Meditation can seem like a daunting concept. If you’ve never meditated before, you might not know how to start and which meditation technique to use. Simply put, meditation is a quieting of the chatter inside our heads.
From the moment we wake up, there is a mental dialogue going on – which is natural and healthy! However, when we don’t eat right, miss out on sleep and overextend ourselves, these voices become chaotic. That’s when it’s time to meditate. Instead of firing back at every demand your mind makes, you can let thoughts come and go naturally for greater peace of mind and greater cognitive potential.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is an exercise for your mind. People use different meditation techniques to reach a certain state of the mind. Think of it more as strength-training for your brain. You train it to focus.
While meditation has been used for many spiritual practices, it certainly does not have to be religious. On the contrary. First and foremost, it is an exercise. When you work out your body, you want to become fitter, stronger, healthier. When you meditate, you want the same for your mind.
Sure, you can then use your mind for spiritual practices. But you can also use the effects of meditation for very pragmatic things, like, time management skills.
Benefits of Meditation
The benefits of meditation are plentiful including fighting depression and memory loss, and helping to even out and regulate your emotions. It’s also the only way that we can actually give our minds some rest. Our brains are constantly working, thinking, worrying, etc. – even in our sleep. Meditation is the only way that your brain get to relax for a little while.
To give you a better idea on how awesome meditation is, let’s quickly look at some benefits of it.
- Meditation has shown to have great calming effects. Research has shown that EEG activity actually decreases during meditation.
- According to recent studies meditation helps to increase the amount of grey matter in your brain. Grey matter is responsible for muscle control, seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, and speech.
- Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation. One study including over 3,500 adults showed that it lives up to its reputation for stress reduction.
- Meditation has also shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as phobias, social anxiety, paranoid thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and panic attacks.
- Meditation helps to increase the strength and endurance of your attention. A study looked at the effects of an eight-week mindfulness meditation course and found that it improved participants’ ability to reorient and maintain their attention.
- The mental discipline you can develop through meditation may help you break dependencies by increasing your self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviors, according another study.
What Do You Need To Start Meditating?
For your first meditation practice, all you need is a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes, yourself, and a timer. Yes, a dedicated meditation space, pretty meditation cushions, and a zen-like meditation chime are great. But none of these things are necessary.
Instead, simply sitting in a comfortable chair in a quiet space is what’s the most important. You can even find a comfortable seated position on the floor or use a yoga mat. The idea is that mediation is highly accessible and that less is more!
Different Types of Meditation
There are so many different kinds of meditation that it can get sort of confusing to figure them all out. But we have two types that recommend for beginners.
Essentially, they both have one common goal: making your mind focus. You just want to clear your mind and focus on one thing, which is giving your brain a much-needed break and allowing it to rest.
Breathing meditation is also known as “focused-attention meditation”. This is because this type of mediation concentrates your attention on a single object, thought, sound or vision. It emphasizes ridding your mind off any distractions. Meditation may focus on breathing, a mantra or a calming sound.
This is a great type of meditation to start off with because it allows your mind to focus on one thing. Other types of meditation may require the mind to be passively aware of your surroundings and thoughts. This can be a tough concept to hone if you are just beginning. Therefore, by focusing on something like breathing, you can more easily hone your practice. Below are a few steps to help you get started with a breath-focused practice.
Once you’ve found your quiet space, follow these steps:
- Sit down comfortably. No need for a cross-legged position. You can also sit on a chair with your feet on the ground. Just make sure that you can sit in this position for a few minutes without needing to move.
- Set your timer for 5 minutes and close your eyes.
- Now start focussing on your breath. What does it feel like? Is it slow or fast? Deep or flat breathing? Notice how your chest and belly are rising and falling with your breath.
- Keep experiencing every breath fully, without trying to control it. When you notice your thoughts wandering away, gently bring them back to your breath. Do this until your timer goes off.
As you start getting more familiar with this, slowly make the meditation intervals longer. A good time to aim for is a 20-minute meditation session.
Another meditation technique that is very good for beginners is mindfulness meditation. It starts in the same way as breathing meditation, up to and including step 3. However, you also allow yourself to become aware of other sensations in your body.
This type of meditation is also called “open-monitoring meditation. It essentially encourages broadened awareness of all aspects of your environment, train of thought, and sense of self. It can also include becoming aware of thoughts, feelings or impulses that you might normally try to suppress. You are not trying to evaluate or control anything. This exercise is simply to become aware and observe.
Again, a good time to begin with would range from 10 to 20 minutes.
Helpful Meditation Apps For Beginners
Is learning to meditate hard? Not as hard as you think! You just need a good teacher. Someone who inspires you to show up, to hold you accountable, and teaches you to let go.
There are plenty of meditation centers where you can learn to meditate, but you may not have one near you or the class schedule just doesn’t work with your schedule. While meditating in a group is nice and totally different than doing it by yourself, meditating in the safe space of your own home is also a lovely practice to begin or end your day with. And with a meditation app, you can also get the professional guidance you may need at the beginning.
Headspace is famous for being one of the first apps that teaches people to meditate through a free 10-day 10-minute challenge. After you have finished the 10 basic classes you can continue with single guided meditations or meditation series. There are different packs of guided meditations for different purposes, such as pregnancy, dealing with cancer, productivity, and a lot more. Most packs are part of the paid programs, but you can try one session from each pack, so you know what to expect.
Headspace also has content specifically aimed at children and themed animations explaining more about meditation. There is a stats tab and along with a ‘Your Journey’ tab, which is a history of the sessions you did. And if you want to, you can add a buddy in the app too.
Calm offers many guided meditations, bedtime stories, music, and sounds and also some 7-day challenges. Free and paid content is mixed, which makes browsing a bit annoying when you are only using the free platform.
Something unique to this app is the breath bubble feature. This feature helps you breathe and it times your in and out breaths. You can set the seconds for each. It plays a short sound for every inhalation and exhalation. You can practice with or without breath retention and you can set breath retention after inhalation, after exhalation or both. A very good tool for practicing pranayama, especially so you can just focus on your breath without counting! It is definitely worth downloading this app just for this feature!
Additionally Calm also has two more useful features around its content. 1) You will find some free downloadable content that you can use offline & 2) there is new content added every day.
Insight Timer is very big on community. When you open the app after registering, you can immediately see how many people have already used it that day and how many are meditating right now. You can join a group with a theme to discuss the meditations. And every guided meditation gets reviews from people who have practiced that meditation so you can read through those and know what to expect.
At the moment of writing, there are close to 9000 free meditations, which gives you an idea of the database. You can search among guided meditations, music, and talks. It is possible to apply a filter with how much time you’ve got, and what sort of help you’re looking for, such as help with sleep, stress relief, or fostering creativity. Along with what kind of practice you want to do like visualization, mantra, or chanting. You can also search for meditations from a certain tradition or religion and many more.
Insight timer offers guided meditations by many different teachers, so you will definitely find one you like!