7 Tips for starting a Meditation Practice
Meditation can be daunting at first especially if you try it without any guidance or tools. Perhaps you tried it once and had a bad experience? Whatever your circumstance, in this article I am going to share with you my top tips for starting a Meditation Practice. Develop the tool belt you need to make Meditation part of your life.
My journey with Meditation:
A common story
I’ve always had a really active mind and the thought of sitting still in silence never really appealed to me. My first experience of Meditation was a group class where all the other participants were much more experienced. As I entered the room and saw everyone slip comfortably into a seated posture and close their eyes, I was in terror. “Was this all the class was going to be? Simply sitting!”.
There was minimal guidance, no tools or techniques passed on, I felt completely out of my depth. For the 2 hour class I fidgeted and complained (in my head at least) and I walked out of the class vowing I would never do that again. Unfortunately I hear the same kind of experiences over and over.
Years later when I was suffering from Anxiety and Depression, I decided on a whim to do a Yoga Teacher Training. During this period I was given actual techniques and guidance in how to start and maintain a Meditation Practice and surprisingly, I started to enjoy it. Even on the more difficult days, when Meditating was hard, I enjoyed the practice because I could feel the impact it was having on my life. I could feel the anxiety receding, my thoughts slowing, and my reactions to life’s challenges calming.
misconceptions about meditation
Before we get into the tips for starting a Meditation Practice, let me firstly clear up some misconceptions surrounding Meditation. Firstly, Meditation is not easy. That’s why it is called a Meditation “Practice”. It takes practice just like learning anything else. Secondly, Meditation is not just for when you are blissed out on vacation at an exotic beach. Meditation can be done anywhere and anytime. And the more you do, the more results you will get. Ok, let’s begin!
My top 7 tips for starting a Meditation Practice
1. Start with a mindful Movement Practice
It is tricky to go from busy, stressed, anxious to calm, cool, and still. Movement is therefore key in slowing down the mind and prepping the body for meditation. It might sound counter-intuitive but by doing a mindful movement practice such as Yoga, you start to narrow your awareness of external stimuli and turn inward.
This is in fact how Yoga (the physical aspect) was born. It was created as a way to prep the body and mind for seated meditation. Not only does connecting movement with breath help to slow the body down but the physical benefits of Yoga enable a healthier and more comfortable seated position.
Did you know that the word ‘asana’ (Physical Yoga) actually translates to “Comfortable seat”? A mindful physical practice brings us closer to having a comfortable seat for which to meditate in. And with a more comfortable seat, we give ourselves a better chance to quieten the mind. There are less bodily distractions.
2. Add movement to your practice
If you are anxious or have any nervous energy, then I suggest incorporating mindful movement into your Meditation practice. The movements you use can be simple, they just help to filter out the nervous/anxious energy. Add a movement on the inhale and add a movement on the exhale. The inhale might be arms lift to the sky. The exhale might be arms lower to the ground.
You might not need them for the entire time but this is a great gateway into finding stillness.
3. Tune into Sound
There are sounds all around us. There is never truly silence so we always have something to anchor us. Start your Meditation Practice by tuning into far off sounds in the distance. You don’t need to judge or analyse the sounds, simply note them and move on to the next.
Once you have done this for a few moments, you can start to tune into the sounds in your immediate surroundings, ie. your bedroom, your backyard etc. Once again, you don’t need to judge or analyse the sounds, simply note them and move on to the next.
Tuning into sounds enables you to narrow your attention which in turn starts to slow down the mind.
4. Tune into your breath
We naturally breath every second of every day. It is something that we don’t need to think about, it comes automatically. Therefore breath is an important tool in starting a Meditation Practice because we always have it available to us. By tuning into our natural breath, we start to narrow our awareness and therefore slow down the mind.
There are 3 ways to tune into the breath:
- Notice the subtle sounds the breath makes
- Notice the subtle sensation of the breath as it enter and exits the nostrils. The cooler air on the inhale and the warmer air on the exhale
- Notice the subtle sensations of the breath in the body. The expansion of the lungs and belly on the inhale and the deflation of the mungs and belly on the exhale
5. Use counts
Counting breaths can be a great way to anchor your mind. By connecting a count to either each breath or each inhale/exhale you are able to stay less distracted from other thoughts. Don’t stress though, if, when counting your breaths, you lose track and your mind wanders, simply start again. The point is not to achieve any particular number but to use the counts to simply keep you present.
Eg. Inhale – 1
Exhale – 2
6. Connect a Mantra
Connecting a mantra to the breath is a great way to anchor the mind and also to empower you. Although there are a lot of Mantras in Sanskrit, I mainly use simple English ones that I can resonate with. When choosing a mantra to work with I ask myself, “What would I like to cultivate more of in my life?” If it is more peace then I create a mantra with the word ‘Peace’ in it. Eg. ‘I am peace’ OR ‘I am becoming more peaceful’. Then once you have created a short, simple mantra, simply attach it to each breath. Inhale ‘I am peace’, exhale ‘I am peace’.
The beautiful things with mantra, is that once you work with them over and over, you start to really believe and inhabit them. Changing your thoughts can help to change your entire life.
7. guided meditation
Finally, using a guided Meditation is a great way to starting a Meditation Practice as you have a voice to anchor your mind. Anytime your mind wanders off, you hear the voice and reconnect to the present moment.
The main thing with starting a Meditation practice is that you need some tools and a tool-belt. Simply sitting down, closing the eyes and hoping for the best is not the easiest way to start. See, Meditation is a “practice” and like any other practise, it takes time and work.
I also suggest when starting to take some guided meditations. By tuning into a voice, you have an anchor, something to keep your mind present and not wondering off to to-do lists. I have lots of guided meditations on my online studio Omunay. Or you can download a free one here to kickstart your journey.
About the Author
Emma Hawthorne is a professional Singer and Dancer as well as Yoga and Dance Instructor. She has toured with many Australasian tours of Musicals including Wicked, Hair, Mamma Mia, West Side Story, and Dr Zhivago. She frequently teaches Yoga and Dance at the Sydney Dance Company Studios as well as other studios in and around Sydney. She also has on online studio omunay.com where she has hundreds of online classes in Yoga, Dance, Pilates, and Meditation. Emma is currently living a self-converted bus home called ‘Winnie the Mini Bus’ and travelling around Australia.