A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation – The What, The Why and The How
With the rise of meditation across the world, the benefits of a regular meditation practice are now more widely known and understood. There is a plethora of research but with so much information and choice out there it can feel more like a meditation minefield.
I’ve put together a beginners guide covering the what, the why and the how of meditation, answering some of the questions I get asked all the time. Here’s your Beginner’s Guide to Meditation and how to get started.
What is Meditation
Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique to train attention and awareness, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and balanced state. When the mind settles it de-excites and the body rests very deeply, releasing long held stress and fatigue.
Meditation has been practiced as part of many religious traditions, sometimes leading towards enlightenment and self-realisation. Some of the earliest written records of meditation come from the Hindu traditions of Vedantism, dating back more than 6,000 years.
Why do people Meditate?
People come to meditation from all walks of life, wanting a wide range of outcomes. For many it is the wish to quieten the mind, to stop the endless chatter and find an inner stillness and calm that seems to be elusive elsewhere.
Meditation, when taught properly and practised regularly, allows you to connect with your true inner self. This frequent connection enlivens your intuition and fine tunes numerous qualities which improve your daily life, by making your engagement with everything around you so much more pleasurable and friction free. Your mind is no longer shrouded in ‘foggy thinking’ with a tumble dryer of cascading thoughts – thoughts become clearer and sharper which allows greater focus and attention.
Meditation is a highly effective way to grow and expand, reaching a level of fulfilment which is everyone’s right to have and enjoy.
So whether you’re looking to manage stress, increase creativity, improve sleep, are just curious or something else entirely, meditation helps you create a balanced and centred oasis, calming the mind and body. The perfect antidote to modern day life.
Many people come to meditate in the pursuit of improved health, whether that be physical, mental, or both. Stress is well known to be a major cause of both physical and mental illness, with a massive 74% of the UK population reporting feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope at some points, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation report in May 2018.
When we’re stressed, adrenaline floods our system giving us some short-term energy. But that energy comes at the expense of digestion, cellular repair, and clear-headedness. Meditation allows your body to rest deeply, allowing your mind to settle and become calm. Research shows your body can rest up to 5 times more deeply in a meditation than when sleeping. When the body rests deeply “stress chemicals” like adrenaline and cortisol are replaced with a combination of “good brain chemicals” including serotonin, which gives you confidence, and dopamine, which makes you feel good. Meditation has been shown by numerous studies to keep cortisol in check, a key factor in stress management, and play a role in the preservation of and improvement in parts of the brain. So it’s a fantastic way to ensure you stay mentally and physically healthy. Find out more about the science behind how meditation changes the body and how meditation changes the brain.
Meditation is also a vehicle for self-discovery.
Meditation releases newly acquired and old stress. Over time there is very little past stress to be processed, so that we eventually arrive at the point where the only stresses we are dealing with are the ones we come across in our day.
At this point we’re able to make some deep and fundamental refinement and re-calibrate and as a result new view points and perspectives emerge. Everything is viewed more clearly, with greater appreciation of the nuances and subtleties of what it is that we are considering or seeing. The ego and intellect are put to one side, allowing instinct and intuition to take precedence. Which allow us to live our lives fully with ease and contentedness.
Benefits of Meditation
The benefits of meditation are numerous and can vary for every individual. Emotional, physical, spiritual, professional, neurological, and more. Some of the most common benefits people experience through meditating are:
Meditation can reduce stress & anxiety
The deep rest that results from meditation allows the nervous system to purify and rebalance – keeping stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol in check.
Meditation can boost energy & creativity
Energy levels are increased through the deep rest you experience from meditation, far exceeding what is usually gained from sleep, boosting creativity and intelligence. Meditation can help you sleep better & wake refreshed.
By reducing stress, nervous tension and anxiety, meditation has a positive impact on insomnia and other sleeping disorders, meaning waking refreshed will be a reality.
Meditation can increase productivity
Meditation activates the prefrontal cortex which controls important cognitive skills such as emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgement and sexual behaviour, allowing you to think more clearly and make better decisions, even under pressure, and an increase in productivity follows.
Meditation can improve relationships
When you meditate your relationships and the ability to connect with people improve. You learn to take a step back, think before you speak and understand how your words and actions affect those around you. You’re at your best and nicer to be around when you’re well-rested, happier, healthier and thinking clearly.
Meditation can help you be healthier & feel younger
Meditation combats stress, improves physical well-being and helps you stay youthful and young at heart by reducing cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, provides relief from migraines, headaches and asthma, and reduces the desire for, and dependancy on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.
Meditation can help you de-clutter & sharpen your mind
Meditation provides clarity allowing the mind to stay sharp and avoid distractions. Clearer thinking and improved memory will lead to greater creativity.
Meditation can help you feel relaxed & calm
Regular meditation results in a feeling of ease and contentment which comes from the release of natural bliss chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
Meditation can enhance & maintain focus
Meditation helps increase your ability to focus and maintain concentration and you experience an increase in sharp thinking and awareness.
In the 50 years I have been meditating I have heard many questions and the repetition of many meditation myths. One of the most common objections people raise is “I think too much – I couldn’t do it”. You may be surprised to learn that in some techniques, such as Vedic Meditation, thoughts are considered to be a natural part of your meditation. Through your practice you learn how to still the mind to ever more quieter levels, and thoughts will then gently disappear. The second most common myth is Meditation is difficult. Vedic Meditation can be easily learnt and simply practised. It is a natural, simple technique that anyone can learn. It’s authentic, accessible and relevant to modern life. For more meditation myths read my top 7 Meditation Myths debunked.
Types of Meditation
Meditation is an ancient tradition, and over 6 millennia a plethora of techniques and practices have developed. Most properly taught meditation techniques are working towards the same goals of self-discovery, self-improvement and enlightenment. An important aspect of learning to meditate is to understand and appreciate that no two meditations are ever the same. The effect meditation has on us is more interesting and important than the content of the meditations.
Most meditation techniques either quieten the mind or rest the body. Vedic Meditation does both.
Most meditation techniques are based on either concentration or contemplation, or combine these to form ‘mindfulness’. Vedic Meditation is an effortless technique which avoids ‘trying’.
Most meditation techniques are dependent on the use of apps or a teacher. Vedic Meditation Courses are carefully taught to ensure you become self-sufficient.
Focused or concentrating meditation uses a single point of focus, often using one of the senses or something internal such as your breath. It can also incorporate something external like counting meditation or mala prayer beads. This type of meditation requires you to use effort and focus, whenever the mind wanders you simply bring it back to the point of focus.
This is used widely in Eastern Religions like a form of prayer. The five major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all practice forms of meditation.
Guided Meditation uses instruction, peaceful music, visualisation or even chanting.
Free Awareness Meditation
Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation and is perhaps one the of the most well-known free awareness types of meditation. Free awareness means you are not focused on any one thing, but rather you are an observer. Thoughts and awareness pass you by without reaction, they are simply noted, observed and you let them pass by.
In moving meditation like Tai Chi and Qigong, you use a combination of movement and visualisation, to focus and draw energy into your body and mind. Sometimes this energy is referred to as ‘chi’ or life-force.
Here at MindMojo I teach Vedic Meditation, which is derived from the Veda, the 6,000 year-old body of wisdom and the source of all meditation, yoga, Ayurvedic medicine and Eastern philosophy. It is an ancient mantra-based meditation technique that is easy to learn and simple to practice. In a mantra-based practice you silently bring to mind a carefully chosen mantra, which is a sound, which quickly and effortlessly calms and settles the mind while the body rests very deeply. No effort is used.
Why I love and teach Vedic Meditation
The reason I teach and love Vedic Meditation is because anyone can do it when properly taught.
If you have tried other forms of meditation but they haven’t worked for you, you will find Vedic Meditation easier and more effective.
Vedic Meditation is unique and stands apart from other forms of meditation and relaxation techniques because of its simplicity and effectiveness. Once you have learned the technique you also have a lifetime of complementary support from a highly experienced teacher to guide you all the way.
Other styles of meditation may involve concentration, visualisation or contemplation — all of which keep the mind at work. As a result of regular Vedic Meditation practice you will consequently feel more aware and present in the moment, gaining increased consciousness and fully enjoy life.
Mindfulness Meditation Muddle
If you’re unsure of the difference between meditation and mindfulness, you’re not alone. Confusion about the meanings of ‘meditation’ and ‘mindfulness’ arise because the words are often used interchangeably to describe the daily practice and various techniques that people undertake to manage stress and anxiety, gain clarity, or situate themselves in the present moment.
As Vedic Meditators, we would say that we experience mindfulness as a result of our meditation practice. Mindfulness is not the process, nor the set of techniques. In our view mindfulness is not a practice, it is an outcome of meditation.
When should you meditate?
Across the various techniques available most people find an early morning practice brings the most benefit. In the practice I teach, Vedic Meditation, it’s very simple. Two 20 minute meditations a day, one shortly after waking and the second mid-afternoon, or before dinner.
So often there is a sense of unease about taking time out to do something for ourselves, that we consider to be selfish. We feel that the time and money spent could be put to better use, that it could directly benefit others. I would argue that to learn to meditate, which is fun, easy and simple, gives you the ability to direct more energy to areas of your life which require your input and attention.
By taking time out to look after yourself you are investing in your ability to help others. Relationships improve so that there is less friction, more adaptability and understanding. The compound effect of daily meditations are numerous, and above all else we learn to like ourselves, to trust who we really are, and be ok with that. We give ourselves the opportunity to connect with our inner private self, to take the time to look into our heart with compassion and forgiveness and do so fearlessly because that is where the ultimate truth lies.
As Steve Jobs said:
‘There is a big difference between a human being and being human’
We are not ‘human doings’, we are ‘human beings’. Unless we take time out, and allow ourselves to just ‘be’ rather than ‘do’, sooner or later we will run ourselves into the ground.
The author Eleanor Brown describes this perfectly:
‘Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.’
Where to start learning to meditate
To find out how Vedic Meditation works and its many benefits simply come along to a complimentary Introductory Talk where you can learn in a relaxed environment. Over an hour, in the company of no more than ten others, I cover the background and history of Vedic Meditation, talk about how it is practiced by millions around the world, why it is relevant to the needs of the time, and how to learn it and get going.
Some attendees may have experienced different types of meditation before, such as a Buddhist technique like Zen or Vipassana, or a Chinese technique like Qi Gong, or a yoga-based technique such as Kundalini or Kria. Others might have had some experience of a mindfulness app, like Headspace or Calm, and there are many attendees who have not tried anything but have heard about meditation and want to find out more.
You are welcome whatever your level of experience and understanding of meditation – this is an opportunity to discover what Vedic Meditation is all about. There’s no chanting or need to wear special yoga clothing during this introductory talk. It’s just a relaxed and informative talk giving you the opportunity to ask any questions you have and learn more about Vedic Meditation – the oldest meditation technique around; a technique which has been ‘hiding in plain sight’ for years.
Reading this guide takes you one step closer on your journey to a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life. If you would like to take the next step why not reserve your place at one of our regular free introductory talks in London.