In this article I will try to summarize the experience of meditation I have gained over the past five years, especially: what meditation is, why would you start a meditation practice, what are the benefits of meditation and how to meditate in a correct way. At the end of this article you will find also the best books on meditation, some curiosities about alternative ways of meditation and an infographic to be used as a workflow for your practice!
I will suggest you some very practical steps on how to start meditating and practicing it effectively, and if you are a beginner you will understand and be intrigued by the steps too.
What is meditation?
I admit I had a lot of prejudices about meditation before starting to practice it consistently. I considered meditation one of those fads, new-age stuff, without any practical implication. I could not be more wrong.
Undoubtedly, meditation is a traditional practice associated with religions like Buddhism or Hinduism, but the truth is that meditative practices can be found in many different areas, from Western religions (prayer is meditation) to art, to the most recent applications in the fight against stress. Meditation has its history, but not for this should be labeled.
From this point of view, I appreciate the definition of Wikipedia:
Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself.
Why should you meditate?
You will gain an inner peace, increasing self-awareness and being one with the whole. It will make you more present here and now, making you acquiring consciousness and being inspired by life itself, leading you to continuously try to improve your own life and your own habits.
Benefits of meditation
Meditate with a goal in mind is itself incorrect. If we extend our mind in the near future, filling it with a lot of expectations, we’re not meditating. Meditation should, in fact, help us bring our minds and our attention at the present time and in the current place, that should help us achieve what I have called the “Here and Now”.
It is undeniable that meditation has many benefits in the short, medium and long-term, proven by numerous scientific studies.
Below I have listed the three main benefits that you can draw from a constant meditation practice:
1) Increase your concentration
Many people consider the time the most valuable resource; indeed the time is your most “democratic” support: we have possible 86,400 seconds per day, indeed avoiding procrastination is one of the best actions we can do during the day.
The real scarce resource today is the concentration. The human mind tends to be easily distracted. Given a particular activity, our attention is halved after the first 15-20 minutes, to vanish altogether after about 40-45 minutes.
This phenomenon takes the name of “decrease of vigilance”, and it is also a reason concerning our forgetfulness when we read, and we don’t remember things.
It is the reason a study session should never last more than 45 minutes. It is always better to take a break or some rest of 10-15 minutes every 45 minutes of studying.
A survey carried out by K.A. MacLean (University of California) has emerged that the meditation practice can address the problem of “decrease of vigilance.” Meditation, in fact, get used to our mind to stay focused for long periods. These principles are the basis of concentration techniques.
2) Strengthen the immune system
Meditation can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body: it implies a series of beneficial effects on our immune system. However, numerous studies have shown that meditation has an impact far more extensive. A fascinating example is the significant increase of antibodies in the participants of the program Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). So meditation can have tangible impacts on your health.
If you want to know how to meditate for anxiety, read more at: Meditative hacks that reduce anxiety.
3) Help your memory to improve
Meditation can change our brains. A joint study conducted by researchers at Yale and Harvard have shown that meditation is associated with increased gray matter in those regions of the brain associated with learning and memory. Meditating makes you smarter.
I hope you did not get bored with those references to several scientific studies, but it is crucial that you have been convinced of the practicality and effectiveness of this practice, wiping out any injury.
But now, the time has come to put in action and find out how to meditate effectively, deeply and easily at home!
If you are a beginner and want to have a first brief but complete summary on how to meditate for beginners check this useful link.
How to meditate effectively
There are dozens of different forms of meditation and many meditative traditions.
In this post, I decided to bring you the experience I earned on how to meditate in practice. I think this is the most simple and efficient procedure, the so-called mindfulness meditation, which is basically a set of mindfulness activities.
Here is the list of actions you are suggested to follow for your first meditation session, and that’s exactly how you do meditate step-by-step :
1. Sit comfortably
Remember to keep your back straight. You can sit on any chair or if you prefer you can sit on the ground, taking the classic lotus position (cross-legged, as in the picture). Initially, I suggest you take the position of the semi-lotus, where one foot is resting on the opposite thigh while the second is located on the other thigh.
I noticed the benefits using a meditation cushion.
2. Find the correct posture
Posture profoundly affects the quality of the meditation practice. To find the right set-up try to test swinging left and right, back and forth, until you find your balance point. The abdomen should be slightly protruding, the head should push up, the chin back and the nose in line with the stomach. During the meditation, the mouth should be closed, with the tongue resting on the palate. Initially, this position may seem very complicated, but with practice, it will become very natural.
3. Get the hands in Zazen posture
During meditation hands are collected and laid on the foot, the left on the right, with the thumbs forming a horizontal line and the little fingers that reach the abdomen (see the picture).
A little bit about Zazen Meditation
“I want to give a little information regarding Zazen meditation.
I am yoga practitioner and have been a yoga teacher for about 6 years now. Zazen meditation is a form of meditation that originated from the Buddhist tradition and is generally practiced by sitting in a kneeling, cross legged position, or on a zafu ( which is a small pillow like object).
There are many ways to perform Zazen meditation and most practitioners make can make it there own, choosing bits of what may work for them and leaving what does not.
Generally how I practice this style of meditation is by lighting a candle, sitting on a Zafu, I simply bow before meditation, once meditation begins I focus on the candle of an object in front of me. The gaze is at about 60 degree angle.
Hands are rested in my lap.
The eyes do not close but are simply focused downward.
The focus is simply on the breath or on numbers counting up from one or down from 100. If I lose count I simply start over. If my attention goes else where I do not force thoughts out but simply return to my numbers or placing my attention on my breath.
Meditation can last how ever long but 20 minutes is a great time.”
~ by Ariel Wright Tinker; you can reach her at https://about.me/ariel.nicole
4. Close a bit your eyes
A good suggestion on how to meditate properly is this fundamental action: the eyes must not be open, to avoid distractions, or completely closed, to avoid falling asleep! Keep them slightly ajar and facing a point about a meter away.
5. Concentrate on your breathing
Now that you have found the correct position focus your attention on the breath. Focusing on the breath is the first good hint on how to meditate deeply.
Do not force it, just observe it. Feel the air entering into your lungs and then slowly coming out. Soon you’ll see how to stay focused on something as straightforward and natural as breathing is not simple at all. Your mind will start to wander, perhaps remembering the commitments of the day.
Do not worry, it’s natural.
Without force, return your attention to the breath, just observe from outside your thoughts.
6. Use a mantra
To increase your concentration on the breath, you can use a mantra. A mantra is a short phrase that we repeat over and over again. Synchronize the mantra to your breath. Among the mantras used in meditation, there is the classic “Ham-Sa”.
This is a universal mantra since it reproduces the sound of our breathing, where “ham” is repeated mentally during inspiration and “Sa” as you exhale. Another very common mantra is “So-Hum” (whose pronunciation is: “So ‘ham”), which in Sanskrit means “I am this”, where this is the whole universe. Also, in this case, the mantra is synchronized with the breath: the “I” is pronounced mentally during inspiration and the “Hum” as you exhale. I have to say that you can also use numbers as a mantra!
The technique to maintain focus on the breath is just to count up to 10 (where the odd numbers are the inspirations and peers expirations) and then start over.
Discover the importance of mantras.
7. Find your ideal duration
You don’t know how much time do you need for meditation at home? Let’s face it, no one here is a monk who can devote entire days to Zen meditation, yet it is appropriate to devote sufficient time to this practice.
The ideal would be to practice two meditation sessions (one in the morning and one in the evening) lasting 15-20 minutes each.
But it is right that everyone could find his ideal duration, and to do so there is a little trick: during the meditation, you will be tempted to stop and get up. Instead of yielding to the first impulse, just observe it for three times, bringing attention to your breathing. The third time you can conclude your meditation, returning slowly to your commitments.
In order to learn effectively the steps mentioned above, you could check how to learn meditation.
You can get into a meditative state in any situation and any context, bringing your attention to the breath and observing in abstract thoughts and external events. In addition to the mentioned benefits, you’ll see from time to time how meditation has in store other precious treasures for you.
With only five years of meditation behind, I do not consider myself an expert at all, and in this article I have tried to share my studies and my personal experience directly.
If you wish to deepen the subjects, you can find some resources below.
Best books on meditation (in order of importance and must-have):
- “How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind”, by Pema Chödrön
- “Wherever You Go, There You Are”, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- “Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment―and Your Life”, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment”, by Eckhart Tolle
- “8 Minute Meditation Expanded: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life.”,by Victor Davich
I hope this article has intrigued you enough to start your meditation practice as soon as you can.
Alternative ways of meditation
Meditation masters have many years of practice and persistence behind them, so it doesn’t take long for them to get into meditative state. In fact, they maintain that state throughout the day, no matter what they do. For us, normal people, the attempt to meditate looks differently.
The mind seems like a beast that’s impossible to conquer. For most people, it takes years and years of practice to get to the level when they can truly experience that empty space in meditation.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an attempt. However, your practice should be aimed at more ‘mundane’ techniques, which will slowly make your mind focused without torturing it.
We offer 5 alternatives to meditation you can try with no delays.
“Vipassanā meditation has been reintroduced in the Theravada-tradition by Ledi Sayadaw and Mogok Sayadaw and popularized by Mahasi Sayadaw,S. N. Goenka, and the Vipassana movement, in which mindfulness of breathing and of thoughts, feelings and actions are being used to gain insight into the true nature of reality.
Due to the popularity of Vipassanā-meditation, the mindfulness of breathing has gained further popularity in the west as mindfulness.”
~ from Wikipedia.org
Try and then leave a comment, to discuss this kind of experience; I will answer for you and clarify your doubts.
Listen to music while meditating
Some people prefer to meditate with a light background music while others prefer the silence.
If you belong to the first group, choose a good track that will soothe your mind to relax.
Some examples of suitable music are the sounds of nature (rain, ocean waves), traditional music (like flute symphonies by Native Americans), or you can try the contemporary music like that of Steven Halpern. The choice of music, however, depends entirely on your taste, then feel free to experiment, and find the music that suits you.
A very good online source of music for meditation: Deep Zen Meditation.
PS. Here you can see a summary into an Infographic that you may easily download (just right-click then “save image”) or pin on Pinterest!
Keep this worksheet for meditation and mindfulness activities always with you, in order to get experience with this new habit.
Now, you have learned the benefits you get from this wonderful habit, then meditate 🙂