Tips for Beginner Meditators
TIPS FOR BEGINNER MEDITATORS
- Find a comfortable position: An optimal position is one in which you are comfortable and alert. Settling into a comfortable position is important for allowing your body to rest at ease during the duration of the meditation practice. One common position is sitting cross-legged on the floor; however, you may be more comfortable sitting in a chair or standing against a wall. What’s important is that you’re comfortable and not straining your body to maintain a posture. It's also important that your position is conducive to remaining awake and alert. Slouching or lying down while meditating can make it easy to lose vigilance or doze off. Sitting or standing may help you maintain wakefulness as well as ensure that your breathing flows naturally. Consider sitting or standing with your spine straight, shoulders tilted back slightly, buttocks or feet bottoms resting firmly, and facial muscles calm and relaxed.
- Remove any potential distractions: Take a moment to remove any potential distractions from your environment. This may require silencing your computer or phone notifications, closing a window, or moving to a place where you feel safe and relatively undisturbed.
- Keep a beginner’s mind: If you are a beginner, notice the curiosity and openness that you bring to the practice. Sustaining this curiosity and openness is key to a regular meditation practice. Epiphanies, revelations, and profound mystical experiences are unlikely and not even the goal of a daily meditation practice. Through regular practice, however, you will likely develop qualities that include heightened attention and focus, the ability to regulate emotions, and clarity of mind. Little by little these gains will happen over time, though you’re unlikely to detect them after only one or two practices. Consistency of practice is important to cultivate these skills.
- To have a clear mind is not to “clear your mind”: A common misconception about meditation is that it requires clearing or emptying your mind of all contents and that you have failed if you are unable to do so. In fact, the point of many styles of meditation, including mindfulness practices, is to cultivate attentional skills that make you more aware of your mental activity, no matter how wild your mind. These practices bring a heightened awareness to the contents of your experience, including your thoughts, sensations, perceptions, and emotions, and the point is to notice these experiences without becoming involved with them. In other words, you should try to remain open, caring, and curious without judging or fixating on your experiences. By not suppressing or trying to control the thoughts and experiences you observe moment by moment, you may start to feel your mind becoming more clear.
- Breathe naturally: Unless prompted to breath in a specific manner, breathe naturally. There is no need to breathe more deeply or slowly in meditation. Simply allow for the normal rhythm of your breath to flow throughout the practice. You may find that thinking about your breathing makes it difficult to refrain from controlling your breath. This is common and over time will become less of a concern.
- Do your best: Follow the instructions offered by the contemplative instructor to the best of your ability. At first, instructions may seem detailed or unnatural, but by practicing a given meditation, the instructions will become tacit knowledge. Don’t be concerned about whether you are doing it correctly, particularly at first. While it’s common for beginners to feel discouraged, the key is to keep practicing. Over time, as you do your best, you will find more ease with the practice of meditation. Keep in mind that meditation is a practice, meaning that the more you do it, the better you will get at it.
- You may feel sleepy or restless: Another key to meditation is staying alert and awake. These days, however, because keeping busy and stimulated and switching attention from one thing to another is so common, you may find that when your mind is given the opportunity to rest, you become restless, bored, or sleepy. If you feel sleepy, stand up or adjust your posture or open your eyes. If you feel restless, take a few deep breaths or relax your muscles in your face, neck, and shoulders. You might remind yourself that these feelings are normal and will get easier over time.
- If you feel overwhelmed: Sometimes cultivating heightened awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and experiences during meditation can be upsetting. In these cases, remember to give yourself permission to back off—open your eyes, move around, and pause or complete the practice.
- Take your time coming out of meditation: Give yourself a few moments to gently transition out of your practice into the next activity. As you transition, notice to what extent you can sustain the same awareness, focus, or positive feelings that you may have experienced during the meditation session. These experiences may linger for the first few moments after meditation and even into your next activity. Without being too quick or abrupt, reflect on how you might carry benefits from your practice into your daily life.
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