You’ve probably read enough about mindfulness and meditation to be convinced that it’s something you should try. You may be keen to get going, but you’re also probably full of questions. Where do I start? What equipment do I need? How long should I meditate? It can all be a bit confusing, so here are the answers to the most common questions people have when they are meditation newbies.
What do I need to meditate?
A special meditation space is a lovely thing and may make your meditation experience easier and more pleasant, but it’s not essential. You can meditate anywhere that’s quiet and where you won’t be interrupted. You can sit on the sofa or comfortable chair, you can sit on the floor, or you can even lie down. Find the position that works for you. The important thing is to be comfortable and alert. You need to find a balance between avoiding cramping muscles and being so comfortable that you drift off to sleep.
There are all sorts of things you can use to support your meditation practice from mats and cushions to statues of the Buddha, singing bowls and candles. And if you want those things then go all out. But you don’t need them to meditate. You only need a commitment to meditate and a quiet place to do it in.
How long should I meditate?
When you’re first starting a mindfulness meditation practice, don’t force yourself to sit in meditation for too long. You need time to build your attention span and tame your busy monkey mind. If you try to meditate for too long, you’ll get frustrated by your mind wandering and likely fall into judgment. The last thing you want to feel like is a meditation failure! (There’s no such thing, by the way.) As with any new practice, you should start slowly and build up your meditation muscles.
You can start with as little as five minutes a day. But, make sure you get into a regular habit of meditating every day. Studies show that meditating regularly for even twelve minutes a day can provide all the mental and physical health benefits you are probably after.
What exactly should I do?
Meditation is more than just sitting with your eyes closed and breathing. Focusing on the breath is the keystone of mindfulness meditation, but you also need to train your mind to focus. We’re so used to having multiple tracks of thought running in our brains all the time that it takes discipline to bring your mind to focus undistracted on the present moment.
Mindfulness meditation is simple:
- Sit or lie comfortably.
- Focus on the breath, the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body. Thinking ‘breathing in, breathing out’ can help you keep your awareness on just breathing, just being.
- When your mind wanders (because it will!) gently bring your attention back to your breath.
That’s it. The trick is not to fall into judgement when your mind fastens onto sounds or thoughts that come into your mind. Notice the thought, let it drift through your mind without judgement. Don’t engage with the thought or create a story out of it, just let it go.
When should I meditate?
Find the time of day that suits you best. First thing in the morning works well for lots of people as it’s quiet and not usually already full of other commitments. However, you may find a lunchtime or evening meditation might be better for you.
Try a few different times and see what works best. The important thing is to make meditation a habit, so it becomes as usual and necessary as taking a shower or brushing your teeth.
When will I achieve nirvana?
Maybe you’re not feeling anything except stiff knees. It sounds like a cliché, but meditation is about the journey, not the destination. Mindfulness meditation is about freeing yourself from judgement and finding inner peace. It is not a competitive sport with Nirvana as the prize! The aim of meditation is simply to enjoy meditation.
Every meditation session will be a different experience. One day you might feel great inner peace, profound relaxation, and even a degree of enlightenment or insight. The next day you may feel irritable and restless. Your back might ache, and you may have an attack of the fidgets. And that’s ok, that’s human! You only need to notice what you’re feeling without judgement. Let it go and move on. Over time your mindfulness meditation practice will lead to greater overall self-awareness, lower stress levels, and better mental, emotional and physical health. Let go of your expectation of what meditation will be like, and you’ll enjoy it much more.
What if it hurts?
We bring all sorts of physical conditions to our meditation practice. You might be super fit and flexible, or you might be nursing an old sports injury or even have a chronic condition like arthritis. Even without a pre-existing injury or weakness, you might be surprised to find yourself in pain.
It’s not a signal to give up meditating, but you should not have to put up with any pain. Apart from increasing physical damage, it’s is a distraction from mental stillness and certainly not conducive to inner peace!
First, decide whether what you’re feeling is pain that you should attend to or only small discomforts because your body is unaccustomed to being still for such periods of time. Are you just feeling restless or is it something more organic that needs attention? If so, you can adjust your meditation practice to support your body better.
Consider doing some stretches before you get into your meditation position.
Think of what your body needs to be able to meditate comfortably. A yoga or meditation cushion can help to support your posture. Perhaps sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor will take the pressure off your knees. If you have lower back pain, you could lie on your back with your knees slightly bent and a rolled-up towel or lumbar cushion in the small of your back.
No mediation rule says you have to sit in the lotus position to meditate. Experiment and find out what works for you and your body.
Is it cheating to use guided meditations?
Don’t let anyone tell you that using guided meditation is cheating or somehow not as worthy as chanting in a temple for seven hours. The best way to meditate is the way that works for you.
Site like the Meditation Vault www.themeditationvault.com have a number of guided meditations you can try. Try some different ones to decide which suits you best. It’s good to switch up your meditation routine, so feel free to use a variety of guided meditations and ambient sounds if they help you focus on the present moment.
How can I find the time to meditate?
There are two answers to this question, and they might seem contradictory.
First of all, you don’t ‘find’ time to meditate; you must make time. If you say you’ll find the time, then it’s likely that meditation will never make it to the top of your ‘to-do’ list. It will always be crowded out by the other ‘should’s’ in your life. Making meditation a priority in your life means scheduling time just for you, some clear space for stillness. It doesn’t have to be a large time commitment. Start by setting aside five or ten minutes in your day and gradually build up to a time that suits you best.
Secondly, you don’t have to find a specific time to be mindful, especially if mindfulness is a new concept for you. Start by integrating mindfulness practice into your everyday activities. Think of all the opportunities there are in your day for focus on your breathing and bring your awareness into the present moment. Think of the time gaps that appear when you’re waiting in line or for your name to be called, or for your computer to boot up, or while you’re stuck in traffic or when your bus is late. Instead of getting frustrated, think of these times as mindfulness opportunities.
You can also do things mindfully. Mundane tasks like peeling potatoes, doing the dishes, or walking through the park are all opportunities to focus on your breath and become completely aware of what it’s like being in the present moment.
The whole point of mindfulness meditation is to bring you into a state of non-judgemental awareness. By focusing on your breath and using prompts to keep your awareness in the present, a regular mindfulness meditation practice will help you transcend that old monkey mind tug-of-war between anxiously anticipating what might happen in the future and mulling over past hurts and actions.
Meditation is a way to keep you focused in the present moment, no matter what else is happening around you or what you’re doing. You may or may not find Nirvana, but you can find your inner peace. Starting today, you can make a positive commitment to building mindfulness meditation into every aspect of your life.