Louise is a professional yoga and wellness teacher. This is advice written by her about getting into meditation for the first time. Louise teaches a range of meditation and movement classes with Obby. Check out her full school profile and book onto one of her classes to learn more.
How to Meditate
The most important thing to realise when ‘learning’ how to meditate is that there is no specific way to mediate. Meditation is not a set exercise that you must carry out correctly. Meditation is not a way of stopping your mind and reaching enlightenment.
What we are doing in meditation is entering the quietness of the mind that’s already there, buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day!
It’s important to remember that although meditation is an ancient practice, it doesn’t make you a Buddha or a yogi. In fact, meditation can be any activity or exercise you love that totally consumes you and brings you right into the present moment. For me, yoga is a moving meditation because I am fully present.
In terms of the more conventional practice of meditation, it is quite simply the act of sitting in stillness, in quietness and observing the mind, giving it space to unwind and let go.
Many of us, if not all, experience wandering thoughts, the inability to sit still, feeling pressed for time and so on. These are all direct indications that we need to meditate.
I can’t make my mind go blank or empty
Meditation isn’t about emptying your mind or making it go blank (which is pretty much impossible without being a 90-year-old yogi living in the mountains with nothing to do but practice meditation).
Focus on one thing; the breath, repeating a mantra (a short sentence to aid concentration), or a part of the body. The breath is the most common and in my experience the most effective tool as it is constant. Your intention is focused attention on one thing, rather than jumping frantically from one thought to the next.
My mind won’t stay on one thing - a million different thoughts pop into my head
Whatever happens, just take comfort in knowing that the mind is going to wander off to other thoughts over and over… and over again. Don’t get annoyed, don’t get frustrated. However peaceful someone looks in their meditation seat, be assured they are thinking about what to have for dinner or that their leg has gone dead. All you do is learn to notice when this has happened, and gently bring yourself back. We all have tricky monkey minds that run away with us – our only task when we begin to learn how to meditate is to notice and come back to the breath. It really doesn’t matter how many times your mind wanders off, all that matters is that you acknowledge the wandering, and come back
Sitting still makes me anxious.
We are a culture of busy little bees. The new norm is to be constantly engaged in some kind of activity, making doing nothing or being bored totally out of the question – if nothingness rears its ugly head and threatens us with actually facing some of the things simmering deep inside, we very quickly revert to scrolling Instagram, reaching for the TV remote and the wine bottle simultaneously, or going for a run, a yoga class, anything… absolutely anything but. So, quite understandably for our society of do-ers, this sitting still and doing absolutely nothing can be somewhat threatening. To overcome this obstacle when learning how to meditate, the best thing to do… again… is breathe. Sit with yourself, embrace the alien uncomfortableness because I can guarantee you will not regret it. If you’re really struggling, try lowering your gaze rather than closing your eyes. Download one of the great guided meditation apps so you have a soothing voice to accompany you. Headspace is really good. If it’s really just too much, try a walking meditation; take a mindful walk with each step you take being registered and mentally repeat; ‘Inhaling I lift my foot, exhaling I take a step’ over and over again.
I don’t have time to learn how to meditate
As a yoga teacher, I have heard this more times than you can imagine! The response is always if you don’t have 10 minutes to meditate, you need to sit in meditation for at least 30 minutes. What are we so busy with?! When did we become so incredibly important that we don’t have 10 minutes to give ourselves to breathe and simply be? You may feel that there isn’t time in your schedule and you may be right – but you must make the time, just as you make your schedule, as the benefits are well worth it. The research is clear – mediation radically improves your mental health and wellbeing – so dedicating 10 minutes every day to yourself and your mind is a necessary investment. Remember, you don’t need to religiously practice how to meditate every day to experience the benefits (although a regular practice will reap greater results) so when you can, take a seat, connect to your breath, and just observe what’s really going on within you.
If you’re still feeling a bit apprehensive about the practice of how to meditate, try just taking a few deep inhales and full exhales on your commute or at your desk. If you feel stressed or anxious, try spending a few minutes inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 6. You will be amazed how much of a difference using your breath to connect mind and body has on your wellbeing.
Remember meditation fosters a sense of peacefulness and calm, improves concentration, reduces stress, increases happiness, slows ageing, benefits cardiovascular and immune health… and much more. AND it is FREE.
To get your new routine going, take a meditation and yoga class with Louise. Head over the Obby site and have a look at the classes she offers.