Many people find that meditation is a great way to generate calm, concentration and emotional balance. But what exactly is it and how do we practice it?
There are many different forms and styles of meditation, and the word itself can mean different things to different people. Put simply, meditation means focusing the mind on one thing for a period of time. Most people begin their training in meditation by focusing on their breathing. It is easy to learn the basics of breathing meditation, but to do it really well does require a lot of practice.
But don't worry: even if it is a bit of a struggle at first, if you persist you will get better, and you will benefit from even a little practice.
The first thing is to sit the right way. There are lots of traditional poses for sitting meditation, but these can be difficult for most of us. The main point is to have a perfectly straight back, with your eyes either closed or partly closed. It is important to be comfortable, still and upright (i.e. not leaning forward, backward or to the sides). You can meditate sitting in a chair if sitting on the floor is too uncomfortable, but a straight backed chair (like a dining chair) should be used. By all means try one of the traditional sitting poses, but remember, the main thing is to concentrate the mind, and it is tough doing that if you have cramp...
Once you have found a comfortable position, start to breathe slowly, deeply and steadily. Do not force your breath, but relax, breathe, and become aware of your breathing. Your breathing rate will slow down automatically as you relax and focus.
Once your breathing rhythm has slowed and settled, you can count the out breaths, counting up to 10. When you reach 10, begin again at 1, and continue. You should time your meditation session: in the beginning do no more than 10 minutes, maybe setting a gentle alarm on your phone. You can gradually increase the time as you get more confident in your practice. Believe me,10 minutes will seem like ages at first.
Be aware of your breathing: feel your breathing, notice it, be conscious of it. Don't think about your breathing, just breathe and be aware. As you do this, all kinds of thoughts, ideas, worries and images may flood into your mind. This is normal. Do not try to stop the thoughts forcefully, but just ignore them, and let them float away. I sometimes think this is like sitting in a room where the TV is on, but you are not really watching it. You can hear it, and sometimes your eyes notice the images on the screen, but you do not watch or get involved in the programme. So when those thoughts come into your mind, just ignore them, let them float by in the background and gently go back to noticing your breath. Sometimes these thoughts will really catch you and you will notice you are no longer aware of your breathing, but are instead having a little conversation with yourself in your head. Don't get frustrated or annoyed about this: it happens to everyone who meditates. Just gently return to your breathing, until the time is up. It is a good idea to do meditation daily at the same time and in the same place, if that is possible for you. After a while you can stop the counting, and just focus on awareness of breathing.