You always see me recommending meditation as a tool to help in various areas of self care and personal development. However, many don’t actually know how to meditate. Either they don’t believe they can quiet their mind, or they feel they don’t have the time or a way to take 10–15 minutes just to themselves.
There’s also the belief that you have to be some sort of Deepak Chopra-like spiritual guru in order to develop a meditation practice and routine. While it’s true that you could gain a deeper sense of spirituality when you meditate, or go into a trance-like state, the idea of meditation is to essentially loose that time/space/self-awareness. People put so much pressure on themselves to have the perfect meditation or to do it right or well that they just don’t do it at all. They think they are simply not allowed to think. The truth is, it’s next to impossible to not think. The human brain simply doesn’t work that way.
It’s important to not that even during meditation, you brain is still active. You are still thinking. You’re just thinking less. During meditation, brain activity slows down, and certain parts of the brain either come to a complete halt or slow down significantly.
As you are meditating, the flow of information is reduced, and you are left with your inner thoughts. Sometimes you’re thinking about something mundane. Regardless, the goal of meditation is to reduce random thoughts and focus on yourself during that state of relaxation. It sounds a lot more difficult than it seems, which to be honest, it will be at first. Meditation is a lifelong journey, and the more you do it, the more natural it will feel.
While it is true you could go into a full trance without thoughts of folding the laundry or that email you forgot to send, it’s likely not going to happen if you’re a beginner. I’ve been meditating for years, and random thoughts still creep in.
When you put pressure on yourself and create stress on how well you’re going to meditate, you’re defeating the whole purpose. Meditation is about letting go and just be-ing.
So how exactly do you do that and develop a mindful meditation practice?
A great starting point is to find the best type of meditation for you, something that will resonate with you and suit your needs. According to stress management expert Luke Seaward, there are two distinct branches of meditation: restrictive/exclusive meditation and opening-up/inclusive meditation. Among those, there are many types of meditation. For the sake of this post, I’ll just go over exclusive meditation and outline what steps are needed to perform this type. of meditation.
Restrictive or exclusive meditation is what people are probably most familiar with if they aren’t too well versed in meditation. Restrictive meditation involves focusing on one object and ignoring (or at least trying to ignore) other thoughts that may impede the meditation session.
During a session of exclusive meditation, you’re going to be focusing on one thought and one thought only. To accompany this, you might want to repeat a mantra like “ommmmm” either verbally or mentally (this is what people usually think of when they think of meditation). Your mantra can also be a personal one such as “let go”, “thank you”, or a general mantra like SO HUM (think the word “so” on the inhale and the word “hum” on the exhale). Which ever it is, the goal is to focus entirely on that one mantra, which will help to prevent stray thoughts from entering your mind.
Here are some ways to practice exclusive meditation:
Mental Repetition: Focus on repeating one word and one word only. When you repeat this word, try to only think about this thought during the duration of your meditation. Try to pick a word that’s one syllable and easy to remember like “love”. By repeating whatever word you picked, you heighten your concentration and clear other disruptive thoughts that can interfere with your meditation.
Visual Concentration: Try to imagine an object like a vase or a flower, or any object in front of you. Now, after a couple of seconds, form that image in your mind and close your eyes. Try to concentrate on that image while meditating. If you break concentration, repeat, and try again. Concentrate on that one image throughout the session. Like mental repetition, this can help you focus on just one thought and have an intentional meditation session. You could also do this with your eyes open by staring at a single point such as a small object, spot on the wall, or candle flame.
Repeated Sounds: Meditating to some sort of repetitive sound such as the recording of a dishwasher, waves crashing or an oscillating fan is called nadam. (Sound hack: I use the Rain Rain mobile app, which has tons of sounds and wear a wireless Bluetooth headband headphone while meditating. The headband is also great for sleep sounds and meditations). Anyway, pick something that’s calm and soothing that won’t disrupt your meditative state.
Guided Meditation: If you are just starting your meditation practice, and you just can’t seem to relax and focus on one thing, try a guided visualization and meditation. At the very least, this will get your mind off of the to-do’s or any stressors in your life and help you let go. A guided meditation takes your mind on a journey, and can have positive affects such as improved cognitive abilities, better concentration, improved visualization skills, and help you clear you mind of cluttering thoughts. There are some great guided meditation mobile apps and YouTube videos.
Mindfulness Meditation: If you’ve ever said performing a particular activity such as gardening, cleaning, playing an instrument, writing, or cooking was ‘therapeutic’, you are practicing a form of meditation called mindfulness meditation. Because you are active and not sitting still with your eyes closed and chanting “OM” these activities aren’t often thought of as actual meditation. However, because you “get lost” or “in the zone” in the task at hand and have unconsciously blocked out any random or stressful thoughts, you are indeed meditating and letting go.
Figure out what type of meditation you works for you, and it doesn’t have to be just one. The goal is to create a meditation practice and routine to help you reduce stress, anxiety and overwhelm. I recommend meditating first thing in the morning so you can start your day in a place of peace and calm, but any time is good to meditate.
Start slow with just 5 minutes and gradually increase your meditation time as you get more comfortable and familiar with the practice. You probably won’t get it “right” the first time. Your mind will still wander. Just remember to focus back on your breath, your mantra, or sound. It takes practice. You don’t have to be a zen monk who can meditate on command. Just simply… do it. Keep calm, and meditate on.