Meditation is an ancient activity that has more and more followers in the West. While it is true that meditation has its origins in certain religious and philosophical traditions of Asia, it is a practice that is very useful and beneficial for people of all ages, which is why more and more people are interested in learning to meditate.
In the following article we reveal everything you need to know about how to learn to meditate: benefits, types of meditation and guided meditation so you can get all the benefits of this activity through a few simple steps.
Meaning of meditation and types of meditation
The first thing you should know is that there are different types of meditation and, depending on your goals and preferences, some will be more effective than others. Considering that this article is aimed at beginners, initially we are going to divide meditation into two main blocks: spiritual or religious meditation and secular meditation.
The difference between one system and the other lies in the objectives of meditative practice but, beyond this, the steps and processes to follow are very similar. This shows that what is really important is to learn to meditate, since the use you want to give it, a posteriori will depend on your particular objectives and the relaxation methods that work best for you.
Religious or spiritual meditation
It is the original meditation and is based on the Asian traditions of the religions of India (Hinduism and Buddhism). In this case, meditation is carried out with the aim of reaching a higher state of mind and finding inner peace in oneself.
In the case of Hinduism, the ultimate goal of meditation is the spiritual union of the individual soul with the Absolute, while in the case of Buddhism the goal of meditation is focused on overcoming attachment, which leads the practitioner to reach the state of Nirvana, in which all passions cease, desires and suffering.
In this case, the goal of meditation is not motivated by a spiritual end, but rather psychological. The goal of lay meditation is to calm the mind and reach a state of inner peace free of anxiety. This type of meditation has been developed especially in Western countries where meditation is understood as a tool that allows to improve the control and self-knowledge of oneself.
Now that you are clear about what the two main types of meditation are, we are going to explain in more detail other very popular meditation classes and meditation tips that you should keep in mind if you are thinking of starting to practice this activity.
Vipassana Meditation: Step by Step
You may have heard of Vipassana meditation, as it is one of the oldest and most practiced in the world of meditation. Vipassana, whose literal meaning is “to see things as they really are”, consists of observing the mind and body of oneself to achieve inner peace and mental calm.
Through Vipassana meditation, one of the best-known relaxation methods, the practitioner enters a journey of self-knowledge and self-control that allows him to observe from another perspective and eradicate the most superficial and distressing problems of the day to day. The main steps you should follow to start practicing Vipassana meditation are as follows:
- Once you are sitting comfortably in a quiet place, close your eyes and stretch your muscles to relax them a little. You don't need to take a specific position if it doesn't come naturally to you.
- Start taking air through your nose slowly. Take your time; you may find it beneficial to count to four at first while taking in air.
- Wait a couple of seconds and release the air through your mouth just as slowly.
- The goal of Vipassana meditation is that you can carry out the process with absolute control of the breath. Observe your body inside as you slowly pick up and release the air; try to walk the path that air makes through your body.
- Do not get frustrated if you have trouble concentrating and you get lost easily, because it is completely normal among beginners. Take note of what has distracted you (be it a sound, an itch, a memory, etc.) and refocus on the swing of your breathing.
Do not lose patience even if it is difficult for you to concentrate during the first sessions, as it is a long and hard process. Do not force yourself if you see that your movements do not flow naturally; start over and try to redirect your attention to the breath. Maybe at first you can only meditate for a minute or even less, but do not worry, keep dedicating a few minutes a day and, soon, you will see how the seconds begin to be less heavy.
Zen meditation or Zazen
Zen meditation, also called Zazen meditation, is not one of the most recommended for beginners because it requires a very strict posture that can only be achieved with practice. In fact, posture is, along with the practitioner's breathing and attitude, a basic pillar of Zen meditation. Despite its difficulty, it is worth mentioning this type of meditation, as it is one of the most beneficial that exist.
Zen meditation begins with the lotus posture on the ground. Once this complex posture is achieved, you must use tools such as breathing and self-observation that we have already talked about to connect with the entire universe, not just with yourself.
Practitioners of Zazen meditation understand the body, mind and spirit as one, something that allows them to enter a state of inner peace with much more agility. If you want to know more about this type of meditation, we recommend this article on Zen meditation.
If the word sounds familiar, it's because you've probably heard of Kundalini yoga, one of the most practiced types of yoga around the world. However, the Kundalini philosophy also has a very interesting style of meditation that is characterized, mainly, by the will to awaken the mind from a passive and indolent state.
To practice Kundalini meditation and activate Kundalini energy, techniques and tools such as breathing, murderous gestures and the repetition of mantras are used to prompt the mind to immerse itself in a state of deep disconnection and tranquility. According to Kundalini meditation, we humans have a positive mind, a negative mind and a neutral mind, and only by achieving the balance of these three minds through meditation can we reach a state of ideal inner peace.
Do you know what chakras are? According to Hinduism, we have 7 chakras located at very specific points of our body. These energy zones are connected to each other and, through their balance, it is believed that exceptional mental and physical health can be achieved. This type of meditation is very aimed at:
- Cleanse the chakras
- Activate the chakras
- Balancing the chakras
It is carried out through mantras and specific gestures and postures to activate some areas of the body or others. This type of meditation is usually very practiced by those people who want to improve the flow of energy from their body and learn to concentrate. Thanks to conscious breathing, self-observation and the visualization of concrete elements, a total balance of these energy wheels, as they are literally called in Sanskrit, can be achieved. We show you, below, the location of the 7 chakras of our body.
Benefits of meditating: what is it for?
Now that you have seen and known the most popular types of meditation that exist, we discover the numerous benefits of meditating. Meditation is an activity that allows us to improve our mental state and our relationship with ourselves but, in addition, it entails many other gains:
- Yoga and meditation at home or in a studio serve both as a cure and as a prevention of stress, which is why it leads to a state of greater tranquility and serenity.
- Those who practice meditation also highlight the relationship of this activity with improved self-control and decision-making. This is because, by decreasing the presence of substances such as cortisol and adrenaline, the individual in question can act more rationally than passionately.
- Not all the benefits obtained from meditation are psychological, because the practice of this activity also entails multiple concrete and tangible physical benefits. Lovers of meditation highlight an improvement, for example, of the state of some diseases related to the cardiovascular system.
- Likewise, meditation has also been linked to weight reduction. This weight loss is not in itself due to the practice of meditation, but because this activity reduces anxiety and consequently leads practitioners to reduce food intake in unnecessary cases.
If you want to know a complete list of everything that this practice can bring you, we recommend that you take a look at this article about What are the benefits of meditation for health.
How to learn to meditate step by step: guided meditation
Although there are different forms and methods of meditation, below we propose a list of ten ideal steps for beginners who want to do yoga and meditation at home. Follow this guided meditation day after day and these tips for meditating and, in a matter of weeks, you will begin to notice the benefits:
- Prepare the environment: the first thing you should keep in mind is that, to meditate, you need a suitable environment. It is not necessary that you move away to a deserted beach or to the mountains, but it is recommended that you find a quiet place, with little light and absent of external distractions.
- Prepare yourself: it is essential that you do not meditate hungry, for example, or just after eating, as that would make you easily distracted. If before we talked about avoiding external distractions, now we focus on avoiding internal ones. Something that can help you, especially during the first days, is to program a timer that warns you after 10-15 minutes so that the process is not heavy and you avoid the temptation to look at the clock constantly.
- Choose comfortable clothes and a soft place: in order to meditate well, it is necessary to feel comfortable and not be in a hurry. The “zafu” cushions, for example, are specially designed so that you can meditate sitting, although a similar cushion may comply with them work. In case you want to meditate lying down, it is essential that you do it on a mat or carpet.
- The right posture: Once you have prepared all the context and space, you must choose the most appropriate and comfortable posture to meditate. This advice for meditation is fundamental, as there are different positions that can help you achieve the objectives. One of the most common is to meditate sitting in a lotus position or lying down (which in yoga is known as the corpse posture). Both postures are good, so your choice will depend on each person.
- Start slow breathing: once you have adopted the correct posture, you should start the process by trying to adopt a slow breath. To do this, let the air flow naturally through your body; make inspirations and exhalations that are natural. Breathing is one of the most important elements of meditation, but also one of the most complicated because of the attention it requires. To meditate properly, the breath must be the center of attention of your mind, but you must avoid modifying it.
- Breathe with your stomach: When you've adopted slow breathing, focus it on what's known as “breathing with your stomach.” This consists of directing the breath towards the lower part of the lungs, in such a way that the diaphragm exerts pressure on the stomach and the gut swells and deflates with each inhalation and exhalation. This allows the rib cage to remain still, which will help in the relaxation process.
- Leave the mind blank: once you have balanced the breath and successfully directed it towards the stomach, you should try to leave the mind blank. This is probably the most complicated step of any meditation, as the mind is always in constant motion. Keep in mind that “leaving the mind blank” is an expression, since not thinking about anything at all is practically impossible. Ideally, you should focus your thoughts solely on the breath. When you notice that you are distracted by other thoughts, stay calm and redirect attention to the breath.
- Notice the loss of touch: as the meditation progresses, if this happens properly, you will notice that the touch of your own skin, as well as the weight of your body, begin to dilute. This is achieved only in the most advanced cases of meditation, so it will surely take years to achieve this point. This sensation usually begins with the toes and fingers and gradually spreads to the top of the extremities. If something similar happens to you, keep in mind that it is very normal and there is nothing to be scared of.
- Enjoy the state of peace of mind: when you have reached this state, you will find yourself in the moment of full development of meditative practice. At this time, all you need to do is stay in this state of stillness and emptiness for as long as you deem necessary.
- Return: finally, when you feel that the meditative practice is complete, begin to recover the normal mental state. To do this, start by slowly moving your toes and fingers and make slight blinks. This will allow you to slowly exit the meditative state. Then, move the rest of the body until it recovers the usual state of it. When leaving a meditation, it is important that it is done slowly and consciously, since otherwise you could get dizzy and / or feel overwhelmed.
With these tips for meditation and the guided meditation that we have proposed, we hope that you can find the perfect modality for you and that you will soon visualize improvements in your physical and psychological health.