In recent years the practice of mindfulness exercises has been transformed from a meditation technique to a buzzword in everything from management seminars to mental health. Meditation can improve your health, reduce your stress, and increase positivity. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t potential risks. It’s just like going to the gym. You know that going to the gym is good for you, however, you must be aware of the risks prior to starting an exercise regimen. The same goes for meditation.
Not All Resources Are Equal
Anyone can upload content to YouTube and call it mindfulness meditation or guided relaxation – a quick search returns approximately 2 million videos for those terms. It’s hard to pick out what may be helpful or potentially harmful. Some of these resources also use terms such as hypnosis or suggestion. Do you really want a stranger from the internet making suggestions to your subconscious?
Do You Know What You’re Trying to Achieve?
Everyone wants to feel happier and more at peace with themselves and the world. Most people would like to be more focused at work or more attentive in their relationships. Mindfulness and other forms of meditation can be helpful with all of these things, BUT they’re not a solution to the human condition. Many books and articles commend the values of mindfulness without being specific about the actual purpose. What exactly are YOU aiming for? Is meditation actually the best way to get there?
Do You Have a History of Mental Health Issues?
There’s some good evidence that mindfulness can help with depression or even with psychosis, but that’s usually one-to-one or group work led by a trained therapist. Guided relaxation often involves imagining yourself somewhere else. If you’ve previously experienced psychotic episodes, following a script that takes you away from reality can cause problems. The same is true if you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or intrusive memories. And although it’s not common, Relaxation Induced Panic (RIP) is a recognized phenomenon where instructions to relax have the opposite effect in some individuals.
Do You Think Mind-Altering Substances Enhance Meditation and Mindfulness?
All of these problems can worsen your experience if you’re intending to use alcohol or drugs. It might seem appealing to have a glass or two of wine and listen to a mindfulness meditation. Unfortunately, not only will alcohol REDUCE your ability to be genuinely mindful, but it will affect your sleeping patterns as well. This will undo any benefit from your meditation practice. Mindfulness exercises while intoxicated can take you deeper into depression and anxiety, not out of them.
Meditation for Beginners: 7 Simple Steps to Start
Meditation for beginners can feel difficult at first. You can become distracted, bored, or skeptical of the benefits, or you might not even make the time to practice it. Especially in the age of the smartphone, it can be tough to completely unwind, seclude yourself, and meditate. Once You’ve made the decision to start meditating, try these simple steps to help make meditation as easy and comfortable as possible.
1. Schedule Time to Meditate
This can be the hardest part about meditation. Scheduling time in your day to meditate will almost guarantee that you will do it. Fitting it into your lunch break, or trying to do it on the drive home can make it a stressful experience, and you’ll likely forget to do it or stop altogether. Putting it into your schedule not only means you won’t have anything else conflicting with it, but you’ll be mentally prepared for it.
You don’t have to schedule hours at a time to meditate. Putting 15-30 minutes a few times a week into your planner for meditation will be perfect for getting started. This way you can incorporate meditation into your daily routine without making it a stressful part of your day.
2. Remove Any Outside Distractions
Turn off the TV, close the window, and turn your phone off. Meditation should be an introspective experience, so outside distractions can break the trance. This is one of the biggest obstacles of meditation for beginners since it’s often hard to find a space that’s completely distraction-free, especially if you meditate at work.
Start by turning off your phone and letting those around you know that you don’t want to be disturbed. This way, you can get rid of the most prominent distractions. Finding a quiet place without any outside noise will also be helpful. Making sure you can be truly alone and in your own mind will make for the most effective meditation.
3. Unplug 1 Hour Before You Start
Our phones, laptops, and TVs can make our minds too active to easily meditate. Just like you shouldn’t be on your phone right up until bed, you should also unplug before your meditation if you can. Even if it’s not the full hour, staying away from highly stimulating devices for as long as possible before meditating will be helpful.
If you meditate at work or work from home, this can be a tricky thing to do. Trying to schedule the time to meditate can be hard enough, but unplugging before then might cut into your work. If this is the case, try reducing the amount of stimulating information. Focus on one thing at a time for a while before meditating, reduce the number of tabs open on your internet browser, and avoid looking at social media or news feeds. This way, your mind is as clear as possible.
4. Pair Meditation with Other Holistic Activities
Meditation and yoga go hand-in-hand. Finding natural activities to pair with your meditation can be an extremely useful way to maximize the benefits. These other activities don’t have to happen at the same time as your meditation but should be able to compliment it.
Listening to relaxing music, or practicing breathing exercises right before meditation can make your meditation more calming. Having a natural, healthy diet, or exercising regularly can maximize the benefits of meditation. There are many things that can be paired with meditation, so for beginners, it can help to include simple lifestyle choices to maximize the benefits.
5. Make Sure You’re Comfortable
When you begin meditating, get in a comfortable position. You can lie down, sit upright, or even stand, but make sure you’re body is relaxed and comfortable. Don’t try to rush straight to the meditation, since you’ll quickly notice any sore spots from your posture. Once you’re physically comfortable, make yourself mentally comfortable. You’ll need to clear your mind, and gently push away any thoughts. Try to sit still in a quiet space, making sure you’re mind is inactive. Once you’re physically and mentally comfortable, you can begin meditating.
6. Don’t Try Too Hard
One of the easiest mistakes with meditation for beginners is that you can try too hard. In a goal-oriented culture, we tend to come up with plans, put in the effort, take action, and get the task done. Meditation, however, is an ongoing thing. It isn’t completed, and if doesn’t get better with more effort. It’s important to keep in mind that Meditation is supposed to be a focused, relaxing process that clears your mind.
If you find yourself thinking about how to meditate better while you’re meditating, push the thought away. Meditation is about clearing your head, and that includes thoughts about meditation. Finding inner clarity is about being, not trying.
7. Be Open Minded
It’s understandable to be skeptical towards meditation. For beginners, the benefits might not be immediately noticeable, making you think it isn’t working, or that you’re supposed to be doing it a different way. Remaining open-minded will allow you to try new things, and to let the meditation help you. You might be open to trying alternative forms of meditation, like qigong or walking meditation. You might incorporate meditation into your morning or nightly routine. The important thing is to remain open to the benefits of meditation and to let it help you.
Meditation for Beginners: Recommendations for Your Practice
Consider Going to a Class or Attending an Individual Session
Working with a trained practitioner can help you understand what you’re trying to achieve and attending a class with a qualified instructor gives you a chance to ask questions. If you decide that you’d rather use online resources by yourself, find something that’s produced by a professional organization.
Listen to a Meditation All the Way Through, Before You Follow Any of the Instructions
A guided meditation, especially one based on mindfulness principles, should have a way in – usually asking you to focus on one thing. This could be your breathing, a time of awareness, or noticing. Guided meditation may involve becoming aware of bodily sensations, your environment or the details of an imaginary world, and a way out. The way out brings you back to your normal state of mind. This is crucial and is unfortunately neglected in some meditation scripts. Even meditation for helping you get to sleep should move you from the trance state to normal sleep.
Mindfulness and other methods of meditation have been used for centuries. They do work, but they’re not the answer to every problem. The fact that they can be powerful tools means that you should treat them with care. So think about what you want to achieve, consider using classes or one-to-one sessions rather than random internet resources. Use caution when mixing them with drugs and alcohol and always seek professional advice if you have any history of mental health problems.