technique that involves rather more than just listening to an MP3 varies.
Like most meditation techniques where you are (at least theoretically) in control, start with a fairly short session.
A few minutes is a good aim, building up to a longer time as you get more proficient and more accustomed to using mindfulness meditation.
Chances are that your mind will wander from the spot you’re gazing at.
That’s perfectly normal and when you notice it happening, slowly bring your mind back to the spot you’ve chosen.
Notice what’s happening in your body while you carry out this meditation technique.
Much like anything else you pay attention to, you’ll start to pick up on all those small details that our subconscious mind filters out as insignificant in our everyday life. Because if we paid attention to the billions of inputs we get every day, we’d face overwhelm. Most of the time it doesn’t make sense to notice the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe or the way the hairs on your body tingle or any of the other factors that subtly make you “you”.
But during the meditation process it’s quite fun to do that.
Pay attention to a part of your body – maybe one that’s been quietly bugging you but you’ve never been quite certain why – and get more in tune with it.
Or just go with the flow and let your conscious mind get slightly emptier and calmer. That’s good as well.
Next, start to focus more on your breathing and bring it more to the forefront of your mind.
The thing with mindfulness is that you’re being mindful which can be defined as taking time for what matters.
We’re so used to focusing on “stuff” that this can take quite a bit of getting used to.
In today’s media-centric world where we’re all the stars of our own social media presence, you’d think that you were already aware (mindful) of yourself but, in practice, most of the time we’re really concentrating on what other people might think about us.
Mindfulness brings your attention back to you.
Once you’re spent a bit of time on your breathing, bring your attention to your thoughts next.
Focusing on two different things – that spot on the wall and your breath or your thoughts – is an art. It’s kind-of multi-tasking but different.
So don’t expect to be perfect the first time (or even the tenth or hundredth time) you practice this.
Just be as good as you can be at this moment in time.
Which is actually all you can do about anything anyway.
The more “present” you get, the more you’ll get out of this experience.
And don’t worry about feeling weird or awkward either – that’s normal with anything new. Try clasping your hands – notice whether your left or right thumb is on the top. Then swap so that the other thumb is on the top and your fingers are linked differently. Most people find this very awkward to do and find the feeling most odd. The same happens when you start practicing a new meditation technique – your mind is doing its best to learn new patterns and often finds the process odd at best.
Just go with the flow. Whatever comes to mind is correct at that moment in time.
And keep at it – like most things, the more you practice mindfulness meditation, the better you’ll get at it.