I was always intrigued by the idea of mindfulness, but at the same time, I was so intimidated because I didn’t have a clue how to meditate. The word brought up images of Tibetan monks sitting in the lotus position chanting “OM” while sandalwood incense permeated the air. While I have nothing but high regard for Tibetan monks, that just wasn’t me.
Fortunately, I later learned that there are numerous ways to practice mindfulness, and anyone can learn how to meditate and reap its benefits. It’s like making spaghetti sauce. Everyone either has their own recipe or buys it in a jar. Some throw together a spaghetti dinner inside of 11 minutes while others are pure gourmet and spend days preparing the sauce. In the end, everyone leaves the table full. So, no one method of contemplation is right or wrong, although some may be more vigorous about their discipline than others. But, you have to start somewhere, and even an entry-level practice is better than never doing it at all.
The misconception that it was transcendence or bust is precisely what got in the way of sincerely engaging in what has become the single most positive and life-changing habit I practice. Got in the way for years.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Since the beginning of time, men and women have meditated to gain serenity, clarity, and divine connection. In the modern world, doctors recommend meditation to their patients to improve both physical and emotional symptoms. Research shows that consistent practice helps to develop a stronger self-awareness and find relief from painful thoughts or feelings. In short, the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits are said to be profound.
Some of the most common health & wellness benefits are:
- Lowering one’s blood pressure
- Decreasing cholesterol levels
- Reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Better sleep
- Boosted self-image and a more optimistic attitude
- Enhanced concentration and memory
- Pain management
- Emotional intelligence
- Control or break free from addictions
Why is such contemplation so powerfully effective?
Celebs like Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, Madonna, and Katy Perry are just a few who swear by meditation. Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan use it to achieve peak performance. At the same time, the CEO”s of Linked In, Huffington Post, and Ford Motor Co. meditate to cope with the stress of running major organizations and gain much of their inspiration from meditative practices.
When you learn how to meditate, you experience how powerfully effective it can be. For many, it goes beyond words. Learning to train the brain to focus will help you thrive in anything you strive to achieve.
Stop and think. Have you ever felt that you were overwhelmed or confused, and you just needed to “pause” and took time to think about things? Doesn’t the process of slowing everything down and not acting until you gain clarity make the best solution all but obvious? When you learn how to meditate, it is like that on steroids. Your mind slows down enough to bypass the conscious clutter and allow your most intuitive wisdom to present itself.
A practical explanation of how it works
The human brain is super-busy once it is awake. The average person has roughly 60 thoughts per minute. Believe it or not, only about 10% of those thoughts are conscious, while the other 90% are hanging out in the sub-conscious. Psychologists say that for most people, the majority of their unconscious thoughts are limiting and negative beliefs (Psychology Today, 2012).
So, if you are having about 1 thought per second, it’s safe to say your brain waves are pretty rapid. When you are awake and fully alert, brain activity is in a gamma or beta stage.
When you learn how to meditate, you start by focusing on your breath, and as a result, your brain automatically slows down because it is in tandem with the pace of your breath. So, as you relax, the brain waves slow down to the alpha and theta states. Here is where you ease-up and begin to have heightened intuition. Metaphorically, the waves slow down enough to open the door to the unconscious thought, a.k.a. inner wisdom.
That inner wisdom can provide answers to questions that have baffled us. It gives us precious feedback as to what our buried negative, fear-based, & limiting beliefs are. Once we know what they are, we can begin the process of weeding them out and replacing them with new, positive, and empowering ones. You can’t change anything until you know what the problem is, right?
Positive Affirmations vs. Meditation
Affirmations are sometimes used in meditation and are referred to as an intention. However, they are not exactly the same thing. Many people use affirmations to try and change a behavior or a thought pattern. This isn’t a bad thing, but its effectiveness is debatable, and any real change takes a very long time. In my opinion, this is because we are citing affirmations while we are fully alert when all hyper-brain activity is happening. I don’t think it works for two reasons. First, the message we’re trying to assimilate into our being can’t “get past” the frenzied brainwaves that are running in our consciousness. Secondly, it doesn’t work as well to overcome the limiting beliefs that run against them; it’s simply an attempt to mask them.
In truth there are an infinite number of ways to meditate and none of them are wrong. The common thread amongst all meditative practice is the cultivation of awareness and expanded consciousness.
How to Meditate- A Beginners Guide
Not quite feeling your inner guru yet? No worries-you CAN do this!
So, as I said, there is an infinite number of ways to meditate, and none of them are wrong. The common thread amongst all meditative practice is the cultivation of awareness and expanded consciousness.
Here are some basics to help you get started and discover what works best for you. These steps are only suggestions to begin learning how to meditate. None of them are requirements. However, they are what I do and suggest to coaching clients who want to start a routine.
First of all, I either light a scented candle or burn incense. Depending on where I’m at, I may do a guided meditation (there are thousands of them on YouTube). One of my all-time favorites is I AM that I AM, by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Other times, I’ll just listen to peaceful and calm music.
Next, when I meditate, I like to set an intention, but this is not a requirement. Conversely, some who are veterans of meditation discourage it. Again, this is just what I do, and it has worked for many others.
An intention either the empowering thought I want my unconscious to resonate with or the answer that I hope to discover while in deep introspect. An intention should always be stated positively based on what one DOES want, never what they DON’T want.
Examples of empowering thoughts:
DO say: I love to eat healthy foods. I am patient and serene.
DON’T say: I will not eat junk food. I will stop being anxious and impatient.
Get comfortable and ready to relax.
- If you are not using your cellphone for music, turn it off; otherwise , put it on Do Not Disturb.
- Get cozy. If you can sit comfortably with your legs crossed , more power to you. If not, don’t worry, you can sit in a comfortable chair, or lie down if you prefer. Meditative energy knows where to go, and not being comfortable makes you feel awkward, which defeats the purpose of the whole experience.
- Grab a blanket if you like. Tibetan monks say one can control their body temperature while meditating, but if you’re not there (I’m not) being chilly makes it hard not to think about anything besides being chilly.
Learn to stay present in the HERE and NOW.
- Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. First, take 2-3 slow and deep breaths. As you inhale, silently count to 5 and the same as you exhale. Only the first few breaths are long and deep, and that is to help you begin to relax and get centered. After that, you should breathe at a normal pace. Your brain will follow cues from your breath and begin to slow down.
- While you breathe normally, just “notice” your breath. Feel the cool air coming in through your nose, traveling down your throat, and wherever it moves in your body after that. Don’t “try” to breathe fast or slow, shallow or deep, simply “notice” your breath. When we bring our awareness into our body, we are by default, bringing our awareness to the present moment. You cannot be thinking about the past or the future when you are aware of your body.
Set your intention
- In your mind, say or see your intention. ONCE. Then, let it go. Affirmations are done by repeating a positive thought over and over again. That is not the purpose of an intention. The intention is just your conscious mind telling the unconscious where it would like to go.
- Whatever thoughts come up and trust me, they will. Try to just notice them without engaging them. Think of them as clouds in the sky just rolling by. One passes – and another may come – or not. But, they’re just up – in the sky – moving along. There’s no meaning attached to the clouds; there’s no judgment; no one wonders what the backside of the cloud looks like; it just passes by…get it? This takes a bit of practice, but you will get better at it.
- If you notice yourself getting caught into your thoughts, don’t panic. It’s normal and to be expected. Just gently bring your attention back to your breathing and your body. Feel your heart beating, or notice how warm your hands feel. Again, being in the body brings you back to the present moment.
- Start small. Begin with about 5-10 minutes each day and gradually increase. Intuitively you will know where your ending point is. You’ll just get restless and feel “done.” Take another long deep breath or two and affirm to yourself the insights and awareness you just had. If there weren’t any, simply acknowledge to yourself that you just did something super healthy and positive. Kudos to you!
For years, I kept a meditation journal, which is basically the same thing as a dream journal. No this won’t help you learn how to meditate but I found it to be extremely helpful in understanding what my blockages and self-limiting beliefs were. That, in turn, helped me overcome them because you cannot change anything if you don’t know what it is you’re trying to change, right? Life coaches are professionals at helping clients overcome limiting beliefs so if you don’t know how to go it alone, it’s easy to get help.
The thoughts that come up during meditation are gold! They reveal to us what the other 90% of our 60 thoughts per minute are all about.
If your affirmation is “I love to eat healthy and nutritious foods” and in meditation, all the thoughts you have are (something like) “you always try but fail”, or you hear a parents voice saying “you should try to eat better” or an old gym teachers voice tells you “you’re weak and no willpower” (etc., etc., etc.,) you have valuable feedback about what has sabotaged your success in the past.
Writing these down right after helps us to remember them and then challenge their validity. Then, and only then, you can replace them with positive and empowering beliefs. The likelihood of them becoming automatic and permanent is significantly higher through meditation than it is by citing affirmations.
It takes 14–30 days for the unconscious to absorb new information and accept it as automatic. When you learn how to meditate and make it a regular part of your day, your “new normal” will be having an increased sense of happiness, gratitude, clarity, focus, and inner peace