When it comes to improving mindfulness, practicing meditation is a good place to start. It is an activity anyone can pick up and learn and a practice that does not have to take long. Setting aside a few minutes for meditation per day can prove to be worthwhile for your mental health and other aspects of your life.
A Note about Adding Sound to Your Meditation
As a beginner, it may be helpful to use guided meditations. These are narrations instructing you on how to prepare yourself physically and mentally for a meditation session. Guided meditations are used by beginners and the experienced alike, as it’s often helpful to have someone remind us to gently return to the present moment.
For a more independent session, ambient music or nature ambience can serve as a background for meditation. Sound that keeps you alert can be useful if your mind tends to wander, and you can choose to focus on a certain sound within a track, such as water bubbling down a stream, to ground yourself.
It is often difficult to attempt meditation for the first time in complete silence, usually due to the mind wandering or external sound distractions. Some who are experienced may not like to meditate in silence either. Silence is not a requirement for meditation, and it isn’t for everyone.
Ultimately, it is up to personal preference whether to choose narration, music, or silence as the ambience of the session.
Though there are various ways a person can meditate, there are a few principles to consider when starting meditation for the first time.
The foundational principle of meditation lies in breathing. We are not always conscious about our breathing because it occurs automatically, unlike thought-heavy processes like writing.
When picking up a meditation habit for the first time, it might help to listen to a guided meditation session, as explained earlier. The voice you hear will teach you how to bring awareness to your breathing. In most guided meditations you may be told to start the session by focusing on inhaling and releasing the breath (Mindful Staff, 2020). By focusing on the breath as a starting point, you should be able to clear your mind a little easier and return from distractions.
Once you are breathing deeply in your meditation sessions, you should also be knowledgeable about how your breathing affects the rest of your body.
2. Body Awareness
Another important principle of meditation is how we respond to the sensations in our physical body.
In most guided meditations, the narrator will ask you to note the sensations in each part of your body, such as your abdomen or your legs. This type of exercise is called a “body scan”. In most body scan exercises, you are directed to note physical sensations starting at your feet until you gradually reach your face muscles.
You will usually be asked to identify what you feel in a certain part of your body at the present moment. For example, you may be asked to note any tension or generally name the sensation in your legs (Mindful Staff, 2020). You may find that you are uncomfortable with certain body awareness exercises once you’ve tried them, such as exercises based on clenching and unclenching the body’s muscles. Choose the exercises that are the most comfortable to you.
It is important to note that there are guided meditations that focus specifically on body awareness, and they provide a good starting place for extra practice on this type of exercise.
In practicing body awareness, you learn to listen to your body.
3. Thoughts: Note and Release
Beginners and experienced meditators alike experience intruding thoughts while they are meditating.
Whether those thoughts make you feel uncomfortable or are distracting, it is important to recognize those thoughts. An impulse some people have when meditating is to suppress or force the thoughts out of their minds in an attempt to refocus. However, this is an inefficient method, as it’s not possible to “shut off” our thoughts like a lamp. Instead, acknowledge that they have a presence in the present moment (Borges, 2020).
Regardless of whether they’re welcomed, those intruding thoughts are there within your consciousness. The best solution if they’re unwanted is to acknowledge these thoughts and let them pass (Davis, Eshelman, & McKay, 2019). This is usually done by remarking on them, such as saying “this is a thought”, or “that’s a feeling” and imagine the thoughts floating away like leaves down a river. Your thoughts are a part of you, and an important one at that. They exist within the present moment, and then you do not have to hold on any longer.
Releasing thoughts in a meditation session takes practice and may be easier to do for some people than others. Nonetheless, practicing consistently during meditation will help you to notice your thoughts at a distance.
The elements you choose to build your meditation practice will depend on your preferences and goals. You can always make adjustments to your meditation routine so it’s flexible to your needs. Your meditation routine does not have to be perfect from the start. All that’s needed to benefit from meditating is to start. In learning the principles of meditation, you take time to take care of yourself and prioritize your mental health.
Borges, A. (2020, September 1). How to Meditate When You Have No Idea Where to Start. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://www.self.com/story/how-to-meditate
Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R., & McKay, M. (2019). Meditation. In The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (pp. 49-66).
Staff, M. (2020, November 23). How to Meditate. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/