Meditation 101

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The Need for Meditation

We are living in the busiest time that humanity has ever known. Distractions are at every turn, whether they be from people around us or electronic devices. We often don’t realize it, but our attention is constantly competed for, by everything from billboard signs to TV ads to our children.

Our modern era lifestyle is demanding, to say the least. And strangely, we celebrate it.

Somehow busyness has become an admirable quality. We assume that people who get less sleep, who spend more time in the social sphere, who work sixty hour weeks, must be more successful.

In some cases, that may be true. But for most, our modern lifestyle is plainly harmful. It’s almost impossible to keep up with.

We are living in a time with more stress, disease, anxiety, depression, the list goes on, than ever before. Which is strange considering how comfort and convenience are more widely available. Something isn’t adding up.

With the surplus of busyness, comes the scarcity of quiet, peace, and stillness. But life is a balancing act. We only get to spend so much time on one side of the scale before it becomes necessary, even a matter of survival, that we cultivate the other side as well.

Mindfulness and yoga are certainly popular places to start in terms of establishing balance in an overwhelmed life. But the most efficient strategy to creating lasting peace, is without a doubt meditation.

Meditation is an intimidating word, mostly because of the way it has been stereotyped. But this practice, thousands of years old, is a tool available to absolutely everybody. So in this post we will work to simplify the concept of meditation, and answer the basic questions.

What is meditation? How do I get started? Why is it necessary? What are the benefits?

These are all things we will discuss as we introduce the topic of meditation. Whether or not you feel ready to start your practice, consider beginning to build your foundation. When you are ready, the practice typically finds you.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a practice of calming the mind, which includes both thought and emotion. It is a practice which teaches us to detach from the constant control of our mind. This places us in a position of “the observer” — where we can witness our thoughts and emotions objectively.

In a state of meditation, absent of mind, we are able to connect to inner peace. This space is also known as wisdom, bliss, Higher Self, and a long list of other terms, some more secular than others.

It’s important to recognize that from all meditation, no matter the style, we learn to be in control of our thoughts. But this isn’t the “goal” of meditation.

When we meditate, there are no goals, destinations, or accomplishments. There may be certain practices we engage in, such as breath control, but there are no intended outcomes.

Instead, we can view meditation as a practice of just being. Just being means setting aside all mind matter, and being completely awake to the present moment. It sounds simple, but most of us are imprisoned by thoughts of the past and the future at all times. Many of us haven’t been in a state of just being since we were children.

And that’s really okay — it’s nothing to get discouraged by. It’s just a little reminder that there is a deeper Self in you. That powerful “observer” is waiting inside of you, to be discovered by you.

Getting Your Practice Started

There are many flavors of meditation to consider. Just like anything — to find your favorite, you may need to sample many. You may also know your preferences, and can use them to pick a style that sounds most ideal.

But you don’t necessarily have to “pick a style” in order to try meditation. It’s actually something you can try right now, without any additional knowledge or materials. In a moment we’ll get into some more specific techniques and approaches, but for now, just consider:

Three Steps to Meditation:

  1. Find a place that is quiet. Make sure there are no distractions — no people, screens, or animals. Take a comfortable seat. It doesn’t have to be the classic “legs-crossed, back straight, fingers in a mudra” position because frankly, that gets old quite fast. Instead, find a seat with support for your spine, where you can sit up straight, comfortably.
  2. Close your eyes and take stillness. These are really the most important steps. Meditation is a practice of turning the gaze inward.
  3. Relax into your body. Without trying too hard, clear your mind. Shift your awareness to your breath. Notice your inhales, notice your exhales. That is all.
You can do this practice for 3-5 minutes and feel amazing effects afterwards. You can also sit for longer if it feels natural.
 

Again, there’s no goal here. There’s no right and no wrong. Just by sitting in stillness and closing your eyes, you’re doing something deeply healthy for yourself. Keep all expectations at bay, and your practice will unravel itself.

It’s a practice of doing nothing.

The Nature of Thoughts

We often get mislead about meditation and assume that it’s supposed to be completely thoughtless. It makes sense that we think this, considering one of our objectives in meditation is overcoming thought.

We can think of the mind like an ocean. Even on its calmest day, the ocean has small waves, or ripples of water. It is in the nature of the mind to have thoughts, just as the ocean has waves.

There is nothing wrong with thoughts themselves, only the power that they have over our character and over our lives. Thoughts are going to enter your meditation. The practice is learning not to attach to them.

If you notice yourself absorbed in a thought, or a chain of thinking, don’t get down on yourself! Just circle back to your stillness, back to your breath.

Meditation Styles

It can be helpful to eventually get involved with a specific school of meditation. Reason being, that each school has a vast library of knowledge which can help turn your meditation practice into more of a lifestyle.

Within each meditation style are books, leaders, and community to get involved with. Having support in your meditation practice makes all the difference. It’s comparable to doing your yoga practice or workout routine at home versus at a studio or gym.

As mentioned, there are tons of meditation styles with various histories. Here’s a list you can check out. Notice if any styles jump out at you, it may be a sign to investigate further 😃

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Vedic meditation
  • Body scan meditation
  • Zazen meditation
  • Transcendental mediation
  • Primordial sound meditation
  • Qigong
  • Taoist meditation

These are some of the many meditation styles out there. They have different backgrounds, Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, but they ultimately offer the same thing: peace. Or if you go quite far with the practice, enlightenment.

I Already Do Yoga, Do I Have To Meditate?

Yoga is meditative, there’s no arguing that. But historically speaking, yoga (as a physical practice) was invented to prepare the body for meditation.

All spiritual lineages promote meditation as the ultimate practice. But it’s not just the spiritual crowd that has validated meditation.

Science has done extensive research on meditation and its impact on total health. The results are so encouraging on physical, mental, and social levels. You can easily Google these studies to learn more, but here’s the gist:

  • Increases immune system function
  • Decrease inflammation
  • Increases positive outlook
  • Decreases depression
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Increases emotional intelligence
  • Improves introspection
  • Increases brain matter related to positive emotions and self control
  • Improves memory

This list goes on…

What’s really going to sell you on meditation is your own experience with it over time. Even if you engage in activities that you consider meditative, adding a traditional meditation practice to your daily routine is a game changer. 

What to Expect

Like anything, adding something new to your routine is a challenging adjustment that requires discipline and time. The only way to cultivate a meditation practice is to make the time to sit, close your eyes, and practice being.

In the beginning, it can honestly feel like a chore. Some sessions will feel really motivating and relaxing. Others will feel full of thought and distraction. Regardless: it’s OK. The only thing that’s important is that you’re sitting down, and having the practice.

Ultimately we don’t judge our meditation practice on the meditation itself. Instead, we judge what is happening to our lives outside of the meditation.

As we start to respond to situations instead of react, listen with more attention, and offer more compassion to those around us — we will inevitably start to value our meditation more and more.

Once you start seeing the effects that meditation has on your daily life (and they will happen eventually, trust that), then it becomes easy to sit down and meditate. It becomes something you are excited to do, because you know it’s making a real difference in your quality of life.

Supplement Your Meditation Practice

As you’re creating your meditation space at home, you’ll probably want to invest in some props and pillows to make the experience more comfortable. You can check out some of our zafus and pillows at Ohana — these are perfect for getting you started!

Another real great option to help kick off your meditation practice is guided meditation. There are plenty of amazing apps for that:

  1. Headspace — this is a mindfulness meditation app targeted for meditation beginners. 10 minutes a day of guided meditation.
  2. Insight Timer — this app is loved by meditators. It’s free, and it offers all kinds of guided meditations of basically every style out there. It also tracks your meditation progress over time.
  3. Muse — this is actually a meditation headband that you wear as you meditate. It gently guides your meditation and brain activity, helping you improve your meditation skills over time.

Remember that this is only a 101 on meditation. This is a practice meant to last a lifetime. Take your time as you start to welcome it into your life. Take it slowly, and have patience with yourself.

Don’t forget to check out our next Mindfulness on the Mat post next week!