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Meditation 101: How to take the spiritual plunge

Ready to join Club Med? Here’s everything you need to know.

There is an old Zen saying: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day — unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” The wit in the quote is self-explanatory, which is why spiritual practitioners across the globe stress the importance of meditation.

The Dalai Lama, too, beautifully explains meditation in simple words. According to the Lama, “Whatever forms of meditation you practice, the most important point is to apply mindfulness continuously and make a sustained effort. It is unrealistic to expect results from meditation within a short period of time. What is required is continuous, sustained effort.”

In fact, many A-list celebrities from Lady Gaga to Emma Watson and Julia Roberts who swear by regular meditation practice. And they are right. Meditation and mindfulness techniques do miracles if you are struggling through the various vicissitudes of life by alleviating stress and anxiety. Although there isn’t a set of rules to follow before you begin meditating, there are certain things you must know before you start this practice of mental decluttering.

Here are a few simple meditation tips for beginners:

History of meditation

Meditation
Image: Courtesy Hans Vivek/Unsplash

Historians date back meditation to 3,000 BCE. However, according to PositivePsychology.com, it can be traced to 1,500 BCE in India, based on the oldest written records that come from the Hindu tradition of Vedantism. It says that the practice of Dhyāna or Jhāna can be translated as meditation and refers to the training of the mind.

Similarly in China, it goes back to the third or sixth century BC based on the writings of an ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi, the Daoist. Some of the terms used to describe meditation techniques can be found in his writings. They are Shou Zhong or ‘guarding the middle’, Bao Yi or ‘embracing the one’, Shou Jing or ‘guarding tranquillity’, Bao Pu or ‘embracing simplicity.’

Thus, references for meditation can be found across various religions and cultures, which makes outlining when or how it started officially difficult. However, three key people, among many others, were prominent in spreading the practice of meditation. They are Gautama Buddha (India), Lao-Tze (China) and Dosho (Japan). 

Furthermore, meditation is broadly practised based on three cultural traditions, namely Buddhism, Sufism and Judaism. Three more types of meditation practices grew during the propagation of Buddhism in India. These are Jainism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Types of meditation

Meditation
Image: Courtesy Shashi Chaturvedula/Unsplash

There are various types of meditation, as not all styles are suitable for everyone, especially beginners. They are Mindfulness Meditation (also known as mindful meditation), Spiritual Meditation, Focused Meditation, Movement Meditation, Mantra Meditation, Transcendental Meditation, Progressive Relaxation, Loving-Kindness Meditation and Visualisation Meditation.

Each style requires a specific type of skill and should be undertaken according to your comfort level. 

Why meditate

Mindfulness
Image: Courtesy Madison Lavern/Unsplash

Nothing should be taken into consideration without asking ‘Why?’ and so, you need to understand why to meditate and what benefits you can derive from it.

Mindful gives us five reasons to meditate — First, it helps understand your pain; second, it lets you lower stress; third, it helps you to connect better with yourself and others; fourth, it aids in improving focus; last, it reduces brain chatter.

As meditation has different effects on every individual, the results from the practice varies from person to person. It may not guarantee a particular outcome but can help you understand the issues and deal with them in a better way. Additionally, it may not give you solutions in the wink of an eye, but it can aid in channelising your thoughts and energies to react to things that are bothering you while keeping you calm. It also lets you take a positive approach towards handling a situation and positively influences your outlook on yourself and others.

Mindfulness comes with practice, but making it an integral part of your routine needs a little hard work. Keeping the priming effect in mind, set reminders like alarms on your phone or keep meditation-related things, such as a yoga mat or cushions, around you. So, whenever you pass them, they will prompt you to sit for your daily practice. You can also try creating patterns like taking a deep breath every time you enter your work space.

Among its many benefits, meditation not only reduces stress and anxiety levels but also improves health and concentration as well and aids in dealing with addiction issues. It soothes physical and mental pain, leading to emotions of kindness, too. 

Posture, place, outfit and duration

Posture
Image: Courtesy RODNAE productions/Pexels

Although there is no specific place, like we usually see in pictures (under a tree, on a beach or near mountains), you can sit in a comfortable position anywhere. However, make sure to position yourself upright with a straight back on a chair, cushion, floor or wherever you feel at ease. Keep your neck relaxed and hands on your lap or knees for more comfort. 

When it comes to clothing, Headspace suggests you can choose to wear nothing if you are in the privacy of your home, or wear anything loose to feel relaxed while you simply focus on your thoughts and do some mindful breathing.

If you wish to fix a time, you can do so as per your convenience but ideally, ten minutes is recommended for meditation beginners as per Headspace. You can gradually increase the duration of the meditation session up to 15 or 20 minutes once you have trained your mind well. 

However, if ten minutes sounds too long a time for you or you begin losing focus, then try for four to five minutes initially to tame your wandering mind and increase it with practice.

Steps to follow

Focus
Image: Courtesy Antoni Shkraba/Pexels

Keeping your mind away from all the external noises and distracting thoughts is indeed a difficult task. However, some meditation practitioners say that you don’t have to keep the noises away, you just have to train yourself in a way that the noises or thoughts do not bother you when you are meditating.

Mindful believes, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis.”

Since it is a gradual process, you need to take it slow at first. Here are a few meditation techniques for beginners that you can keep in mind before you start this practice.

  • Once you are comfortably seated, you need to be clear as to why you wish to meditate — to feel happier or manage stress levels or be more focused or anything else that you want out of the meditation exercise.
  • Be aware of your posture and your whole body. Try to feel it.
  • Try to free your mind from any thoughts and do some mindful breathing.
  • If you have physical or mental concerns, attend to them and tell them to relax. Instead of trying to get rid of them, be aware of physical sensations, and let them take a backseat gradually.  
  • Mindworks suggests you feel your breath in your belly. Do not try to analyse your breathing; just go with the flow. Breathe in and out.
  • If your mind wanders, try to concentrate, but do not force your mind to do so. Be firm yet gentle in your practice.
  • Before getting up, give yourself a moment of peace, thank yourself and the universe for helping you meditate and get back to your daily routine with a refreshed mind.
  • It is important to keep your mindfulness intact even after meditating so that you can deal with daily-life pressures post sessions.

Various guided meditation courses are also available online as well as offline. If you find it difficult to practise on your own, you can always check them out and enrol yourself if necessary. 

However, even though it may sound repetitive, you must remember that miracles don’t happen overnight, and you have to be patient while trying to give your best.  

Hero and featured image credit: Unsplash

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Pyusha Chatterjee
A solo traveller by choice, Pyusha loves exploring life more than anything, after food of course. When she isn't gardening, writing, reading, cooking or singing out loud, you can spot her watching films and series, debating with friends or organising things unnecessarily.
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