Meditation for beginners and experts alike is all about achieving a more peaceful mind state in a chaotic world. There are many different techniques to consider, and this practice may provide health benefits such as stress reduction and pain relief.
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Many of us get to a point at which we realize that when it comes to stress relief, a beer or two after work just isn’t going to cut it.
If life has brought you to that moment in your mental health journey, a meditation practice may be the answer to your problems. Meditation for beginners can take many forms, and it can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be.
In this article, we’ll explain the main concept that guides this ancient practice, and we’ll take a look at some of the most common forms of meditation. We’ll also examine some of meditation’s mental and physical health benefits. Finally, we’ll offer tips you can use to integrate meditation into your daily routine.
A beginner’s guide to meditation
Many people think of meditation as a practice in which you close your eyes and tune yourself out from reality.
In fact, the opposite is true.
At its core, meditation is about mastering the art of awareness and living in the here and now.
So, what does that mean exactly?
Many of us spend most of our time wallowing in regrets that concern the past or dreading what the future has in store. Meditation encourages us to put these thoughts aside and exist fully in the present moment. This aspect of the practice is called mindfulness.
A daily meditation practice can save you from a life spent regretting the past or fearing the future. It gives you a mechanism you can use to relieve yourself of burdensome thoughts that can cause stress and anxiety, placing you in a space of greater peace and serenity.
Moments spent in meditation can also provide you with greater clarity. Meditators often report that during a session, they’ll come up with fresh perspectives on dealing with difficult situations.
As such, daily meditation sessions may provide you with the insight you need to tackle and resolve life’s challenges and problems with greater ease and efficiency.
Types of meditation
There are many different types of meditation, and your list of options is almost endless.
Here are a few of the most popular meditation techniques:
Unguided vs. guided meditation
The first decision you’ll have to make as a meditator involves choosing between unguided and guided meditation.
Let’s start with guided meditation. This technique involves a meditation teacher, whose purpose is to explain the process and lead you on a mental journey.
In some cases, this teacher is live, present in the room with you as you meditate. You can also meditate using prerecorded instruction.
You can use a meditation app to access prerecorded guided meditations, and these apps are available from companies such as Headspace and Insight Timer.
With meditation for beginners, having a live or prerecorded teacher on board to serve as a guide the first time you take the plunge can be especially useful.
Now, let’s take a look at unguided meditation. With this meditation technique, you typically sit alone in silence. There’s no meditation teacher on hand to lead you on your journey.
Unguided meditation may involve simply sitting still and connecting with the present moment, checking in with how your body feels and observing various physical sensations.
It may also involve using techniques you’ve learned from various teachers in guided meditation sessions you’ve experienced in the past.
Is your mind wandering and unfocused? If so, mindfulness meditation can help.
Our thoughts often careen from one topic to the next, without discipline or awareness. If your mind wanders in this way, it can create feelings of stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness mediation aims to calm the wandering mind. With this type of meditation, you focus on your breath. You make an effort to observe your thoughts without getting carried away by them.
- A subset of this technique is body scan meditation. This is a great form of meditation for beginners. As its name suggests, this involves doing a mental body scan in which you take a deep breath and pay attention to everything that’s going on from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. This helps keep the mind in a calm, grounded place.
- Mindfulness is also at the heart of a walking meditation. Again, this is an excellent type of meditation for beginners. With this approach, you focus on your breath and check in with your body while walking.
Many different types of meditation involve an element of mindfulness.
If you’ve ever explored spirituality, you’re probably familiar with the concept of a mantra.
- A mantra is a syllable, word or phrase that’s repeated over and over again.
- Repeating a mantra is thought to bring certain benefits.
- Mantras exist in many different spiritual traditions, from Judeo-Christian to Hindu, from Buddhist to Shamanic.
So, what is mantra meditation? This technique requires you to repeat a mantra during each meditation session. Chant the mantra or whisper it. For a quieter approach, repeat it silently in your mind.
You can use mantra meditation in many different ways:
- For centuries, it’s been used to support spiritual practices, with the aim of helping meditators achieve greater peace and enlightenment.
- You can also use it for purposes that have nothing to do with spirituality or religion. For example, some people use this meditation technique to overcome insomnia or a fear of flying.
Loving-kindness meditation is sometimes referred to as metta meditation. This technique is focused on sending positive energy; first to ourselves and then to others.
Rage and anger are common in these chaotic, polarized times, and loving-kindness meditation is a direct antidote.
- Loving-kindness meditation begins with you focusing your attention on yourself, immersing yourself with unconditional love and acceptance.
- Next, send love to people you care about and/or cherished pets.
- You can also send love to strangers.
- The final step in the process often involves using this technique to send love to people you may have had disagreements with in the past.
It’s important to always start this mediation by sending love to ourselves. Loving ourselves unconditionally makes it easier to for us to unconditionally love others.
Zen meditation is rooted in Buddhist tradition. It aims to help the meditator achieve greater insight into the nature of existence.
With zen meditation, body, breath and mind as viewed as being part of the same inseparable reality. Posture is important, since the position of the body can affect the breath.
Zen meditation typically requires you to sit on the floor, adopting the position of the seated Buddha. It’s believed that this provides you with a grounded, stable base that facilitates a deeper and more productive meditation session.
Transcendental meditation (TM) is a type of meditation technique that uses a silent mantra. This form of meditation was developed by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and it’s rooted in India’s ancient Vedic traditions. In the 1960s, TM made its debut in the U.S.
- TM is taught by instructors who have been trained and certified by the Maharishi Foundation.
- There are more than 40,000 teachers available around the world.
- Students are advised to do two TM sessions per day: one in the morning and another in the afternoon.
Meditation’s health benefits
Scientific research backs the health benefits of meditation. Studies show that a daily meditation practice can improve both your physical and mental health in some pretty powerful ways.
1. May reduce stress
Stress can do a number on your health and wellness. When we’re under physical or mental stress, the body releases a hormone called cortisol.
This in turn causes the body to produce chemicals known as cytokines. Cytokines promote inflammation. They can also elevate your blood pressure, wreak havoc on your sleep patterns and diminish mental clarity.
- Research shows that TM can significantly reduce anxiety.
- A study published in 2013 proves that mindfulness meditation works to effectively reduce inflammation caused by psychological stress.
2. May help battle addictions
It takes a great deal of discipline to overcome an addiction. Meditation is a tool you can use to help build and support that kind of discipline. As such, it’s a powerful ally for those struggling to free themselves from the grip of addictive behaviors.
- Initial research suggests that mindfulness meditation is an effective intervention for binge eating.
- In a study involving 19 recovering alcoholics, mindfulness meditation was shown to be a useful tool in preventing relapse.
3. May decrease blood pressure
A leading cause of death in this country is heart disease. High blood pressure is often the culprit. A 2014 study shows that several different types of meditation are effective at lowering blood pressure.
This appears to be a function of meditation’s effect on calming nerve signals that govern heart function and tension in the blood vessels. This effect is produced as we’re meditating. For those who meditate regularly, this benefit may extend beyond the meditation session.
4. May provide pain relief
Many things in life begin and end with your mental state, and this is certainly true of pain. Stress can heighten your pain response. Meditation can help calm the mind, and in so doing, it may help provide pain relief.
- In one study, participants practicing mindfulness meditation reported less sensitivity to pain.
- Another study that looked at patients with terminal diseases showed that meditation can help ease chronic pain at the end of life.
You can practice meditation anywhere. Also, you can complete a session in five minutes or less, with your eyes open or closed. With meditation for beginners and experts alike, it’s all about integrating mindfulness into your daily routine.
Here are some meditation tips for making this practice a regular part of your life:
- Try a walking meditation the next time you walk the dog or take a stroll to the post office.
- Improve your overall well-being by making mindfulness a priority when tackling household tasks such as washing the dishes, mopping the floor or doing the laundry.
- Do your heart rate and nervous system a favor by integrating mindfulness techniques into your workout routine.
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