Around 3 years ago, I started dabbling with meditation after ‘mindfulness’ kept cropping up in my reading, and I was feeling an increasing sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in my life.
What follows is the beginners’ guide I wish I had had back then.
I downloaded the then almost-famous Headspace App somewhere around the end of 2014 / early 2015 and started with the ‘Take10’ program, 10 minutes a day for 10 days. I don’t think I ever did those 10 days consecutively, but I have now dabbled on and off with meditation in these last couple of years. (A few weeks/months into my practice, I actually wrote this article — ‘Timmy’ was made up, they say a sense of humour never leaves you…).
Right now, I try to incorporate what I call ‘stillness’ into each day, as I really feel the value in doing so.
As I remember some of my early struggles with meditation, I thought it might be helpful to put together a nuts-and-bolts guide to anyone interested in getting started, doesn’t know where to start, or has kinda-half-started but they’re not really ‘getting it’ as yet.
Note: I’ll be using ‘meditation’ and ‘mindfulness’ interchangeably throughout; for the purposes of this article, they mean the same thing.
So here goes…
Formal and informal meditation
In loose terms, there are 2 types of meditation — formal and informal. In formal meditation, there is a voice recording / real-life-human to walk me through what to do; in informal meditation, I am just bringing your awareness to an everyday activity (e.g. brushing my teeth, eating my lunch, sitting in bed, and so forth).
Starting out in my meditation practice, I began with ‘formal’. In the early days, mindfulness was challenging enough even with the guided voice/recording, let alone doing it of my own accord. Informal is brilliant (that’s what I do these days), but formal is the best place to get going from. If in doubt, I would start with informal. For that reason, the remainder of this article is going to be geared towards formal meditation.
Next — which ‘guide’ do I choose?
I would go for an App — either Headspace, Calm or Buddhify. I’ve used all 3, and all are decent. Download the 3 (all free) and get a feel for them. If you’re not fussed and just want to get started, Headspace would be your best bet. The free 10 days (‘Take10’) is handy, as it gently introduces you to mindfulness and what it’s all about through it’s short, fun animated videos. Accompanying each animation is a short guided meditation (just 10 minutes), gently easing you into the practice. I found it was a cool way to dip my toe in, and I could even re-use these 10 free days over and again; this is what I did before committing to a paid membership.
In the early days, my mind wandered, and I sometimes had a hard time focusing and ‘doing mindfulness’. This is totally normal.
Being something I was not used to doing, I experienced some resistance in terms of my brain quietening down and gently focusing; it’s because my brain was not used to being so still and ‘quiet’. Rather, it just wanted to keep thinking about stuff. The word ‘non-judgmental’ is often used when it comes to mindfulness, and that word is appropriate here… try not to judge/berate/get annoyed at yourself if this happens. It’s normal. Like a muscle that is built up through training, the more I practiced mindfulness and kept on engaging with it, the more I began to notice my experience with doing it changing. (I stop myself from using the phrase ‘getting better’ at mindfulness, as it’s supposed to be non-judgmental, remember?)
To create the time takes discipline
Like forming any new habit, it has taken some discipline on my part to make the time for mindfulness. With Headspace, I advise trying to complete the 10 days consecutively — or, if not, I’d recommend at least maintaining some momentum and completing them in a 2–3 week period. Consistency is really useful when it comes to mindfulness and — as a beginner — I benefited most during the spells when I kept the momentum going. Also, getting to the end of the 10 days, you may not feel as if much has happened. Or you might have experienced some things. Either way, it’s all good. #nonjudgmental
Headspace also allowed me to keep using those 10 days over and over, so I could repeat days before committing to a paid subscription. Now might be a cool time to check out Calm and Buddhify, as they just have different voices, different guided meditations.
Once I had dabbled with mindfulness for a bit…
… I soon had a toolkit of exercises to draw upon, which I could then apply — informally — during the day without an app/audio guide. The basic exercises include mindful breathing, and the body scan. Then there are other sensory-specific ones, for example just tuning in to the sounds around me.
A note on where, + when, to ‘do’ mindfulness
Where I do my meditation is significant. Initially, I was doing it on my morning commute. For me, even better is doing it in a quiet room at home and — better yet — outside. Mindfulness in the park is amazing.
Another little thing to think about — when is the best time? For myself, both mornings and evenings have their advantages; mornings when I wake up to set the tone for the day (and nip any early-brain-chatter in the bud), and evenings after a days’ worth of activity and possible brain processing, again helping to quieten my mind.
Right now, I do mine in the morning shortly after waking up, or after my workout when I am sat/laid in my gym sauna or jacuzzi. Are you a morning or an evening person? Is there a time when you feel more, or less, stressed? Pick AM, or PM, and just go for it. Setting a reminder in your phone calendar might serve as a nice nudge.
Learning how to be mindful and still has been one of the simplest, yet most powerful things I have experienced in the last couple of years. I’d really recommend everyone to give it a go.
Note: Now and then, mindfulness can bring up some difficult things which might feel uncomfortable or unpleasant. This article nicely talks about some of these. If things get too uncomfortable for you, it might be useful to take a pause in your practice, and speak to a counseller, therapist or mental health professional.
Friday 8th September, 2017