This post is in partnership with Hancock Regional Hospital as part of their empowering women and children site. All thoughts, experiences, and opinions are my own. Be sure to check out their site for additional resources and support.
I'm THRILLED to bring you all today's post. It's a topic SO near and dear to my heart… and one that has SO much conflicting information out there!!
Prefer to listen instead of read?
Congratulations! You've decided to step up your self care practice and want to get into meditation! I'm thrilled you're exploring it! Meditation has been linked to everything from helping with anxiety and depression, to helping with IBS and insomnia, and even may help with overall heart healthiness! With so many benefits, it's no wonder more and more people are becoming interested.
I started meditating regularly back in 2008. Over the years I've heard so many different ideas about meditation. Seriously – there are SO many contradictory ideas out there like, Meditation is…
✨Only sitting crossed legged, with your palms facing up, eyes closed, breathing deeply, with zero thoughts running through your head
✨Cooking / cleaning / being in nature,
✨Entering a deep state of consciousness which can only be achieved after years and years of practicing stillness…
…and so on. Honestly, it's no wonder so many people feel anxious when they begin meditating! Sometimes, the people you'll come across in the wellness community may place a lot of rules on how it “should” be done that it can stress anyone out!
Before we jump in I want to make one point very clear:
There are no rules.When it comes to meditation there are no rules. There is no set way of 'right' or 'wrong.' There is only a journey of exploration. So have fun, laugh a little, and lighten up!Click To Tweet
Meditation, as defined by dictionary.com, is that state of thinking deeply or focusing one's mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.
Notice there's nothing in there about being in complete stillness or totally silencing the mind? So right away, I want you to let go of the Buddhist monk sitting in blissful stillness and zero thoughts as your end goal.
Since this is the beginner's guide to meditation, I want to chat a little bit about mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as: the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something in the present moment
All forms of mindfulness are meditation, but not all forms of meditation are mindfulness.
In other words, mindfulness is focusing deeply in the here and now. The present moment. And meditation is that too… but with meditation you may find yourself accessing a higher state of consciousness (spirituality). This is where you hear people have talked to spirits or tapped into the akashic records (the data stored in the stars about all there is and all there ever was!), and so many more juicy adventures!
Where can you start with your meditation practice?
I know I just said there are no rules and you can literally start anywhere, but I also know, most of us like step-by-step guides when exploring something new. So I'm going to give you a few guidelines to create a starting point for your meditation practice. I highly encourage you to use this as a jumping off point, and then make it your own! Follow your intuition and have fun!
Step 1: Find what comes most naturally to you.
Remember mindfulness/meditation is about the deep focus. Find something that allows you to do this easily. Typically this will be in the wheelhouse of mindfulness.
For instance, if you're a runner, when starting your meditation practice it'll probably be easier to do a running or walking meditation where you focus on the present moment. No music, no technology, simply feeling the heel of your foot on the earth and how it rolls to the ball with each step. Noticing the sounds, smells, and colors around you.
If you are an artist who loves painting, start with paint, pastels, or even crayons to bring you into the present. Noticing the feel of your tools on your canvas, the sounds, the smells.
If you're over here thinking, “uhhh great, I don't have any hobbies,” don't worry! Try mindful eating! For beginners, I love to do this with a citrus since it has so many qualities your mind can anchor into. Feeling the skin, peeling the skin, all of the different textures, smells, and tastes. OH MY! It's coming to life for me as I write this!
Notice with each of these suggestions, I'm have you notice how your different senses engage and anchor into the practice. In other words, whatever practice you choose to do, simply acknowledge what is happening for each of your senses. Don't judge it, don't stress, just observe what is happening for you in that moment.
Step 2: Create space
This is only a suggestion, because truthfully you can meditate anywhere! Even in the middle of a concert or crowded subway platform! Ideally, you'll put away your cellphone (or at least turn off notifications), to limit the number of external distractions you'll come in contact with. Next, you'll want to think about the practice you'll want to do that day and create space for it.
For example, if you want to try a mindful walk, maybe visit a private beach or a nature preserve nearby. You can 100% do this around your block or in a busy city street; I just find it more enjoyable when you find a location that feels a little more private and mystical.
If you're looking to do it at home, maybe create an altar, with candles, tarot or oracle cards, crystals, and colors that light you up. My friends at Hancock Regional Hospital also created some videos to bring the ocean, a stream, or a waterfall into your space.
Step 3: Breathe
The breath is a powerful tool in meditation. In fact, some meditations will solely focus on the breath. For some people, this can feel a bit overwhelming when starting out, which is why I suggested finding something that comes naturally to you when starting out and the branching out to other forms. Whatever you choose to do for your practice, remember to breathe deeply.
As always there are no set rules on how to breathe, but here are some suggestions or things to explore:
- Inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth at whatever pace is comfortable for you
- Dirga Pranayama: Inhaling in three parts: 1) into the belly feeling it rise, 2) into the ribs feeling them expand, 3) into the chest feeling it lift; then Exhaling in three parts first letting go of the chest, drawing the ribs in, and then exhaling from the belly. For this practice you may choose to put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest to feel the breath moving through you.
- With movement: inhaling our arms up, exhaling them down; inhaling your foot forward, and exhaling your other foot forward, etc.
The key here is to keep breathing, and become more aware of your breath. As someone who used to struggle with panic attacks this was a game changer. I discovered that I spent most of my time either holding my breath or hyperventilating, there was no in between for me.
For more tips on breathing meditations check out this post from my friends at Hancock Regional Hospital.
Step 4: Roll with distractions
They will come up, if not your first time eventually. You'll start thinking about your next meal, an email you have to return, laundry, basically anything. That's all totally normal! The key is to not engage the thoughts. Let them scroll through your head like the stock market ticker at the bottom of a tv screen.
If you find yourself engaging with the thought, that's okay too, just notice it and then return to your practice. I remember when I was starting out and would hear the phrase “notice the thought and let it go” a lot! If that's something you struggle with, try envisioning the thought floating into a bubble, then the bubble floating away. Do not beat yourself up, scold yourself, or get anxious when these thoughts come up. Just breathe and imagine with every exhale you push them further away.
Step 5: Journal
Again, this step is optional, just like step 2. As a writer, I like to jot down any visions or messages that may have come up for me. It's pretty common for me to come out of a meditation with a strong drive to build a fort, call someone, or do something out of my day-to-day.
As a beginner, it can be helpful to evaluate what was working for you and what wasn't. For example, my back muscles became pretty weak for a while, so doing a sitting meditation for more than five minutes often resulted in me thinking about the pain and feeling frustrated. Instead of forcing myself to keep going back to that place day after day, I began lying down for my meditations. Use this journaling time to jot down what you'd like to explore next time or how you can personalize the practice.
There are no rules. No standards. No time constraints. Some people like to measure their practice by asking “did I relax?” – and honestly, even if you didn't relax that's still a beautiful experience to explore and grow from. There is no judgment when it comes to meditation.
I do like using the “relaxation” metric because obviously obsessing over house hold chores while “meditating” is in fact not meditating. But then I have an opportunity to check in with myself and explore why I chose to obsess over chores rather than meditate. Usually it's because something is coming up in my day-to-day life I haven't been willing to look at, so my mind gave me all the distractions during my practice to continue not looking at it. If you find yourself constantly distracted by mundane tasks while meditating, ask yourself out loud, “what do I need to explore, that I haven't been willing to look at until this moment.”
But what if…
I know I've written a lot about rolling with distractions in this post, but I want to talk about a different struggle that comes up a lot: total stillness.
When my husband sits down to meditate, his mind empties out. Nothing happens, it's totally dark and still for him. He would hear about my meditations, with vivid visualizations and smells and typically focus around actively engaging with a higher level of consciousness, and would get frustrated, “Why isn't that happening for me!?”
But here's the thing, no matter where your meditation takes you, it's exactly where you need to go in that moment. If you find total darkness and stillness in your meditation, that's fantastic, it's your brain detoxing from information overload of the day! Know that nothing is permanent, and his meditations have evolved as he's continued to practice to intense visualizations and other woo-woo explorations.No matter where your meditation takes you, it's exactly where you need to go in that moment. Click To Tweet
The practice is yours, let it grow and flourish
Lastly, I want to say, if anyone ever tries to shame you that your practicing mindfulness and not meditation, roll your eyes and go about your day! Know that mindfulness is a form of meditation and everyone eventually develops their own meditative practice!
For instance, my meditation practice over the years has completely evolved from mindful walks, to mindful meals, to yoga, to lucid dreaming, to accessing higher levels of consciousness. Today, my meditations typically focus around actively engaging with a higher level of consciousness. That means I have thoughts, I engage with the thoughts – but they aren't thoughts about distractions in my daily life (for instance they aren't about a fight I got into or what my next meal will be). So get ready to explore, grown, and flourish as you make this a more regular practice in your life.
Quick Recap (Cheat Sheet for Getting Started with your Meditation Practice):
– There are no rules
– Create space (an altar, music, aromatherapy, etc.) to help you get your Zen on
– Try mindfulness meditations (such as walking, eating, yoga, painting, etc.), guided meditations, breathing meditations, and so on!
– Limit distractions (like phone notifications)
– There are so many options to explore, so just have fun!