Friday, January 12, 2018

Guest Post: Meditation 101: The Basics of How to Meditate

Meditation is a big part of practicing Mindfulness, and yet I have felt so intimidated to start or even knowing where I should begin so that is why I feel so very fortunate to introduce Jen O'Neil from Buddha Belly here on Pursuing Delights. Her wonderful post has really helped me feel much more confident in start my own meditation practice and I just know it will help you as well!

Meditation 101: The Basics of How to Meditate  

Meditation has made a huge difference in my life and I want to share that with all of you. Are you interested in learning about meditation, just starting out or an old hat at finding the quiet in your mind? Well this post on Meditation 101 is for you. I’ll break down the basics of meditation and why you should be meditating. So if you’re a newbie you’ll gain a lot of basic information and if you’re more experienced a brush up on the basics is always good and you may learn something new!

Before we get into the basics of meditation let’s take a quick look at why you should be meditating!

Research has shown that meditation:
·         Increases positive emotions
·         Increases satisfaction with your life
·         Boots your immune system
·         Decrease your response to pain
·         Help you cope with what you can’t control
·         Can reduce loneliness
·         Increases memory and attention
·         Decreases anxiety, stress and depression
·         Gives you perspective
·         Improves emotional stability

If you want more in-depth information on why you should meditate and the different forms of meditation check out my mediation series here.

Meditation looks so simple that most people discount all the growth you can gain from it, but it’s actually much harder than it seems. We spend a lot of time learning the go, go, go mentality. Most of us as kids had to fit in sports, chores, school work and were expected to excel at each. As adults we then have to balance work, physical health, a social life, kids, etc. We spend very little time just sitting, breathing and being. Challenging that mentality of needing to get it all done as soon as possible can be extremely difficult, but like anything else new you just have to start with small steps.
If you want to learn how to meditate just keep reading!

Make a peaceful spot for yourself.
Even people who have been meditating for years can have a difficult time focusing when their surroundings are less than peaceful. I’m a huge advocate of making a special spot in your house for your meditation practice. I have a special cushion that I bought for meditation that is bright, colorful and makes me happy to look at. I get my diffuser going with mint, let everyone know not to bother me for a bit and make sure that I’m in a comfortable position. Most people prefer to be seated with their legs crossed, their booties on a cushion and their backs supported, but if that’s uncomfortable for you then you can do your meditation laying down or in any other comfortable position. The main objective is that you are just in a comfortable place and are actually trying to meditate. If I know I’m going to have a busy day I have been known just to meditate in my car.

Figure out what method of meditation you want to start with.
There are so many different types of meditation out there it can be hard to figure out which one is the best one to start with. I’m a fan of starting with guided visualization because I personally have a hard time simply sitting still and being. For me this is easy mode for meditation, but everyone is different. Guided visualization for some could bring up a lot of feelings they aren’t quite ready to deal with. Guided meditation is basically a meditation technique that uses the imagination to help you visualize different things. If you think guided visualization might be a good place for you to start out just type it into YouTube and find a video that looks interesting!
You may be more comfortable with simply concentrating on your breath instead. When I’m doing breathing meditation I get comfortable on my cushion and do square breathing. I breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4 and repeat. Thoughts will come in and out. Let them drift through your brain, acknowledge them as thoughts and then send them away as you focus back on your square breathing.  For me this is the hardest form of meditation because I have a terrible time just sitting and concentrating, but it’s also been the method that’s been the most beneficial to me in my life.
Some other types of meditation you may want to look into is walking meditation, affirmation meditation, transcendental meditation, mindfulness, and many more. I like to shake up how I meditate each day because it constantly challenges me and keeps me from getting comfortable in my safety zone.

Start out small.
There is absolutely no need to start out meditating for an hour a day. You can reap benefits from just a small amount of time. I would stay start at 5-10 minutes daily and increase from there. Meditation is less about the amount of time and more about making it a habit and finding that place in yourself where you’re at peace so that you can continue to tap into that even when you aren’t meditating. I try to meditate in the morning and in the evening, but when I was first starting out I would just do it on my lunch breaks. You want to make meditation something you enjoy and not another chore on your to-do list.

Keep a journal.
It can be so hard to notice slight changes in yourself or see how your perspective has shifted. I highly suggested keeping a journal where you monitor your happiness, anxiety, depression, etc. with numbers. 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. You can choose whatever you want to monitor. I also write about how I’m feeling and I can see how meditation uplifts my mood and helps give me temperance, but for some quantitative date is easier than qualitative data.

Don’t judge yourself.
Some days you are going to slip right into that easy, meditative place and other days you’ll feel itchy in your skin and want nothing more than to just stop. Stick with it! You’re human and no one is perfect at anything at any given time. Allow yourself the ability to have bad meditation days and let them go. End your practice with telling yourself that you simply did a good job just by meditating today. Those days where you want nothing more than to get on with your day are just as important, if not more so, than the days where you are on point. Those are the days where you learn patience, focus and humility.

Find someone to keep you accountable.
This may work for some or may be torture for others. Find what works for you. If you’re someone who finds being held accountable makes you more likely to succeed then find a buddy who can check in with you once in a while on your meditation journey and see how you’re doing. You can also look for a class or group that is all about bringing together others who want to meditate. However, this may also make meditation feel like a chore to you which is not what we want. If you start getting that feeling than it is best to walk this journey on your own.

Figure out your best time.
When are you most likely to fit in meditation? When do you seem to get the best effects from it? For me I love meditating in the morning because it gets my day off to a good start and I love meditating in the evening because it helps my mind from being a monkey brain filled with my to-do list for the next day. Meditation is a very individual journey so don’t be afraid to change things up.

Challenge yourself.
Just like anything meditation can get boring or your practice can stagnant. Push yourself out of your comfort zone by meditating in a new spot or with more distractions around you. Try a new type of meditation or a new class.

Here’s a quick and basic meditation for your first try! 

Set a timer for 10 minutes and put it in the other room so it doesn’t startle you when it goes off. Find a quiet place where you won’t be bothered or distracted for 10 minutes. Take a cross-legged seat on a pillow and support your back if necessary. Take a deep and cleansing breath feeling your stomach expand as you sit taller.

Scan your body for tightness or tension starting at your feet and moving your way up to your head slowly. If you feel any tightness or tension take the time there just to breathe and relax that area. Keep moving your way up and make sure to drop your shoulders and let your jaw be slack.

Now just be still. Focus on your breath. Breathe in slowly and feel your abdominals expand with the air and as you breathe out really focus on your out breath as your abdominals sink back in and you let more and more of your tension sink out of you. Breathe in while visualizing yourself taking in a golden light of good and when you exhale see yourself letting go of all your tension and bad thoughts through black light pouring out of your mouth.

Your mind will wander, but just keep bringing it back to your breath. Don’t beat yourself up when your mind drifts. This is normal. Just focus your thoughts back on breathing in the good and exhaling out the bad.

When your alarm goes off slowly wiggle your toes and fingers and open your eyes slowly.

As you become more practiced with meditation you will have a sense of calm and slowness that will allow you to have better focus and better mental health. Both a win in my book! I encourage you to make meditation a part of your daily life and reap the benefits that I have. Science is backing me up!

Jen O’Neill is the author of Buddha Belly, a wellness and lifestyle blog focusing on her journey to wellness and looking stylish while doing it! Helping others learn to be their best selves is her greatest passion right after coffee and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can find her hiking with her boyfriend and Husky around the Chicagoland area, taking pretty pictures for her instagram or nerding out on the latest scientific studies in the wellness community.


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