Today is World Meditation Day. At a time when the world is going through such uncertainty, the ability to sit in quiet focus and contemplation is a truly helpful tool to help still the waters and bring some peace and tranquility to a busy mind.
There are many misconceptions about meditation; contrary to popular belief the goal of meditation is not always to empty the mind completely. More often, it is to bring the mind to a single point of focus, which does amazing things to the brain. This in turn reaps great benefits, both mental and physical.
Cultivating this single-focus ability improves our sense of self-awareness and helps us to find space to respond to things that provoke us, rather than to react. People who meditate often see these subtle shifts in their mindset and behavior even if they don’t feel like they’re ‘good’ at meditating.
If you aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of resources available to help you on your meditation journey. The following are accessible forms of meditation that are a good place to start if you are intimidated by the thought of jumping in:
Meditation on the Breath
A very effective form of meditation that’s always available to you without needing any recordings or other resources.
Sit or lie in a position that’s comfortable enough to stay in without fidgeting. Bring your attention to your breath: first, notice the feeling of air in your nostrils as you breath in and out. Next, notice the feeling in the throat, then the chest and belly. After a few rounds of breath, allow your attention to rest on the belly button. Notice the rise and fall of the belly as you inhale and exhale. Every time you notice your mind wandering, gently bring your attention back to the breath. It doesn’t matter how many times you do this: noticing when your mind has wandered is in fact the true skill, and so every time you do so is a reason to congratulate yourself for having had that awareness.
Set a timer so that you don’t have to watch the clock. Aim to work up to 20 minutes per session, but don’t be discouraged if that feels like a lot. Even five minutes a day will bring great benefits.
Mindfulness is the act of focusing your attention on the present moment. It’s possible to turn any activity into a mindfulness meditation by bringing your full attention to each aspect of what you’re doing.
An example often given is mindfully eating a strawberry: feel the surface texture on your skin. Smell the fruit. As you take a bite, feel the texture between your teeth and notice the sensation on the tongue before you start chewing. As you chew, notice fully the taste being released into your mouth and where it hits on the tongue. Finally, as you swallow, notice all the sensations in the mouth and throat. You’ll be amazed at how long it can take to eat a strawberry - or any other piece of fruit - in this way!
If you’re interested in a more traditional meditation, try the UCLA Mindful App, which has guided mindfulness meditations of differing lengths.
Often translated as ‘yoga for sleep’, Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation that promotes deep rest by taking you to the brain wave state that you get to just before falling asleep. It often includes visualization and imagery but can also entail self-enquiry into the feelings, sensations and emotions in the body.
Most meditation apps will have a broad range of Yoga Nidra meditations for you to sample, so try a few out to find a teacher whose voice and style work for you. 'Letting go into sleep' and 'Drifting off with gratitude' are two that we like in the Calm App.
Mantra meditation has its origins in Ancient India and the earliest mantras are thought to be at least 3000 years old. Although traditional mantra meditation is a deeply spiritual practice where you are given a mantra by a teacher, you can also choose your own. There are many resources for finding a mantra that resonates with you.
Aside from the spiritual purposes of traditional mantra meditation, modern science has shown that meditation on a mantra can have profound effects on the brain. At its most basic, it’s a form of single-point focus that can calm the mind. More complex, it can tap into our ability to alter our own thinking patterns with the use of repeated phrases.
In order to most benefit from this, set your mantra in the present tense and as if it were true, rather than as a future wish: ‘I am happy and secure’ rather than ‘I will be happy and secure’ or ‘I wish for happiness and security’, for example. Here are a few of our favorite mantras to try:
- I am exactly where I need to be
- I am secure
- I am loved
- I live my true purpose
Ready to give it a go but not sure which resources are best? Take a look at Our Favorite Meditation Apps for some inspiration.