Beginner's Guide to Meditation

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Posted on February 07, 2021

Meditation has become very mainstream in recent years and everyone knows someone who is a meditator and chances are you have tried it yourself – You might have checked out a fancy meditation studio or maybe even downloaded a meditation app. Even though technology is often the cause of our stressed, unfocused and ungrounded selves, these apps can be a helpful place to start developing a more regular meditation practice. And no matter where you are on your spiritual path, meditation is a basic and fundamental practice that is available to everyone at any time and that everyone can benefit from.

But what is meditation? Meditation is an ancient spiritual practice that originated in the East many thousands of years ago. Although, still used as part of spiritual practices and to enhance spiritual health and spiritual connection, meditation today is often used for physical, emotional, and mental health benefits of which there are many. Said differently, meditation is a practice that trains your mind and nervous system. Fact is, that there are many different types of meditations that are used for different purposes but the long-term benefits are largely the same.  


Types of Meditation Practices

Just as there are many different exercises you can do to get a six pack in the gym, there are many different practices to train your mind, nervous system and enhance your spiritual connection. As you start out, this can certainly feel overwhelming. To get you started, I will introduce some of the more widely known meditation practice, but know that this list certainly isn’t exclusive.

  • Guided Meditation – During a guided meditation, a teacher guides your body and mind into deep relaxation through mental imagery / visualization, spoken word, and sometimes music. Guided meditations are great for beginners but also for long-term meditators as they develop your paraphysical sensory system. Try some of mine on Insight Timer for free.
  • Mindfulness Meditation – Often includes sitting or lying comfortably while focusing your attention and awareness on the present moment by observing your breath, physical sensations and naturally occurring thoughts. This is a practice of “coming back to the present moment” when you find yourself drifting away into thought.
  • Mantra or Transcendental Meditation – During this practice you silently repeat a mantra which can be a word or series of words. Using a mantra during meditation helps disconnect from the stream of thoughts or monkey brain and helps focus the mind.
  • Energy Meditation – Type type of meditation is used to increase physical energy and the subtle energy bodies to increase once lifeforce energy through a combination of specific breathing patterns and visualizations. Reiki practitioners or energy healers prepare themselves through such meditations to open to the Universal lifeforce energy.
  • Kundalini Meditation – A meditation practice that combines the use of mantras, breathwork, mudras (hand positions) and physical movement to awaken the kundalini energy at the base of your spine (root chakra) and move it along the spine up through the crown chakra.
  • Breathing Meditation – A pattern of breathing repeated over and over and often including counting or repeating a mantra. For example, the 4-7-8 breathing technique known as “relaxing breath” involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. This technique aims at reducing anxiety and relaxing before bed.


Resistance to Meditation

Even though meditation has become more mainstream and accessible, I still witness a lot of resistance to the practice. I so often hear people say that they don’t have time to meditate, can’t meditate or that they’re not good at it because they aren’t able to stop their thoughts. Well, let me bust a few of these myths that meditation is hard, that it needs to take a lot of time or that it is only for yogis or spiritual folk.

The thing is - nobody is really good at meditation and meditation is for everyone. The point of mediation isn’t to try to turn off all your thoughts and have a completely blank mind. That is never going to happen. But what can happen with a consistent meditation practice (meditation is called practice for a reason since it is nothing than a habit you acquire), is that you are able to quiet your mind and energize your body.

What this means is that you are able to relax, reduce the cortisol levels in your body, slow down the constant chatter of your so-called monkey brain, and bring awareness to your thoughts. Once you are able to bring awareness to your thoughts, then you can observe them without judgement and let them pass and you will more easily be able to connect to the messages from Spirit or the Universe. The benefits of meditation can be felt right away, even if you are only able to sit quietly for a minute or two at the start. But trust that over time, sitting longer will become easier and the benefits will grow greater.


Benefits of Meditation

In general, meditation helps calm the mind (anxious chatter) and the nervous system. But of course, our nervous systems are quite complex. In a nutshell, we have our sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for the “Fight or Flight” response and our parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the “Rest and Digest” functions.

In today’s society, most of us are constantly firing on all cylinders, in constant Fight or Flight response, which is causing increased cortisol levels to flood our bloodstream. We are basically constantly running from a lion and in turn damaging our hormone balance, internal organs and overall physical and mental wellness.

So how does meditation help us here? Basically, when we meditate, we signal to our body that it is safe to switch from the “Fight or Flight” mode to the “Rest & Digest” mode. Meditation more specifically helps to stimulate and strengthen the vagus nerve (one of the longest nerves in out bodies), which plays a part in regulating our heart rate, breathing rate, digestion etc.

Stimulating the vagus nerve essentially reverses the flow of information from your body to the brain vs. the other way around. By lowering your breathing rate, you signal to the vagus nerve that your current circumstances must be safe and calm and it must therefore be safe for you to relax – in other words, no imminent danger of being chased by a lion.

Furthermore, when we are in “Rest & Digest” mode, our brain is more willing to focus its attention inward rather than fearing the next threat, which is why regular meditation practice leads to greater self-awareness and even spiritual connection. All we have to do is get out of our own way. When we are stuck in our logical, practical, and fearful thought system, we cannot relax long enough to access the infinite wisdom that is within us. The recipe therefore is to rush less, do less, take a few moments to breath and sit in quiet contemplation and the benefits will far outweigh writing one more email.   

Physical benefits include an increase in:

  • Grey matter, neuroplasticity
  • Immune system and heart health
  • Energy levels
  • Sleep quality
  • Metabolism

Mental benefits include improvements in:

  • Mental power, focus and attention
  • Creative thinking
  • Problem-solving and decision-making
  • Memory
  • Communication
  • Relaxation

Emotional benefits include elevation of:

  • Mood and outlook on life
  • Self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-acceptance
  • Resiliency
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Empathy and compassion


How to Get Started With Meditation

If you already have a meditation practice, then you already know what works best for you. If you are completely new to meditation, I recommend starting with 2-5 minutes of focused breathing or a body scan meditation. Anything more than that will likely have to feeling frustrated. But you will see that over time as you get the hang of it, 5 minutes will easily become 10, 20 or even more. Over time, you will be able to experiment and try different variations based on what you need that day. As with anything new, the hardest part is getting started and making it a consistent practice. And remember that the most important part is to make your practice your own. There is no right or wrong way to meditate and there is no “goal” of being a “perfect” meditator so do what works for you.


Helpful Tips to Consider

  • Minimize any distractions – turn off your phone and find a quiet, uninterrupted space
  • Do it during a time of day when you have the most clarity – for many this time is first thing in the morning but if you are a night owl you might find that you have the most clarity in the evening  
  • Set the scene and / or create a ritual around your mediation practice so your nervous system learns the cues and will have an easier time moving into relaxation mode (e.g., light a candle, burn Palo Santo, play relaxing music)
  • Stretch or move your body lightly before sitting in meditation – light movement, if not already part of your meditation practice, can help you get our of your head into your body  
  • Always start by taking a few long deep breaths or practice a pranayama 
  • Start and finish your meditation with a positive intention or silent prayer to set yourself up for a positive experience
  • Set a timer to start so you can track your progress or your mind doesn’t wander thinking about how much time has passed
  • Make cooking, painting, or walking a meditative activity – disconnect from your day by deliberately doing something that feeds your soul and that allows you to relax
  • Download a meditation app to get you started with guided meditations See a list of my favorite apps below
  • Ground yourself after meditation – eat a snack, drink some water, stomp your feet on the ground, or lay on the floor for a minute / do something to integrate the high vibrational energies back into your body  
  • Practice free writing after meditation to deepen your self-awareness and spiritual connection

Happy Meditating!