We've all wanted to start a meditation practise. We hear the benefits, the science backed evidence, we get psyched up and ready to become the zen master we always wanted to be. But then we sit down to meditate for the first time, the very first time and... what? What am I meant to do? Should I breathe, should I be breathing? Oh my god I can't breathe! Should I be counting? Wait, should I be thinking at all? My back hurts. Are there words, should I be doing a mantra? Am I late for work? Should I google this? How long do I have to do this for? Oh my god I'm stressed. Stop thinking, STOP THINKING. This is hard, I hate this! Is it over. Why can't I stop thinking? Oh good it's over, I'm not doing that again. Wait am I late for work?
Cut it how you like, meditation is the practise of sitting still in the present moment, in your own thoughts without getting swept away by them.
It has a host of benefits, from reducing your risk of dementia to helping alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. You can increase your creativity and focus as well as decrease your reactivity to stressful situations. Yet meditation itself can feel stressful, especially if you don't know where to start.
The truth is there are several ways to mediate, so I've compiled a list of a few of them, techniques on how to do them and resources of where to find them, if you would like a guide.
Counting the Breath:
Potentially one of the simplest forms of meditation because it helps us bring our attention to the breath and away from general 'thinking', breath counting is simply counting the number of seconds it takes for you to inhale and how many seconds it takes for you to exhale.
How to do it:
Start by finding a place to sit or lie comfortably, where you have a reasonable chance of not being disturbed.
Lower your gaze or close your eyes.
Take a few long deep breaths
Starting on your inhale, count slowly up to four
Hold your breath for the count of four
Exhale for the count of four
Continue doing this for anywhere between 1-5 minutes, you can use a timer on your phone if this helps
Allow breathing to return to normal and make a note of how you feel
Another way to meditate can be to scan through your body, paying attention to each area and noticing what sensations you can/cannot notice.
How to do it:
Find a comfortable position either lying on your back or sitting upright on a chair or mediation stool/pillow
Close the eyes and for a few moments just notice the breath, notice how the body feels and any thoughts that are in your head
Gently bring attention to focus on your feet, notice your toes, the tops and bottoms of your feet. Maybe notice where they are in contact with the floor. The temperature of them, how the bones and muscles feel, or any tingling sensation.
Gradually bring attention up the body in the same way, noticing your ankles, claves and shins, knees, upper thighs, hips etc
Once you have scanned the whole body sit for a few moments feeling in to how it feels, then allow your attention to rest for a few moments
Open the eyes and notice how you feel
Watching the Senses:
Similar to the body scan, this meditation moves through your body, but pays special attention to the five different senses in order to ground you in the present moment.
How to do it:
Find a space to sit or lie down
Take a couple of breaths grounding in to your body
When you are ready close your eyes
Notice the landscape of your emotions, any thoughts, how fast your breath is
Notice any pressing physical sensations
Gradually notice all the places your body is in contact with the floor
Notice all the places you can feel textures on your body
Next call to attention how the breath feels in your nostrils, the temperature, smell and texture of the air
Slowly notice the different noises around you, from furthest away to closest
Watch all these sensations as they work together to create the moment you are sitting in, breath by breath
Relax your attention for a few moments
Open your eyes and notice how you feel
Three-part breath is one of the first steps in cultivating a breath practise (pranayama) in yoga. It involves noticing the breath individually in the belly, the lungs and the chest, before pulling all three parts of the breath together. I love this meditation as the breath feels like a wave moving up and down the body. It may feel different to you - let me know!
Lie down, or dit down comfortably
Take a few deep breaths to settle and ground yourself in the moment, watching each inhale and each exhale
Start to notice the breath in your lower belly, maybe placing your hand there for a few breaths. Notice its rise and fall, expansion and release
Draw your attention up to the ribcage. Notice how as you breathe your ribs pull apart and then back together, watch this for a few breaths
Then draw your attention to the chest, notice how the breath feels in this airy space. Is it easier or harder to breathe here? How do your shoulders feel?
Start inhaling into your belly, then your lungs then your chest
Exhale, first from your chest, then lungs and finally your lower belly
Repeat this for a few breath cycles then allow your breathing to return to normal
Notice how you feel then, when you are ready, open the eyes
There are many more types of mediation but all four of these types can be used as a simple diving board before you get deeper into the world of breath and body. Read each over and maybe try each one before deciding which is right for you and your practise. As ever, let me know how you feel and which one works best for you!