Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

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Meditation changed my life.

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I am a highly sensitive person, an empath, and a water sign. Most of my life I’ve been watery and tearful with ever-shifting moods like the ocean’s tides. This used to be out of control, this emotional volatility, though it was more deeply sad self-loathing than outwardly directed anger. I felt as though I was flailing in my own dark ocean, and meditation showed up like my lifeboat, showing me how to separate myself from the depths and instead ride the surface like a surfer.

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This is why I’m passionate about sharing the benefits of meditation. Everyone with a brain can benefit, and what an incredible joy it is to experience those precious brief moments of internal peace and silence. I’m no expert, but I have a regular meditation practice that is always evolving. If you’ve ever been curious about learning to meditate and why it’s so life changing, I will attempt to elucidate. 

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Benefits of Meditation:

  • Lengthens your attention span
  • Lessens Stress Levels
  • Helps you master your emotions
  • Unhooks you from addictions to internet, TV, food, drugs, sex: You learn to be happy just existing without endlessly seeking satisfaction to quell restlessness with external stimulation.
  • Increased creativity: A clear mind is an ideal substrate to see past mind-chatter and tap into intuitive creativity.
  • Scientifically proven to build your prefrontal cortex, which controls impulses, strengthens your willpower, makes you sharper and better able to think clearly and quickly.
  • Improves your performance in life, as everything you do will be coming from a calm, relaxed, alert state.
  • Loss of pettiness and ego
  • Enjoy life more since you will be more fully present, less stressed and less preoccupied.
  • Brain health: Meditation is like brain exercise. It reduces the effects of age-related brain degeneration and helps prevent Alzheimer’s.
  • Makes you happier! When you learn to calm yourself and reach a state of peace through gratitude, breathing and being fully present, you detach your joy from external stimuli. Once you’re able to do that, NO ONE can take away your happiness. You surf through life instead of capsizing with every wave.

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How To Meditate:

Meditation is simple, but not easy. The best part is, you need NOTHING other than a comfortable place to sit and your breath. One VERY important thing to realize right away, is to let go of the idea of being able to clear your mind the first time you meditate. It is a practice and a skill that is not learned quickly or easily. Realize that your practice is successful if you just make yourself sit for those 20 minutes a day. It doesn’t matter if your mind chatters the entire 20 minutes, your practice is still successful, because you are learning to be aware and mindful of your thoughts and your separation from them. Each time you practice, your mental agility is improving, so don’t judge yourself if you can’t seem to calm down or focus. Consistency is the most important factor in creating a meditation practice, and the very fact that you sat there for 20 minutes is beneficial and a bonafide success.

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  1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for your meditation practice by taking a shower, washing your face, your hands, changing into light, loose, comfortable clothing, and taking your shoes off. You don’t need to do any of those things, but basically you are trying to make yourself as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Find a quiet place that you won’t be disturbed, put pets and children in another room, and put your phone on silent (or ideally, put it in another room). If you would like, you could play ambient sounds like rainfall, or better yet, go outside and experience natural ambient sounds. Set a timer for 20 minutes. IMG_3308
  2. Find a comfortable place to sit. You can sit on the edge of your bed with your feet flat on the ground, cross-legged on the ground, on a pillow, on a couch, wherever you can sit and feel at ease. It is best to sit upright, with your spine tall, but not rigid. It’s important that you keep your spine straight, imagine stacking your vertebrae and allowing gravity to keep your spine in place. Allow your shoulders to drop back and down, again not forcibly. Imagine a string on the very tip of your head like you’re a marionette, being pulled gently upward, and imagine your sit-bones grounding into the Earth below you, as if you’ve grown roots. Let your hands rest in your lap, with your hands facing up if you are meditating on gratitude or open-ness, or hands down resting on your knees to ground yourself. Allow your body to be heavy and devoid of tension. All of these feelings are subtleties, there is no straining. Loosen your shoulders and neck, and gently let your eyes fall closed.                          100_0306
  3. Take 4 deep, full, audible, slow breaths with big exhales, imagining all current thoughts being blown out of your body. Let your breath calmly come down to a natural, effortless pace. Imagine your breath entering your body and filling your lungs, spreading into all corners of your body. Turn your attention away from external stimuli, and instead toward inward sensations. While exhaling, feel the air leave your body and the feeling of your body constricting and pushing the air out. During your inhale, think about the life force that is oxygen entering your lungs and keeping you alive. Realize that your breath and this moment is the only thing that exists. Everything in the past is a memory, everything in the future is uncertain, during meditation the only focus is on this very moment, your breath, your inward focus, and this feeling of the weight of your body on the couch/chair/ground. 100_2269
  4. Since you are attempting to clear your thoughts, your mind chatter is going to get LOUD. The goal is to sit still, so your mind may tell you “I think I have an itch. OH damn I think I left the car unlocked. Did I lock the car? Damn I don’t want it to get broken into again.” Since you  are meditating, you will observe these thoughts and acknowledge them as clever stories to try and draw you in, but you will let these thoughts pass by saying in your head “THINKING, Breathing in…” and allow the enticing thoughts to pass like a canoe on a river, while you sit peacefully on the shore.                                                                                             IMG_0565                                                                                               Buddhists often compare the untrained mind to a drunken monkey. This belligerent monkey is not going to let you shut it out easily, it does not want to sit still and be silent. It is beguiling with the stories it begins to tell, and sometimes these stories will carry us away for minutes before we catch ourselves and remember that we are meditating. Just remind yourself “THINKING, breathing” and put yourself back on that shore, watching the canoes of thoughts pass by. You are expecting chatter when you begin your meditation practice. Peacefulness and silence come in time, realize that your journey is just beginning and that reaching mindfulness and tranquility takes time. Boredom, sleepiness, tiredness, all of these things are signs that you are doing meditation right. It’s the trudging through these states and staying consistent with your practice that will bring the desired results. It’s a strange paradox that the more expectation and results you make efforts to attain, the further away your goals get. Try and deeply relax, letting go of expectations and attachments to outcomes. Don’t judge yourself or internally berate yourself for not being able to make your thoughts shut up. Your mind is so conditioned to multi-tasking and completely unused to being forced to shut up and sit down. It will not do so without creating an entire circus of ruckus for you to quell. Luckily, you are stronger than your mind, and in time, the glorious permeating peaceful feelings that come from meditation practice will be experienced and it will be completely worth the journey.IMG_3042
  5. Meditation is like exercise, in that it is only beneficial when regularly practiced. You can’t get fit or expect to be healthy with only one workout, and same goes with meditation. The best way to ensure a successful meditation practice is to plan for a regular practice at the same time every day. Meditation may seem like hard work, and it is, but the pleasure of experiencing the timelessness and peace of meditation, and the incredible emotional and mental benefits, has made meditation one of my healthiest and most enjoyable hobbies. I often hear people say they can’t sleep because their brain won’t stop chattering at night. Learning to meditate eliminates those problems with techniques to maintain control of my own mind, making my life less stressful and more restful!                                                    IMG_9937

You may find meditation at first to be an annoying pointless practice. You may find yourself bored, tired, and feeling like a terrible meditator because you can’t get your brain to shut up. What you must realize is that like anything, getting past the learning curve is the hardest part. Once you start experiencing moments of silent, thoughtless awareness, your TRUE self, the person observing your thoughts, starts to really enjoy making your monkey brain shut up, and you start learning to truly control your mind and it’s thoughts, which in turn  will absolutely change your life for the better. Your practice will become easier and more enjoyable over time. If you are able to stick with it and experience the benefits, you will see why meditation has become my secret weapon that saved me from being a drowning and flailing emotional octopus, to becoming an adept Sea Captain, contentedly navigating the tumultuous waters of life safely within my hardy ship.

LINKS

This is a hilarious meditation with expletives for a humorous beginner’s meditation experience

This guy breaks meditation down with an entertaining explanation for kids

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