You’ve wondered, right?
Would meditation improve your focus?
You’ve heard so much about meditation, but the thought of sitting still and breathing just seems … unnerving. After all, you have a million things you need to do.
So, you put it off and continue to feel stressed, frantic and torn in a hundred directions.
But you hate feeling this way.
You know you desperately want to be happier, calmer and more compassionate.
You know you want a deeper understanding of how you can better control your thoughts and emotions.
And most importantly, you know that if you don’t try it, you’ll regret it.
But where do you start?
This post will take you through everything you need to know about meditating and guide you through a 10-step basic mindful meditation practice.
What is Meditation?
While there are many types of meditation, according to Headspace, a global leader in meditation and mindfulness, meditation is “a skill and an experience — a formal exercise to cultivate awareness and compassion.”
If that sounds abstract, think about it this way: meditation is a way to train the mind, just as physical exercise is a way to train the body.
The goal of meditating is to step out of distracting thoughts and exist in the present moment in a balanced and clear way.
Okay, so now we have defined what it is, let’s look at why people meditate.
When practiced frequently, scientific research has shown that meditation can have the following benefits:
• Increased focus
• Decrease in feelings of anxiety and stress; increase in feelings of calmness
• Lower blood pressure
• Increased immunity
• Improved sleep quality
• Improved relationships as meditation stimulates the part of the brain associated with empathy
Sounds good, right?
Before we get into how to meditate, here are a few common obstacles everyone faces — don’t be discouraged by them; accepting these challenges is part of the process.
Common Obstacles Beginners (and Experts!) Face
Studies show that it’s more beneficial to meditate daily for a shorter time than a few days a week for extended periods. Your goal at first should be to meditate every day for at least 10 minutes.
Choose a daily task to tie it to, for example, meditate before or after brushing your teeth.
Note: most trainers recommend morning as the optimal time to meditate.
It is natural and expected that your mind will wander during your practice. Do not scold yourself for this; simply draw your mind back to your breathing (see below).
We all have a thousand things we could be doing at any given moment, so it can be challenging to allow yourself this time to sit and breathe. Think of meditation as an exercise of the mind, and staying the course is part of the training.
These common obstacles may seem daunting, but with practice, the occurrence of each will lessen. The point of meditating is to condition the mind to be still and let go. As with any skill, improvement comes with practice.
Now that we’ve gone over the basics and some common obstacles let’s get into the 10 steps in mindful meditation practice, according to Headspace.
10 Steps to a Mindful Meditation Practice
Step 1: Preparation
Before you start to meditate, you need to commit to it in your mind and your schedule. Block off 10 minutes at a specific time every day in your calendar, noting a location where you can comfortably sit undisturbed.
Step 2: Settle In
Once you’ve found a quiet place where you are comfortable and alone, sit on a chair or a meditation pillow, with your hands clasped in your lap or palms resting on your knees. Focus on keeping your back straight, your neck relaxed, and your chin slightly tucked in. Your airways should be clear. Commit to a length of time and see it through by using a timer, a guided recording or an app.
Step 3: Take 10 Deep Breaths
Once seated, inhale through the nose and exhale audibly through the mouth 10 times. Your eyes should remain open during the breathing exercise. Allow them to glaze over and focus on something in the middle distance. On the last breath, close them completely.
Step 4: Observe Your Body
With closed eyes, check to see if your posture has lagged or if your eyes are open. If so, correct your posture and close your eyes. Allow yourself to focus on your body — do you feel any sensations anywhere? Are your limbs getting heavy? What do you hear, smell, taste? Take a mental note of these things without trying to change anything.
Step 5: Scan for Pain and Pleasure Points
Slowly turn your mind inward. Start at the top of your head, slowly make your way down the body, and observe any pain points. Don’t move your body to relieve the discomfort; just observe it. Then repeat the scan, this time noticing which parts of your body have relaxed. Now turn your awareness to your thoughts and acknowledge any thoughts that arise, without trying to change them. Be aware of your underlying mood without judgement.
Step 6: Reflect on Your Why
You’ve chosen to meditate for a reason, so take some time to think about why you are meditating. There is nothing for you to do here.
Step 7: Observe the Breath
You are now a few minutes into your meditation; take note of your breathing without changing it. Some things to look for: does your breath come from your chest or your belly? Is your breath fast or slow?
Begin silently counting the breaths: 1 as you inhale, 2 as you exhale, 3 on the next inhalation, and so on, up to 10. Then start again at 1.
While doing this, it’s entirely reasonable for thoughts to bubble up. Don’t panic; just guide your attention back to the breath when you realize the mind has wandered off. If you can remember which number you were at, start again from there. If not, simply start from 1 again. Continue until your designated time is up.
Step 8: Just Be
You’ve just finished counting your breaths. Allow your mind to wander. Thoughts might flood your brain, you may be itching to get up, or you may feel calm and focussed. Whatever you feel is okay.
Step 9: Prepare to Get Up
Direct your thoughts to the physical aspects of your practice. Feel the chair under your body, or the sensation of your feet on the floor. Slowly open your eyes.
Step 10: Refer Back to your Practice
You’ve now finished your session. Throughout the day, try to remember what it felt like to have that clarity and focus. If you feel stressed, take a couple of deep breaths, notice how you feel, and observe any areas of tension.
You Owe It to Yourself
You may have been hesitant to try meditation, but if you’ve read this far, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.
Imagine how amazing it will feel to have more happiness and less stress in your life.
Imagine how amazing it will be to experience the improvements in your relationships as a result of your compassion.
Imagine how amazing you will feel after a good night’s sleep.
Now stop imagining and make it happen.