I’ve talked about this before but it’s worth reiterating. Really, there are a million and one ways to meditate. It’s just a case of finding one that suits you. You really don’t need any fancy tools or clothes or a dedicated meditation room. You certainly don’t need to wind yourself into the lotus position. Simply find a place where you won’t be disturbed and choose a way of sitting that is really comfortable. That could be on the floor, cross-legged (perching your bottom on a cushion or yoga block with your knees on the floor keeps your back straight without strain). But equally you could sit upright on a supportive chair with your hands resting gently on your knees. It’s better not to meditate lying down when you’re a beginner as it’s very easy to just nod off.
Some people wanted more pointers on exactly ‘how’ to meditate. As I’ve said before, I don’t think there is any real ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to meditate but these techniques might get you started. After that, you’ll find your own way, I promise.
Try to set aside a time every day for your meditation. Early morning meditation is traditional – and sets the day off on a great footing. But if that doesn’t work for you, whenever is fine. Start off with five minutes and gradually extend (the optimum is 45 minutes).
Most forms of meditation start with the breath. It’s so simple it can seem almost too easy. Yet the challenge is in getting to the point where your thoughts stop skittering around all over the place and become less intrusive.
• Just sit comfortably and softly close your eyes (if you prefer you can keep them open, softly focussed on one spot).
• Start to become aware of your breath. Don’t try to control it in any way – just notice how you breathe in, and out, and the pause between breaths. Keep your attention focused on the breath.
• Every time your mind wanders, gently return to the breath. Don’t beat yourself up or judge your thoughts – just let them go.
Through the ages, religions have used sound as a means of meditation. Some forms of meditation chant phrases; others will give you your own mantra or sacred sound. But for your own DIY mantra meditation simply pick a sound or phrase that appeals to you. OHM is the classic (often taught in yoga classes). Tone it slowly with three sounds – AH-OH-MMM). But you can simply use a vowel sound – such as “aaah” or “oooh”. Or pick a phrase you like such as “I am at peace”.
Sit calmly and slowly repeat your chosen sound over and over. Keep your attention on the sound: if it wanders, gently bring it back.
I was taught this form of meditation by chi kung teacher Sue Weston. It is deceptively simple but, in practice, very challenging. All you do is to count very slowly from one to ten in your head, keeping your attention on each number. If you feel your attention wandering (and undoubtedly it will, often before you reach three!), simply go back to one and start again.
Candle meditation is a very ancient and rather lovely form of meditation that has a strong sense of the sacred.
Sit down comfortably in front of a lighted candle . Now simply focus your eyes on the flame and watch it. Notice the way it moves, the colours within it. When your attention wavers or your mind starts jumping, gently bring it back to the flame.
Ambient sound meditation
This is for you if you want to bring meditation into everyday life.
Instead of trying to shut out external sounds, allow your mind to notice them – whether it’s the sound of birdsong or the screech of car brakes. Don’t make judgments about the sounds and don’t become involved in them. Simply notice them. If your attention wavers, gently bring it back
This takes a little time to master but is a classic meditation practice. Your aim is not to get to somewhere but to be fully present in every part of every step.
• Start by standing still. Become aware of your body, your posture, how you stand on the earth.
• Now walk very slowly, so slowly you pay attention to every part of every step. Say “lifting” as you lift up your foot; “moving” as your foot moves through the air; “placing” as you place your foot down on the ground; “shifting” as you shift your weight onto that foot.
• Repeat with the other foot and continue in this way. Yes, it’s really slow. Again, if your attention wanders, bring it back to the walking.
A longer version of this feature first appeared in Woman & Home magazine.