If we aren’t already meditating, chances are we’ve thought about giving it a go. Perhaps we’ve wanted to but have felt a bit daunted, not knowing how or where to start. Sound familiar? The good news is if you’re thinking about it you’re half way there. All you need now is a bit of discipline, an open mind, a good attitude and somewhere comfortable to sit. Nothing more. There is no right or wrong way to approach starting a meditation practice; no previous training or knowledge required.
There’s a reason buzz words like mindfulness, meditation and consciousness are on the rise. Plain and simply – meditation works. The fact is that by meditating we are subconsciously changing the neurological functions and patterns in our brain, creating positive flow on effects to many areas of our lives. A daily meditation practice has been proven to increase focus, reduce stress and tension, increase immunity and resilience, increase compassion, build self-awareness, cultivate better sleeping patterns, decrease feelings of fear and anxiety. The list goes on.
There’s no better time than right now. Not tomorrow, on Sunday, or next week. If you’ve been putting it off, really commit to putting 10 minutes aside for yourself – and just start. It’s as simple as that. Discipline with your practice is key, especially in the beginning. If 10 minutes is too long, just start with 5 minutes and build up.
Find a Quiet, Calm Space
This might be a place in your home, it could be a corner in your living room or bedroom – somewhere quiet and warm (ideally away from noise and any drafts). Something that really helped me was having a small table, just big enough to place a candle and anything else you love (a flower, a picture, a stone). Doing this helps create a space that feels good – somewhere you look forward to coming to.
Meditate first thing in the morning if you can and make it a daily routine
The reason meditation is most effective in the morning is your brain is relatively quiet. If you can – make it a priority to include it in your morning, as it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Think shower, tea, meditate, breakfast. If you can’t make time in the morning, set aside another
Find a seat that’s comfortable for you
You don’t need to sit in full lotus to meditate. Taking the time to find a seat that’s most comfortable for you is really important. This could be on a cushion (kneeling or cross legged), on a chair or on the couch. Somewhere the spine is relatively straight and most importantly the body is comfortable so the breath can move freely through the body. Ideally, we don’t want to meditate lying down as our body associates this with sleeping. Begin the practice by bringing awareness to the body in this position, notice how the physical body feels and take a few deeper, slower than normal breaths here.
Start by focusing on the breath
To begin, bring your awareness to the breath. The breath should be a natural, relaxed breath, focusing on the sensation of the inhale and the exhale coming from the belly, moving up into the lungs and passing in and out of your nose. Once you’ve got this down pat you can try to start to count the breaths. Practice starting from 1 (a complete inhale to exhale is one breath) to 11 and then back from 11 – 1.
Keep the eyes closed and face soft
It might sound basic but it’s really important to keep the eyes closed and relaxed, making sure we aren’t holding tension in the eyes and in the face – checking in to consciously relax the eyes, the jaw and the tongue. With the eyes closed, try gently focusing the eyes to the tip of the nose, or up to the space between the eyebrows. See what feels best. Let the gaze rest somewhere the eyes can feel relaxed. Without judgement notice if the eyeballs flutter. In time as our practice becomes more regular the mind should be become calmer here and the eyes will soften. It also helps to set a timer to gently bring you out of the meditation so you’re not opening the eyes to check the time.
Approach your meditation with kindness and patience
This is a really important one. Especially when we are new to meditating, thoughts will come. Many thoughts! Be ok with this and approach your practice with kindness. When these thoughts come, we gently acknowledge the thought has arisen, trying not to get tangled or caught up in the story of it, not judging it, just acknowledging the thought and letting it pass by, coming back to the sensation of the breath. Our aim in our meditation practice is not to force the mind to be empty, still and peacefully quiet. This may come, in small moments to start with, and then with some time you may find you’re having more space between these thoughts, which is fantastic. However then you may find the mind (the ego) jumps in here – with a ‘wooohoo, you’re doing it!!’ – And just like that you’re back in the mind. As this happens, we just gently acknowledge what’s happening and let the thought drift on by. Kind of like observing clouds, passing in the sky, just watching, witnessing, always coming back to the sensation of the breath in and out of the nostrils.
Reflect on how you feel after your time sitting
After your meditation practice, take a moment to check in, notice how you’re feeling (mentally, emotionally and physically) before you get up and move into the day. The more you can establish the connection between how calm, relaxed or clear we feel after sitting, the easier it becomes to practice each day.
Find a buddy
You don’t necessarily have to do it together, in the same room, or at the same time, but see if you can find someone else who is interested in starting their own meditation practice who you can speak with about it. It’s great to chat about how you’re going, what you’re finding challenging, what you’re enjoying. This also helps keep you disciplined and committed.
Take your practice with you
Once you have a regular practice you can start experiment meditating in places you find yourself in – especially when waiting. Osho says ‘’My meditation practice is simple. It does not require any complex practices. It is simple. It is signing, it is dancing. It is sitting silently.” Keep this in mind next time you’re waiting in line at the supermarket, at the bank, or at the printers at work. Just take a moment to check in with your breath. This simple exercise helps bring you out of the ongoing dialogue of the mind and into the present moment. This is the best part about meditation – It’s an incredibly valuable and powerful tool you will have for life; it’s accessible to everyone and you can use it absolutely anywhere.
I know I said 10, but one last tip for the road is to read up! Read up on the plethora of amazing information out there on the benefits and effects of a daily meditation practice! Find out for yourself what’s actually happening to your brain while you meditate. If the felt benefits alone aren’t enough, the research is endless and should really help keep you inspired. Also, be kind to yourself. The fact you’re starting on this remarkable journey (regardless of how often you sit on your cushion) means you’re doing good things. Gently remind yourself of this and be happy with your progress. Remember there is no right or wrong and I know it can feel like a bit of a chore some days, but stick with it. You won’t regret it.
Sophie Palmer has been practicing yoga for over 9 years and teaches a dynamic style of Hatha and Vinyasa yoga.
Like many, Sophie first turned to yoga for its physical benefits, but with time found the practice of yoga (both on and off the mat) was taking her on a deeper journey; allowing her to feel more open and connected to her heart, mind and surroundings.
Sophie has studied in Sydney, in Bali under Louisa Sear and Lucy Roberts and has completed intensive workshops with Clive Sheridan. She recently returned from India on retreat, where she studied Vedic Meditation and Ayurveda.
When she’s not practicing or teaching yoga, you can find her volunteering with A Sound Life charity, at the beach, exploring nature or in the kitchen experimenting with raw food creations.