How is a beginner supposed to make sense of this? What’s the best way to get started?
We’ll cover all the basics in this guide. By the end, you’ll be well on your way to your first meditation session—and hopefully, a habit that can benefit you for a lifetime. From there, you can download the Aura app and experience your first guided meditation session!
First, what exactly is meditation? Meditation is the practice of using mental techniques to improve attention and awareness. Typically, meditation techniques are used as a way to resolve mental and emotional issues, though recent research suggests that meditation can also have a real physical effect on the body. You can find dozens of studies from the National Institutes of Health that support these benefits.
As we’ll see, there are many different styles and traditions of meditation to try, but all of them share some commonalities. For example, nearly all of them involve focusing on something, whether it’s your breathing, something in your environment, or your own thoughts. Additionally, most forms of meditation are used for similar purposes, such as relaxing, improving focus, reducing pain, and increasing your sense of wellbeing.
Of course, meditation is still somewhat hard to define—some meditation-like practices aren’t typically considered official “meditation,” and some strange techniques still make the cut for inclusion in the category. In time, you’ll be able to define meditation for yourself.
As a newcomer, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of meditation “types” available. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of different approaches to try. But don’t worry—we’re just going to focus on the basics here.
· Guided vs. unguided meditation. First, you should understand the difference between guided and unguided meditation. With unguided meditation, you’ll be by yourself, with little to no external stimulation, responsible for your own meditative practice. But with guided meditation, you’ll have an experienced teacher, advisor, or speaker guiding you through various meditation techniques. Most beginners find guided meditation to be favorable, since there’s less pressure and more direction.
· Relaxation vs. insight meditation. Different meditation traditions may also differ in whether they prioritize relaxation or insight. In other words, are you meditating to calm yourself and relax, or to discover some unique insights about yourself? You can do both with meditation, but it often helps to choose a focus.
· Styles and traditions. Many different cultures have meditative traditions; in fact, Buddhism alone is responsible for creating hundreds of different meditation paths. Hinduism and Christianity have their own meditation traditions, and there are plenty of secular and nondenominational meditation practices as well. As a beginner, don’t worry too much about different names and subtypes—instead, turn your attention to core meditation techniques that are common in all these practices.
Most styles of meditation, even if they differ by name, rely on some combination of the following techniques:
· Posture. While many meditation practices allow you to use any position that’s comfortable for you, some specifically rely on a rigid or set posture.
· Relaxation. Most meditation practices have some element of relaxation involved. On the muscular level, that means letting go of tension and allowing your body to become loose. On a mental level, that means focusing on the present instead of the past or future.
· Visualization. Some practices incorporate visualization techniques—especially during guided sessions. Users are asked to visualize certain things or abstract concepts as a way to direct their thoughts and feelings.
· Attention and focus. Almost all forms of meditation require a user to direct their attention and focus on something. The locus of concentration will change depending on the tradition being followed.
· Breathing. Breathing exercises are commonly used in coordination with meditation. Not only does deep breathing help you relax, but it can also help you remain focused on something other than your persistent and distracting thoughts.
· Repetition. Repetition is also a common theme in the realm of meditation. Depending on the practice, you may be asked to repeat a specific cycle of breathing, a sequence of counting numbers, or even chanting a mantra.
· External stimulation. Some forms of meditation also use external stimulation to enhance the meditation experience or direct focus. For example, you may incorporate the use of music, lighting, or specific scents. More commonly, external stimulation is specifically blocked; users are often asked to practice in a dark, quiet room, and close their eyes for the best results.
If you’re interested in getting the best value out of your meditation practice, there are a few things you can do to make your first sessions more effective:
· Choose the right style for you. Spend some time learning about different meditation styles, and the strengths and weaknesses of each. Consider your own goals, and select the style that seems to be right for you. You can always try out different styles and switch to a different approach if necessary, but it helps to start with the right direction.
· Be consistent. You need to be consistent if you’re going to see measurable progress with meditation. Over time, you’ll get “better” at meditating; you’ll learn the patterns of your own thoughts, your focus will improve, and you’ll discover how meditation is supposed to feel internally. But you can’t do this if you pursue meditation sporadically, or inconsistently.
· Be patient. Meditation probably won’t immediately change your life for the better. The people who experience major lifestyle changes are those who stick with the practice for a long period of time—sometimes months, or even years. It’s best to approach this as a long-term commitment, rather than something to kill time or a short-term fix.
· Keep track of changes. Use journaling or a meditation log to document how you feel before, during, and after meditation. Set goals for yourself, and try to objectively measure how you’re improving. If you hit a plateau, examine what could be responsible for it, and consider experimenting with your approach.
After reading this guide, if you’re still not sure how to get started as a beginner, follow these important steps:
· Learn more about meditation. First, try to learn more about meditation—especially the different styles of meditation that exist. There are some fantastic resources out there that are completely free (including our blog) and will teach you all the basics.
· Make small commitments. Don’t worry about becoming a guru or overhauling your existing lifestyle. Instead, focus on making (and following through on) small commitments. For example, can you commit to meditating just 10 minutes a day? Can you commit to trying one new meditation style every week? You’ll find it much easier to be consistent this way.
· Find a comfortable setting. For your first few sessions, make sure you’re in a comfortable setting. That could mean your bedroom floor, a piece of comfortable furniture in the living room, or a specialized mat at a local studio. Choose something that works for you.
· Find a comfortable position. While some meditation practices require a specific posture, most leave it up to the individual user. Find a position that’s going to work for you, personally—that could mean standing, sitting, or lying down.
· Choose an app. Most newcomers to meditation find it much easier to follow meditation techniques and remain consistent in their practice when they rely on an app. Modern meditation apps like Aura offer many forms of guided meditation, helping to walk you through the stages of a successful meditation session. They also encourage you to stick with your habit, so you can actually stick around long enough to see the benefits.
· Work with a teacher. If possible, work with a teacher or someone experienced with meditation. They’ll be able to provide you with insights and advice on how to get the most out of your sessions—and they may be able to lead you in some sessions as well. Even more importantly, they’ll be able to answer your questions and help resolve some of the challenges you inevitably face early on in your journey.
· Find a friend (or make one). Next, ask around to see if you know anyone who currently practices meditation. If you don’t, consider making a new friend who does. Having a friend who also practices meditation will motivate you to remain consistent in your practice—and help you enjoy the experience more.
· Try different techniques. While it’s helpful to start with a technique or a style that suits your needs, specifically, it’s also a good idea to branch out eventually. Try many different meditation techniques and approaches to get a firsthand perspective on how they work.
If you’re looking for the easiest and most reliable way to get started with meditation, you’ll want to enlist the help of a meditation app like Aura. Download the Aura Meditation and Sleep app for iOS or for Android today, and start practicing meditation like a pro!