Simple Steps to Start Your Meditation Practice

Posted by – May 11, 2016
Categories: Psychology & Personal Growth

Maybe you’ve always been interested in starting a meditation practice, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. If you really need to find a good reason to start, look no further than this study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, which reports that a regular yoga and meditation practice can offset your risk for developing memory loss and dementia. Studies reporting the many health and wellness benefits of meditation abound these days, so why not start today?

In her book Freedom From Anxiety, Marcey Shapiro, MD, covers the basics of meditation, along with a few tips and techniques for getting started. “There are multitudes of ways to meditate,” she explains. “The ideal choice of meditation style is highly personal. There is not one right way.” She adds, “the keys for successfully learning meditation can be summed up with ‘practice, practice, practice,’ and have fun. Remember, you are fine just as you are. A big part of the benefit of meditation comes merely from assuming a beginner’s mind and making time in your day for an inward journey.”

First things first: What exactly is meditating, and what’s the point? The following excerpt from Freedom From Anxiety explores the basics: Freedom from Anxiety

Meditation Basics

The object of meditation is quieting the thinking mind in order to allow the wholeness of being to emerge. This leads to a deep sense of inner peace. Meditation helps the inner observer move from the background into the foreground. When you meditate, you usually provide the mind something to lightly focus upon, because it keeps it occupied while you are relaxing. It is much easier, especially at first, to have something relatively mindless or repetitive to focus upon than it is to completely let go of thought. You can take your pick of objects of focus: try your breath, or the sound of the rain, or your footsteps if you are walking, or the hum of your air conditioner, or the sound of the ocean, or a mantra, or phrase that you repeat to yourself either silently or out loud. The focus could also be a visualization, such as a strong oak tree or a rainbow crystal inside your core, or a special place in nature that makes you calm.

You are likely to notice that thoughts arise. Thinking is inevitable. As these thoughts arise, release them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble, like the one the good witch Glenda floated in on in The Wizard of Oz. Or see the thoughts dissolve, like sugar in water, or erase them like writing on a chalkboard, or let an imaginary vacuum cleaner suck them away, or blink, or simply turn away from them and refocus on whatever you are choosing to focus on—your steps, your breath, the sound of the wind in the trees, or the reverberations of a singing bowl. Put an overly active mind to work on two things at once, like following the breath as well as one’s steps, or the breath plus a word or mantra.

Always be kind to yourself when you notice there is a thought, even if you happen to observe that you were traveling on a particular thought train for quite a while before you even noticed. An extended period of time may have passed since you last thought of your meditative object of focus. That is alright. Whenever you notice that you have a thought, just release it then. If it is something that you really want to think about, remind yourself that you can think about it later, when you are done meditating. Your perspective after meditation will usually be more fresh and relaxed.

Should your eyes be open or closed? Again, it’s up to you. Many people when first studying meditation find it less distracting to have the eyes closed. Visual stimuli can be like a flood of thoughts. But there are powerful meditation techniques that employ simply being present with the visual world, eyes open, and not cataloging or mentally commenting upon it. Gazing at a candle flame, a landscape, a piece of art, or a crystal can work as a focal point, not a distraction.

While the eventual goal of meditating is having no thought, this takes some practice, and there is no hurry. This will happen eventually of its own accord in a way that is natural for you. At first “no thought” occurs in brief snippets. Sooner or later these episodes become protracted. Eventually in meditating you may get to a place where you are actually “not thinking” much of the time. Sometimes there are insights that come after these episodes; sometimes you feel that your inner being or higher consciousness is “thinking you”; and sometimes there is just a peaceful stillness, like a serene lake on a calm sunny day. At these times, people feel well-being, ease, and a sensation of knowing that all is well. Often, when meditation is deep or prolonged, a flash of insight can be experienced regarding a persistent problem, or a blast of creative inspiration arrives. These come from the deepest part of you, your essence, and your wisest inner self.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ve share some of Marcey Shapiro’s tips and techniques for beginners.

Tags: Marcey Shapiro Trauma & Anxiety

About the Author

After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2007, Julia was delighted to find out that “professional book recommender” was a job. She has been working in marketing and publicity with independent Bay Area publishers ever since. She joined North Atlantic Books in 2014. She lives with her husband and two very nice cats in Oakland.