Many religions use meditation as a tool to access the inner self and go to a still place where insights can be gained or a sense of innate ‘knowing’ can be reached, peace can be found, or our bodies can be healed.
There are many different ways of meditating, and of course, you don’t have to belong to a religion at all to gain the benefits of it or to practice it on a regular basis. Some believe that a requirement of meditating is to be completely still and quiet, with no thoughts intruding or distractions from outside yourself, or even any visualisation. Others believe that you need to twist yourself into awkward positions to achieve the correct state. Yet others believe that you can do a form of meditation while exercising or doing the dishes. Who is correct?
Well, none of them and ALL of them! There IS NO correct way to meditate – it comes back to what works best for you as an individual. We all experience things in different ways – some of us are visual, some feel better ‘doing’ something, others enjoy listening (e.g. meditating to music or a pre-recorded meditation) and so on.
Here are some ideas of ways to meditate that may work for you. If you haven’t found yet what works, try any or all of these until you find one that works. Of course this is by no means a comprehensive list of styles of meditation, but it will give you a taste – especially if you are just starting out.
You may like to allocate a particular area of your home for meditation, or not. You may like to have soft lighting, a candle, or darkness. It is best to do it at a time when you know you will not be disturbed by either the phone or another person coming into your space. Sometimes hearing too much going on around you can be distracting, at least until you are an experienced meditator, and then sounds don’t intrude in the same way.
With most meditations, you will need to relax your body prior to going into a heightened state. Either sit in an upright chair with your back straight, feet flat on the floor and palms facing upwards resting on your thighs, or lie on a flat surface with no limbs crossed (the only problem with lying down is that sometimes people fall asleep!). Start by taking some deep breaths, trying to breathe from your abdomen rather than your chest. Breathe in slowly through your nose, hold for a moment and breathe out slowly. Some like to do this to a particular count, or closing off one nostril then the other, but the main thing is that your breathing is becoming deeper and slowing down which helps to relax your body. Imagine all tensions flowing out of your body on the ‘out’ breath, and light flowing into your body on the ‘in’ breath. You can visually move through your body tensing and relaxing all your muscles if you like, until you feel completely relaxed. Now try some of these meditations, aiming for at least 20 minutes in length. If you are only able to do it for a few minutes to start with, that is fine:
- Stillness This way of meditating requires you to completely still your mind from chatter (often referred to as the monkey mind). If a thought enters your mind, acknowledge it and then let it float on out of your mind. Don’t focus on any particular thing, just allow your mind to rest and become ’empty’. The longer you can hold this state, the better. It allows for any insights to just ‘drop’ into your consciousness – there is no striving to achieve this, it is just ‘allowing’ it to happen. By creating an open space of stillness, it opens your mind up to what is ‘outside’ your normal day to day consciousness. To end this meditation, bring your mind back to the room you are in, focussing on something to ground you – e.g. the feel of the floor under your feet, a sound outside etc.
- Visually Focussed You may like to do this meditation with an object of beauty, or a lit candle. The idea is to put your focus entirely on the object you have chosen, so your mind is not distracted by anything else outside that object. For instance, you could use a flower. Gaze at the flower, taking in its beauty. Notice all the nuances of colour it contains. What shape is it? Does it have a scent? Are there any unusual markings on it? How does it make you feel? Keep focussing on the flower until you reach a sense of ‘knowing’ the flower, being one with it, there is no separation between you and the flower. Take the image into your heart centre and make it part of your being. You can do this with other things, such as a piece of fruit, a talisman that has some meaning to you, a religious relic, etc. Gazing at a lit candle is a good one. Focus on the flame, and see the colours in it and the brightness. After focussing for a while, close your eyes and focus on the point between your eyes in the middle of your forehead. You will see the light now expanding – go into the brightness and see what happens. End as in number 1 by bringing your focus back into the room.
- Engaging the Senses This is a little like number 2, except this time you engage all your senses, not just your visual sense. Taking a piece of fruit as an example, you can do all the visual exercise, then include also other aspects. Hold the fruit in your hand – what does it feel like? Is it rough, smooth, furry? Is it heavy or light? Is it large or small? Imagine eating the fruit. How would it taste? Sweet, sour, is it juicy, do you like it, is it not a taste you would be used to? What sound would it make when you bite into it – soft sound, crunchy, squeaky? Does it have a pleasant or nasty odour? You can use your senses to experience other things. You may like to focus on different things around you to feel the different senses. What sounds can you hear? What colours are around you? What does the carpet feel like under your feet? What would the taste of the piece of fruit in the fruit bowl taste like? What smells or scents are you aware of? Engaging your senses in this way helps you to become more in tune with your body and more aware of what is around you, you become more alert and ‘in tune’, allowing your intuition to start to come into play.
- Guided Visualisation This type of meditation usually requires someone to lead you through it, or a recording which you listen to which gives you the steps to follow. You can do it for yourself, by just picturing certain scenarios. You may be guided to imagine yourself on a beach, walking along by the water (water represents our emotions). By observing the state of the water, it can give us insight to how we are feeling emotionally. Is the water rough and choppy? We may be feeling like we are being pushed around, or upset over something rather than a calm acceptance of a situation. As you walk along, you may be told that there is a bottle with a message in it washed up on the beach. Open the bottle and read the message. This will be a message to your conscious mind from your subconscious mind. Doing this type of guided visualisation can bring us to an understanding of ourselves at a subconscious level, which in turn allows us to then deal with any issues that arise. It gives us insight into our deeper selves. You may like to do it as a walk through the forest, finding steps going down into a cave (into our subconscious) where we will discover something of relevance. You may see yourself in an old building, coming to a rusty door to which you find the key (into your mind). On opening the door, you may enter a library where there will be a book that stands out to you. Take it down and find a relevant message. There are many ways of using this tool to discover things about yourself that your everyday consciousness is not aware of. Even things about the universe – you may tap into the Akashic records which are basically on a plane where everything that has ever taken place in the universe is forever recorded.
- Meditating to the sound of Aum (or chanting, mantras or toning) Using sound can be a very powerful tool for meditation. Some people like to use the universal sound of ‘Aum’ which opens you up to the universe and the connectedness of all things. Ensure if doing this chant you accentuate each syllable – Ah, Ooh, Mm. There are various chants you can find to use, from Tibetan Sanskrit chants, to Gregorian chants. You might like to find a recording of these you can join in with until you learn them yourself. Some like to have a particular mantra – this is like an affirmation, or string of words that have particular meaning TO YOU. These are chanted in a repetitive fashion to achieve a heightened state of awareness. Another method of using sound is to ‘tone’. This is using your voice to sing particular sounds (such as ‘Aah’) and relating the sounds to each chakra centre (swirling vortex of energy, often symbolised by lotuses) in your body. There are 7 main chakras which run in correlation to your spinal column and are associated with particular glands. Each chakra evokes a different tone (also colour, if you want to include that, starting with red for the base chakra and moving through all colours of the rainbow until you reach violet for your crown chakra). You can move up your spinal chakras, toning each sound, or just tone whatever comes to you intuitively. Your body knows what sounds it needs to balance and heal itself. Just let the sounds come! There is no wrong or right!
As I mentioned initially, there are many different ways to meditate, and this is just a few. Even focussing on the task at hand, to the exclusion of all else while exercising, doing yoga, or washing up, sweeping a floor etc., can be a form of meditation.