Those unfamiliar with the practice of meditation may look at it as something for the New Age individuals. You know, those who are avid yoga practitioners, who create crystal grids, spend time balancing their chakras and read Rumi or Osho when they have a free moment. However, meditation is by no means a new ritual (with earliest documented practices dating back before the 5th century) nor is it confined to any group or religion. Meditation can (and should be) a purely individual practice, focused on being introspective, and finding a moment to be still amidst an often chaotic existence.
The term meditation is derived from the Latin word “meditatio”, from the verb “meditari” which simply means “to think, contemplate, devise, or ponder”.
Sounds simple enough. All you really have to do is sit and ponder things, or try not to think too much. Coming from a person who is consistently on the go, and always thinking about the next project, or item on a make-believe to-do list, I can say it’s harder than it sounds. You might ask yourself how you should be sitting? Or should you be sitting? Can I do this lying down? Should I have music? Silence?
For those new to meditation, much like myself, first attempts at the practice may involve a lot of fidgeting, twiddling ones thumbs, changing positions, and eventually giving up when one realizes that they still have to prepare their lunch for tomorrow and schedule their appointments before going to bed.
So where does one start when they’re so new to meditation?
For myself, it started with yoga. The cues in yoga to focus on my breathing, as opposed to the aesthetic of the posture, is what really first took my mind beyond the physical practice and into the meditative. At the end of the practice, laying supine in savasana, is where the real magic happened for me. The guidance by the instructor to acknowledge passing thought, and then allow it to flow out like the tide going into and pulling away from the shore was what was truly changed my view of meditation. I thought the goal of meditation was the pure absence of thought, but when it turned into an acknowledge-and-release style of practice, that’s when things changed, and it became something I could do on my own.
Loving the feeling that I got from that last 5 minutes of yoga class, I sought more information on the practice of meditation, and found a wealth of knowledge in books. For a digestible read, and something to get you started, check out “Unplug: a Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers”. It starts simply, highlighting the common misconceptions about meditation, and then offers a practical approach to integrating the practice into your lifestyle regardless of how busy you believe you are. It's a no-excuses, easy read to help get you started on incorporating stillness into your daily ritual.
Another resource to get me started on meditation was a meditation app called Relax Meditation. The first week of meditating using this app was more akin to guided lessons that focused on preparing oneself to meditate, focused attention, practicing awareness, and living in the present moment. The audio on this app, as well as the options to add ambient noise, and even low frequency noises geared at stimulating brainwaves was great. It’s also handy to use as a basic app, where you can choose your “nature sounds”, music (or no music) and just set a timer that will chime once your meditation is complete.
Finally, many studios (including our very own!) offer guided meditation classes. Apps are great, and an individual practice is a healthy habit to get into, but sometimes, an in-person, guided meditation in a space that is away from home (which can sometimes subconsciously remind us of those to-do lists) is what we need to reset, and unwind from our fast-paced life. If you’re interested in attending one of our guided meditation classes check out our schedule here.
What are my basic tips for starting a meditation practice?
Like any physical exercise you do (yoga, running, cycling, weight lifting) make meditation a priority.
Set aside time in your day for a meditation practice and try to make it consistent. It’s as important as anything else on your to-do list.
Maybe your practice starts at 10 minutes a day, where you sit, and just focus on your breathing before bed. Again, your mind is allowed to be chaotic at the beginning. At this stage, try and just acknowledge each passing thought from a third-person perspective, and release it when your mind feels satisfied.
Guided meditation was a good place for me to start, as I needed some verbal cuing to tell me how to refocus my mind and release extraneous thoughts. Whether it’s in one of our classes or via an app, some direction is good when you’re first starting out.
Make it a ritual. Make it feel special.
Probably my most important tip. For me I make my meditation practice time feel special. If I have the time to go to a class at the studio, that already is innately special time in a special setting. If I’m restricted to doing a home practice, then I make it as atmospheric as possible. I meditate in silence, but I take this opportunity to light my favourite candle, lay out my soft yoga mat, and wrap a soft blanket I once splurged on at a yoga festival around my head and shoulders. For me there’s something comforting about being wrapped in something during a meditation practice.