Meditation is my therapy. Day after day, year after year I have sat in silence with my eyes closed and meditated. If you quiet the mind the soul will speak. Finding that inner peace and calm is priceless. All of us have to deal with stress and anxiety, some more than others but nonetheless it is something that happens to each and every one of us. Meditation is the key to dealing with those stressful situations in a healthy productive manner.
I originally started my meditation practice not really knowing what to do or what thoughts to think about (or not think about), then I learned that meditation is not about controlling your thoughts, it’s about not letting your thoughts control you. Our ego is a hard opponent to go up against, it always wants to be in control, but with practice you can learn to tame the ego so that you unleash your true self. Have you ever noticed that your mind just goes and goes and never seems to turn off?
A good analogy I once read is to picture the mind like a waterfall, the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions, mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall, and that’s where we strive to be in meditation-behind the waterfall.
As the years have progressed so has my meditation practice. I have tried many different methods varying from visualization, to focusing on only my breath, body scanning, transcendental (focusing on a word or a chant), metta (compassion, sending good vibes to people starting with yourself), guided meditations, and the Zen Buddhism method of mindfulness which is what I mostly practice today.
Not knowing how to start meditating or what to do should not deter you from beginning a practice. Here is a quick process on how to get started with your own meditation practice, not specific to Buddhism but just a general way to begin finding what works for you in your practice. From there you can begin to explore and find what suits you because any form of meditation is beneficial.
But first, why meditate? There is an array of benefits on your health and well-being when you begin a regular meditation practice. Scientific studies have proven that regular meditation can help with the following areas:
Improves concentration and focus
Lowers blood pressure
Increases immune system
Increases self-awareness and self-love
Gives you a better appreciation of life
Helps with sleep and metabolism
Doesn’t all of that sound amazing and magical? Of course it does! And it’s true! Get started by following the simple steps below.
Steps to creating your own meditation practice
Create your space
You can meditate anywhere you desire, however it helps to have a certain space dedicated to your meditation practice. Making a sacred space helps transition your mind into meditation mode when you have a designated area. Make it a comfortable welcoming area, away from any distractions and any busy areas of your home. This may be a corner of your bedroom, a spot in your living room, a spot outside, or an entire room dedicated to your zen. I absolutely love to meditate outside so I create little zen dens out in nature at my home. Once you do find a suitable area I suggest cleansing the space using sage or incense to clear the energy and dedicate it to your meditation.
Create an altar
An altar is a very personal space which should represent your intentions. An altar can consist of many different elements or just a few and can be permanent or interchanging. The altar can be set up on the floor, a table, a shelf of a bookcase, or whatever you feel drawn towards. You can use a cloth to lay down and then begin adding the items you wish to incorporate into your altar. Typically an altar can consist of statues, candles, crystals and stones, pictures, incense, or flowers. There is no right or wrong way to adorn your altar, choose items that resonate with you and that raise your vibration when you see or touch them.
A Cush For Your Tush
Although a meditation cushion is not a requirement to meditate, it certainly does help with posture and if you continue with a practice you should definitely use one. You want to have a firm foundation when sitting for extended periods of time and to make sure your body is in proper alignment. Choose a cushion that pleases you but that also gives you support. You can use a circular cushion or a square, there are various shapes and colors out there that it is easy to find one that suits you. A regular couch cushion or bed pillow is not advisable as the support is not as firm as it needs to be. If you prefer to sit in a chair or against a wall you may also do so for more back support. You may also want to have a blanket nearby to cover your legs or upper body with when the temperature is chilly.
Now that your space is set up you can begin to start meditating. Try to set aside time everyday to meditate, whether it’s 5 minutes or 15 minutes or 1 hour, just make it part of your daily routine. Some people prefer to meditate first thing in the morning or before bed, or both. When it is your time to meditate make sure to let others in the household know what you are doing so that they do not disturb you. If your household is noisy with many distractions then I would recommend getting a good set of earphones or ear plugs to help block out any noise.
You can begin your mediation by lighting candles or incense and setting intentions. Essential oils can be a great tool to use for meditation as well. Lavender and Roman Chamomile help relax and calm the mind, or you can use grounding oils such as Patchouli, Cedarwood, or Sandalwood. You can choose to do a guided meditation which are available as apps (Calm, Headspace, Simply Being and many others) or YouTube has a good selection. Or you may choose to sit in silence or with soothing instrumental music in the background. I prefer silence but you have to experiment and find what works for you.
To begin you will sit with either both legs crisscrossed, or in half lotus position which is when you bring one foot over the other thigh and place the other foot under, or full lotus position where you place the right foot on top of the left thigh and the left foot on top of the right thigh, or the other way around. You can place your hands in various positions (mudras) such as in a prayer position or let hands rest on your lap near lower belly in a diamond fist position (right hand makes a fist, insert left thumb into right hand and bring left fingers over right fist). Another popular mudra is to place your hands on top of your knees, palms up and fingers open with the tips of the thumb and pointer fingers touching creating a small circle.
It is advisable to set a timer so that you are not consumed by thoughts of keeping time or how much longer you have left. Now you are ready to begin. Just breath. Focus on the in breath and the out breath, you can imagine your breath as a white light of smoke going in through your nose, down into your lungs filling them and then releasing all of the white light back out through the nose. Try doing this for the entirety of your first meditation. It sounds simple enough but it’s not. Your mind will continuously wander, and that’s okay. Be aware but do not pass judgement, notice it but then bring your focus back to your breath. This will continue for the duration of your meditation but do not get frustrated, just keep bringing the focus back to your breath. If you want to count your out breath you may do so, just take a breath in and as you exhale count from 1 until you run out of breath and then repeat. Your breaths will become less shallow as you progress. It can be very difficult to quiet the mind but with time it will get easier, do not expect immediate results. Meditation is a practice, the more you do it the more you will benefit from it.
When the timer goes off you can slowly begin moving your body, and rotating wrists and ankles. Your back may be hurting and your legs may be asleep so just take caution as you reawaken your senses. It feels great to stretch out after meditating. I always end my meditation with a prayer of gratitude and I bow and say amitofo which is a Buddhist mantra. You can end your practice however you wish, with namaste or a prayer. Good luck with your practice and I hope it brings you peace, love, and happiness.