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Armchair philosopher

How to meditate

A simple guide to start meditating today

"Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, discourse a clear man."
—Benjamin Franklin

Meditation has gained a much larger, mainstream following in recent years, and with good reason. What was previously considered an esoteric, eastern, mystical practice, or something for "hippies", is proving to be a very powerful tool for improving physical health, emotional health, mood, mental performance and even sporting performance!

Each year there are numerous scientific studies and controlled experiments showing that regular meditation improves the lives of all practitioners in at least some way.

Take this study, for instance, in which a group of school students who tried transcendental meditation for a year exhibited improved restful alertness, emotional intelligence (self-control, awareness, and flexibility in emotional response), and improvement in academic performance.

If you'd like to try meditation and start reaping the benefits of reduced stress, improved concentration, improved immune function (to name a few), then follow the simple steps I've outlined below.

How I meditate

There are a few different types of meditation and a lot of variations on how to approach each. The form of meditation I practice is called Mindfulness Meditation, and involves being aware of your current physical and mental state, and focussing on something simple and constant, like the breath.

This is how I've been meditating for the past few months. I'd encourage you to start with this simple approach, but also to read up on other approaches. Tweak the process until you find what suits you best.

I usually meditate in the morning. I'm an early riser and the first hour or so of the day is my quiet, alone time. I've tried meditating in the evenings too but I find I'm more likely to forget. Experiment until you find a time that works for you.

  1. Find someplace where you can be alone. Meditating is like going to the bathroom; there's no shame in doing it, but it can be a little harder to relax when there's someone there watching you.
  2. Sit down on a chair with your back straight and supportive, your chest out, and your pelvis tilted slightly forward. Keep your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting on your lap. Don't get too concerned about the posture here, the important thing is that you're not slouching, or so comfortable that you're likely to fall asleep. Remember, meditation is about training attentiveness.
  3. Take a few deep, slow breaths in and out. This in itself is a good way to start to unwind. A few slow, deep, controlled breaths lowers the heart-rate and helps to reduce tension.
  4. Close your eyes and take a minute or two just to check in see how you're feeling. What's your underlying mood today? How do you feel physically? Any tension in your muscles? Any aches and pains?
  5. Afer checking in, begin to count your breaths, both in breaths and out, to the count of ten. Your breathing should be normal, just in and out through the nose. You're not trying to put yourself in a trance here, or to fall asleep, or contemplate the Meaning Of Life. Instead, what you want is to sink into a sort of relaxed awareness where you can be aware of yourself and your environment without making judgments or responding.
  6. Continue to count your breaths, starting back at one once you've reached ten. If, at any point you realise your mind has wandered, don't get frustrated. Simply resume counting your in and out breaths again. Keeping focus on the breath will soon get easier as you gain more experience with the practice.
  7. To finish your session, ease out gently. You can stop counting the breaths and start focussing more on your physical sensations again. The feeling of your hands resting in your lap, the smells in the room, the ambiant sounds etc. Take your time. When you're ready, open your eyes and familiarise yourself with your surroundings once again.

And that's it! A session for me usually lasts around thirty minutes, but I built up to that. If it's your first time meditating, I'd recommend starting with a kaizen approach until you get into the habit. Perhaps start by taking just thirty seconds out of your day to sit down and take some slow, deliberate breaths, and progress from there.

If you'd like to try a guided meditation service, headspace is really easy to begin with and they have a really well-designed iPhone app.

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