In this article: Learn the basics of meditation, and why you cannot afford to just jump right in.
When I first began to learn meditation, my mind was abuzz with excitement. Within months of first starting to learn meditation I had already journeyed through Chinese culture, Buddhism, Hinduism, modern spirituality, New Age, and so many other subjects that I felt the very world were a huge smouldering pot of philosophy, science, and spirituality.
One morning after finishing a meditation session I happened to turn on the TV while eating a bowl of fruit salad. The cameraman was zoomed in on a string of brown beads wrapped around someone’s wrist. The camera zoomed out to show that it was a mala, a string of beads that Buddhists and Hindus use to count mantras. The camera zoomed out further to show the old and wise brown eyes, the weathered face, the red robes, and the big childlike grin of the Dalai Lama. Below, a headline read, “Dalai Lama discusses the rise of meditation in England”.
The TV interviewer was enquiring about the benefits of meditation when she happened to ask “And there are absolutely no risks from practicing meditation”?
I scoffed. Silly interviewer. Of course there are no risks of meditation. So I thought, because how could meditation possibly be of any risk? It’s the healthiest thing in the world, isn’t it?
The Dalai Lama’s eyes narrowed and he raised his hand and said “Meditation is very powerful. It must be learnt properly.”
The Dalai Lama continued to explain that when meditation is learnt in the East it is learnt alongside philosophy, history, and other aspects of culture. In the East, meditation isn’t taken as a standalone practice but as one spoke in a wheel (literally, the “Wheel of Dharma”, called DharmaChakra). Only when all spokes move as one can the wheel begin to turn.
< CLICK TO TWEET: “Only when all spokes move as one can the wheel begin to turn.”
But in the West millions are learning meditation as a standalone. The Dalai Lama himself has stated that, “People need to learn more about Eastern tradition rather than proceeding to meditation too quickly. Otherwise mental and physical difficulties will appear”.
Yet millions of people excitedly hurl themselves into meditation like a puppy chasing after a ball, diving in at the deep end then desperately trying to learn how to swim.
For the vast majority of meditation techniques, it is imperative you learn and practice in the right way.
It’s essentially to start by learning the basics of meditation first
I wish I’d had someone to tell me to slow down, to show me the essential basics of meditation, all those years ago when I was starting out, someone who let me know the essential basics of meditation. I literally launched myself into meditation, practicing every single different technique I could get my hands on (and there were hundreds—we’ll discuss them a little later). I was just so excited to be practicing techniques that the old masters used, techniques that have been handed down through history.
It’s hard not to get caught up in excitement once you start to discover all the different meditation techniques and the myriad ways in which they can benefit you in your own life. But only fools rush in. The wise know to go steady.
That’s why I think you and I ought to go over the basics of meditation now, before we start to learn the actual techniques. That way, once we get to the actual meditation techniques we’ll know how to practice them safely and correctly.
- To start with, take a look at this article on the real meaning of meditation. It provides a lot of important background info for beginners. Then proceed with the steps below.
So just what is the “right way”? What are the basics of meditation?
There are many hundreds of meditation techniques, all of which use the mind and body in subtly different ways. However, there are some similarities shared across the spectrum of techniques.
There are basic foundations on which the house is built. These are the essential bricks and mortar out of which any meditation regime should be constructed. These are the all important basics of meditation.
The Basics Of Meditation Practice
Firstly, it is important to set aside a special place for meditation, and it is better that this place be a specially designated spiritual space. You might find it helpful to read my guide to creating a meditation room to get started on this one..
An example of a spiritual spaceone of the important basics of meditation is to have a meditation space to practice in.
In the beginning, your meditation practice should be confined to one spiritual space and that spiritual space should be reserved and used for nothing else.
If you have ever visited a nature reserve you will know why it’s important to preserve certain spaces. You can feel the energy of a nature reserve the moment you enter it. It’s pure, wild, natural, a beautiful space that immediately conjures feelings of freedom and tranquility. The same is true for a meditation space. Over a period of time your meditation space will become a sanctuary filled with spiritual energy. You will enter the room and immediately feel purity, tranquility, and warmth, because you have preserved the purity of the space.
So, the first of our basics of meditation: have a dedicated space.
Having a designated spiritual space is also highly reassuring. It’s great to know that if you ever feel stressed you can enter your spiritual space and be free from it all.
Your spiritual space doesn’t have to be a whole room, it could be a corner of a room or a part of your garden, or it could be a public space.
At my home in Oxfordshire there is a brook at the bottom of our field. The brook is always quiet but for the gentle trickling of the water and the occasional rustle of wind in the trees. It is a spiritual space for me, a space where I can sit and feel free, where I can balance and heal. It’s one of my many spiritual spaces.
But there are many more basics of meditation…
A sacred space should be matched with a sacred time.
When you make your time and space sacred, you begin to create a truly magical practice.
Routine is everything. When you know that at 6am you’re going to get up, enter your meditation space, and meditate for twenty minutes, your mind becomes pre-programmed for tranquillity. Not only does this help you start the day positively but it also creates a habit that will help you to continue to meditate even on those days when you don’t really feel like it (and no matter how wonderful meditation is, there always will be some times when you feel like skipping practice).
When I was touring England doing The Canterbury Tales (I played the overweight, alcoholic miller, though I don’t think it was typecast), I set the alarm for 5am every morning so I could meditate every morning for at least 20 minutes. Because we were on tour it was impossible to have one designated space so instead I would take myself off to some field or park and meditate there instead—there’s always a space and time worthy of meditation, no matter where you might be or how busy you might be.
So, the second of our basics of meditation: Choose a specific time and stick to it.
Choose a time to meditate every day, that’s the second of our basics of meditation.
Once you’ve got your sacred time and space set, condition yourself to begin relaxing at least five minutes before your meditation time, and outside of your meditation space.
When you enter your sacred time and your sacred space, you want to already be relaxed. You don’t want to carry negative energy into those spaces. So, give yourself at least five minutes in which to relax before you enter your meditation space. That’s the fourth of our basics of meditation.
Once you do enter your meditation space, you’ll want to check your posture. Good posture leads to good health and also to a relaxed, aware, and peaceful inner state.
Always make sure you have good posture. That’s basics of meditation number 3.One of the most important basics of meditation is to sit with good posture.
Next, make absolutely certain that you’re relaxed and comfortable and that there is never any pain in your body.
Having good posture will also help with your breathing, another important aspect of practice. This is one of the absolute most important of all basics of meditation.
Your breathing should always be calm and slow.
As you meditate your breathing rate will naturally slow down because you are relaxing. Your breathing may slow to a rate it’s never been to before, both during practice and after. In 2003, Harvard scientists studied a group of ten meditators and discovered that their respiratory rates were much lower than non-meditators. This lower respiratory rate is indicative of lungs that are working more efficiently, and also of a clam and relaxed body and mind. That’s one reason why meditation is so healing, because it slows you down and increases circulation.
So, be aware that your breathing rate will slow when meditating and also after meditating.
By the way, these basics of meditation apply to all meditation techniques.
Finally, it’s important to maintain the right mental attitude. The right attitude is one of non-judgment. This is the absolute number one most important of all our basics of meditation.
It can be very easy to judge yourself as doing something right or wrong. After all, how many times are we told in our day to day lives that we’re good / bad, right / wrong?
But in meditation there is no right and no wrong, there is simply what is. For more on this, take a look at my article The Technical Definition Of Meditation.
< CLICK TO TWEET: “There is no right and there is no wrong. There is only what is.”
These are the essential basics of meditation. They are the roots which you must plant in order to watch your spiritual self grow. By sticking to these simple rules you’ll ensure a safe and successful meditation practice.
And just s a friendly warning, be careful where you learn meditation from. Because there is a lot of bad advice around today.
Thanks for reading.
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