Ways for a Beginner to Ease Into Meditation

Culturally, most of us have a hard time sitting in any position for more than a few minutes without fidgeting or shifting around. The idea of sitting still to meditate is difficult for us to imagine. Many times, we are multitasking through our days, going from one activity to another, without being even moderately mindful of what and how we are doing these things. We drive a car while talking on the telephone, reading the list of what we need at the market or looking at directions to our destination. We may drink lots of coffee, energy drinks or other forms of sugar and caffeine, which “powers” us through the day. We run from one task to the next, with an ongoing dialog in our minds that propels us to go faster and faster. We are pumping adrenaline and cortisol through our bodies, which further propels us on.

These are the reasons for doing meditation to begin with. We are seeking the peace from all of this internal and external busyness. Now it is time to quiet our bodies and minds to reap the full benefits of meditation. Sitting still with all of this activity is challenging.

The Basics

First, learning to breathe is the best way to start. Inhaling and exhaling through the nose, slower and deeper into the diaphragm will encourage the heart rate to decrease. Focusing on the breath is going to channel racing thoughts and minimize them. It will take time and practice to get them focused on the breath. The secret to this is to continue to meditate, even when focus shifts, continually bringing the racing mind back to the breath, over and over. Sitting in one spot will be another challenge. Focus on breathing will help when the mind continually tells us we are uncomfortable, that we must scratch our foot, elbow or back, or that we have pain in some part of our body and need to move now.

If you experience pain while sitting, consider several options. You can sit on cushions in a comfortable way, use a chair or couch or lie on the floor if necessary. There are many poses that work for meditation. As time goes on, many people will develop a comfortable method that increases the time they can sit. Stretching the legs and spine will increase the ability to sit in a position for longer periods also. Try yoga or other forms of stretching to lengthen muscles for comfort. Also be sure to find a position that does not lead you into sleep. It is not recommended that you practice in bed or lying down if you cannot stay awake.

Forms of Meditation

The form of meditation that is used to begin a practice is another variable that may make it easier to start. Most new meditators are more able to practice with guided meditations or in groups. The group environment allows the new meditator to feel more comfortable with remaining in the meditative pose for longer periods of time.

Hearing other meditators breathing allows the newcomer support in focusing on the breath. There is a subtle peer pressure that forces meditators to sit silently for longer periods of time in a group. When left to our own devises, we sometimes allow our busy minds to talk us out of meditation entirely. Use a group for this kind of support.

Guided meditations can take several forms. Usually, a group will have a leader. They may use imagery, a story, mantras, chanting or other methods for guiding the group in and out of the meditation. Some will speak throughout the experience, reminding about breathing, talking to guide the meditators in focus on relaxing the body and mind. This can be very beneficial to keep the mind from wandering. Other groups may have an introductory period of guided meditation that flows into a silent period, followed by an ending that is spoken by the leader.

Some leaders will use tapes with music or possibly a guided meditation to lead the group. There is no set format for meditating, except those set by the individual group and according to their practice design. Experimentation with various groups and forms of meditation will give you an idea of the type and practice that best suits your desires. Feel free to attend various meditation groups and to listen to different types of guided meditations, recorded, online, live or in the privacy of your home.

More Tips

The time that you choose to meditate can be a big factor in your success. Some people begin their day with a period of meditation. This comes before they have coffee or food, and most formal meditation practitioners recommend this. Groups, of course, will often practice in the evenings after dinner and before bed.

It is important to practice before meals, since eating may make you sleepy. Staying awake can be challenging, but do not attempt to meditate if you have had caffeine or sugar in the hour before you want to practice. The balance between being too hyper to sit still and being too tired to stay awake is necessary for successful meditation.

It is also important that you continue to work at meditation. Benefits may not be available in the early stages of your practice. Continue to experience meditation in different ways, this will bring the benefits you seek. Peaceful mind, greater health and clearer thinking will all be yours with long-term practice.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW/ASW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 25 years, she has a CATC-IV credential. She is also a lecturer and workshop provider for meditation, mindfulness and issues arising in long-term recovery. Kelly is currently writing a book about the spiritual principles in 12-Step recovery.

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