We have all heard the benefits of meditation: decreased stress, anxiety and tension accompanied with feelings of well-being, patience, concentration and compassion. These benefits are easy to grasp conceptually and many of us make ourselves grand promises to start integrating meditation into our daily lives. With the best of intentions, we sit down in a silent room and get to “shutting our brain off.” It is not long before our knees start hurting, our to-do lists start screaming and our shut off brain is running on over drive.
The problem is not you or meditation. It is all in the approach. To begin, be easy on yourself. Choose a technique from below or elsewhere that suits you personally, and just challenge yourself to five minutes a few times a week. Meditate in a truly comfortable position whether you are sitting cross legged, in a comfortable chair, or lying down with pillows supporting you. You can practice at home or, if you do better with group activities, attend a class.
When many of us think about meditation, we think of sitting down in silence with our legs crossed and our mind blissfully blank. This is the Zen Buddhist practice of zazen, and it may be this simple for some of us. Many more types of meditation exist, however, and for every learning style there is an approach to meditating.
Guided meditations are extremely useful in anchoring you to the present moment by providing structure and sound. If you don’t want to attend a class, there are many excellent free guided meditations on the internet. Visualizations are also extremely useful anchors and can be guided or learned ahead of time. Some people use a mantra (a word, sound, or statement) that is silently repeated or murmured. When using mantras, you can also hold japa mala beads which resemble the Christian rosary: each bead is a single repetition of your mantra. This mantra is very straightforward, memorable and can be done anywhere.
For whichever approach you choose, remember a few things:
- First, the purpose of meditation is not to attain anything, we meditate to become present.
- Second, the brain will not simply shut off; the trick is to allow thoughts, ideas, images, etc. to come without holding on or judging.
- Third, meditation is a practice. The progression of this practice will reflect the amount of time and effort put into it.
Ashley A. Cooper is a freelance writer and yoga instructor residing in Truckee, CA.