A Lesson in Meditation for Beginners
The reasons why you meditate or begin to meditate may vary. You may want to relieve stress, achieve more relaxation, the increased ability to focus, or you may seek a closer connection with yourself, the world and other worlds. You may be seeking enlightenment, a transcended state of insight, peace and love.
You may have seen the 2010 film Eat Pray Love. Unfortunately most of us don’t have the luxury to endlessly travel the world without a job and be on a permanent vacation to find ourselves. That movie was great for bringing values of enlightenment into our cultural lens. It brought to our conscious awareness how expansive meditation can be to our being, but we cannot base our own meditation practice on Julia Roberts’ idyllic fantasy.
Unrealistic expectations aside, adding meditation to your life can seem overwhelming.
You inevitably may begin to think of reasons about why you cannot or will not meditate. You may think that you are too busy. You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know how to meditate. You don’t know what type of meditation to participate in or if it will align or conflict with your values and beliefs.
As a meditation instructor, I have heard all of these factors (excuses) continuously over the last four years while teaching classes. These are the most common reasons that have been relayed to me of why people do not meditate. However, I believe the biggest reason is fear, specifically fear of the unknown.
It still blows my mind how many people have misconceptions about practicing meditation. These have included beliefs that meditation requires lots of time, the practitioner needs substances to induce a trance-like state, that meditation is for hippies, or even that it commits you to a certain religion. All of these are myths!
Overcoming Excuses of Meditation
*You Don’t Have Time to Meditate*
It is hard to imagine that sitting still is going to help you while you are thinking about the hundred things you should be doing. In all actuality, you may have a hundred things to do but at some point you are going to make time to sit down and flake off with a bag of potato chips and Netflix, but you won’t make time to meditate and learn a practice that you can incorporate beneficially for the rest of your life.
You may think that you don’t have time do anything else other than your current responsibilities. With a little time management and awareness of how you are using your time, you will discover at least fifteen minutes per day that you could devote to meditation. If you don’t even have fifteen minutes, I’m certain you have five. Try this Five Minute Meditation exercise.
You can literally expand the space-time continuum with meditation, helping to make more enriched moments for yourself. Meditation will change your perception of reality, which will improve how your mind and body handle stressful situations. Not making meditation a priority is not making yourself a priority.
*You don’t know what to expect or how to meditate*
Instead of mindlessly scrolling and trolling on Facebook and thinking you are helping yourself to relax, take those minutes and find a quiet place to sit or lay down. Close your eyes and focus on feeling your breath and feeling gratitude for being alive. Congrats, you have just meditated and helped yourself through the process of active relaxation.
*You don’t know if it will align or conflict with your values and beliefs*
Just because you participate in a meditation that has roots in a certain religion does not mean that you have to become a member of that religion or that it conflicts with your values and beliefs. Meditation is a beautiful practice that seeks to identify common aspects and ideals of life that are shared between all religions and cultures. Some of the prevalent meditation themes or teachings include the infinite, the eternal, transcendence, existence, nature, mother earth, energy, discipline, empowerment, peace, awareness, requiescence, release, faith, love, and compassion. These are universal philosophies.
*You don’t know what type of meditation to participate in*
I will provide a list of the main types of meditation below that are prominently practiced all around the world. Read the descriptions, benefits and challenges of each type and see which ones speak to you. Often times if you take a meditation class or listen to a meditation CD, they will combine many of these traditions and techniques. Some types of meditation are more challenging than others. A preconceived notion is that meditation involves a trance-state or ingesting substances. These practices are not needed to enhance your spiritual development.
Popular Types of Meditation
Guided Imagery Meditation
Country of Origin: United States
Associated religion: None; Psychology and Music Therapy were founding fields
Pros: Ultimate benefit for stress relief; Good mental and physical relaxation; Increases spatial intelligence (ability to visualize with mind’s eye); May promote creativity in life; Requires little effort, time and discipline; May promote bodily healing
Cons: Difficult to do without guidance or an instructor; May be challenging if you struggle with imagination
Guided visualization meditation is a technique that uses the imagination to envision relaxing images and scenes that elicit a peaceful response from the mind and body. It is often used in combination with music and/or touch to make it more effective. This is an easy technique for beginners as it requires little formal teaching or discipline.
Mindfulness and Lovingkindness Meditation
Culture of Origin: Tibet
Associated Religion: Tibetan Buddhism
Pros: Provides great awareness; Increases your ability to focus; Teaches discipline; Can become a peaceful way of life; Can help you develop more compassion for yourself and others; Allows you to see the world with new eyes
Cons: Requires a lot of practice; May be uncomfortable if experienced in the traditional sitting posture; Difficult to maintain balance between the “mundane” and “supermundane.”
Mindfulness meditation, also known as Vipassana, is formally practiced in a group or ‘Sangha’. This practice will teach you to shift your focus between different levels of awareness. For example, the feeling of your breath, the sensation of your body touching the chair you are sitting on and the sounds of the birds singing outside. This active recognition of sounds and feelings we typically ignore can build deeper consciousness and inner awareness, allowing you to access your innate wisdom.
Mindfulness has been extensively researched and has been shown to be beneficial with numerous ailments, diseases and health states. It has been known to help practitioners experience the world in a new and heightened way. It can also teach you how to acknowledge pain and discomfort in a more neutral perspective. Mindfulness also involves a practice known as lovingkindness, which will instruct you on how to better love and value yourself as well as others.
Body Scan Meditation
Pros: Extremely effective for mental and physical relaxation; Good for the beginner; Can quickly stimulate the body’s self-healing mechanisms
Cons: Difficult to do without guidance or an instructor; May temporarily cause increased perception of pain, discomfort or tension in the body that you were ignoring
Body Scan Meditation is a form of Mindfulness meditation that has been adopted as its own technique in the West. It helps to expand your awareness of the mind/body connection, release stress/tension and quiet the mind. Body Scan meditation is particularly effective in relaxing the physical body and breath and increasing focus and concentration. It can be practiced on your own once you understand the technique.
Culture of Origin: Japan
Associated Religion: Zen Buddhism
Pros: Teaches mental and physical discipline, resilience and good posture; Increases your ability to focus for long periods of time
Cons: Can be uncomfortable, even painful; Extremely regimented; Not easily practiced by a beginner meditator
Zazen meditation is the act of sitting in a straight posture for a long period of time. It requires commitment and dedication to this art, which has been a staple in Japan’s Zen Buddhist tradition for thousands of years.
Zazen is traditionally followed at a temple but can be done on one’s own. Practice and experience are required to do well because of this technique’s heightened discipline. It teaches you to acknowledge and overcome discomfort and/or pain that may arise by reacting with neutrality rather than restlessness.
Culture of Origin: India
Associated Religion: Hinduism
Pros: Clears and balances the chakras (body’s energy centers); Can provide rapid life change; A moving and profound mystical experience
Cons: Can have diminished effectiveness if you lack imagination and visualization skills; May be overwhelming if you are not completely ready for change and transcendent energy
Kundalini or “coiled” describes a dormant energy that is thought to rest at the base of your spine, curled like a sleeping snake, waiting to be awakened. When this life force energy is awakened, you may experience a tingling or electric feeling up your spine and a heightened sense of awareness of the world around you. You may be more sensitive and open to be influenced by others emotions. Kundalini meditation can help you cleanse and balance your chakra energy centers, clearing your channel from the earth to the divine, increasing your connection to all things.
Country of Origin: India
Associated religion: Hinduism
Pros: Accesses pure consciousness; May achieve an absence of mental boundaries; Can provide a transcendent experience and enlightened visions
Cons: Difficult to maintain focus on mantra; More involved than Mindfulness or Zazen; Not focused on your life, emotions or purpose; Begins to delve into trance-like states rather than self-development; Focuses on ‘rising above’ rather than working with the mind in its current state
Transcendental Meditation is a practice that became popular in the western world in the 1960s. It involves silently repeating a mantra, which has been said to remove the mind from problem-solving mode, consequently allowing it to reside in a state of free flow. The repetition has been thought to allow the person’s mind to transcend normal realms of thought. Practitioners believe this allows them to passively observe his or her own thoughts without judgment and that this may provide enlightened visions. The goal is to have an out of body or transcendental experience, rising above the boundaries of this reality.
Qi Gong Meditation
Culture of Origin: China
Associated Religion: Taoism
Pros: Focuses on regulating the breath; May balance energetic meridians and life force energy; Can heal specific physical areas of pain and discomfort; Increases awareness of self and society
Cons: May involve movement; Doesn’t connect the circulation of life force energy with the emotions
Qi gong is a meditation of that uses breathing and movement to cultivate a state of passive awareness, which teaches us how to let go of things we cannot control. It allows the mind to empty of scattered thought and focus on small motions and feelings in specific areas of the body. It involves harnessing, strengthening and balancing the body’s life force energy and sending it to places within that need healing. This practice describes life force energy in terms of moderation, flexibility and constant nurturing. Qi gong meditation has been prescribed by both Eastern and Western physicians and is popular in traditional Chinese Medicine.
About the Author
Kamaira Philips, Bachelor of Music (BM), is a co-founder of Good JuJu For You. She is an operatic soprano, an meditation instructor, a certified EMT and a scientist. Kamaira is researching topics related to immunology and alternative medicine at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and at the UNC Program on Integrative Medicine.