Starting a meditation practice
If you’re thinking of adding meditation to your routine, you might feel overwhelmed at the prospect of fitting it into a busy schedule, or wonder how it might benefit you.
Meditation is actually practiced in many forms, but the good news for those seeking a boost to their daily wellness is it’s usually practised for greater relaxation, awareness and clarity of mind.
The meaning of meditation is to contemplate, ponder or devise – and while it can’t be precisely defined, there have been different methods among cultures, religions and countries over the centuries.
Some of the common benefits that have been associated with meditation are stress reduction, improved concentration and mood, and better self awareness.
Several studies have shown that a meditation or self-regulated mindfulness practice can further benefit us – last year a UCLA study found that people who meditated over the long term had better preserved volumes of grey matter as they aged than others.
In a 2014 Harvard University study, a psychology instructor at the university’s medical school said, “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
If you’re wondering how to start a meditation or mindfulness practice, here are a few tips:
1. Choose a time and place
You might like to pick a particular room in your house to set up a meditation area – one that’s quiet and has a comfortable temperature. To make meditation a regular practice it can help to select a time of day when others don’t need you, possibly in the early morning or later at night. Although a regular time and place can help you maintain your practice in the long term, you can also add small moments of focus on the present throughout your day.
2. Get comfortable
Make sure your physical needs are met – that you’re sitting or lying in a relaxing position and that you’re well hydrated. People sitting in the Lotus position is commonly used to illustrate meditation, but you don’t need to. That said, posture can make a difference. If you’re sitting, keep your spine straight and relax your shoulders and neck. Closing your eyes may help you relax and focus.
You might also want to stretch first to relax your muscles, or combine meditation with some yoga poses.
Try using objects and things in your environment that make you feel relaxed – like cushions, candles or pictures. Work out whether soft music or ambient background noise help you, or if you prefer silence.
3. Use breathing techniques
Many meditation practices begin with focusing on the breath and returning to this focus if thoughts begin to wander. Our mind typically wanders when we start to meditate – many priorities come with busy lives. But it’s important not to stress if you continue to process competing thoughts as you start to meditate.
Our ambassador Nikki Ralston has some great advice on combining yoga and meditative breathing techniques.
Here are a couple of other resources to reference to incorporate breathing into your meditation practice:
4. Don’t go it alone
Finding a friend or family member to join you when you’re starting out in meditation can help you stick with it. It might be someone who lives nearby and can join you at a class, or you can share books and online resources about meditation with them, or open your house to each other for a shared practice.