As meditation has gained in popularity, it seems everyone has jumped onto the bandwagon. Some systems will sell you a personalized secret word that you repeat over and over. Others will have you picturing Hindu deities dancing in your lap. Some will even have you breathe at a pace that will make you hyperventilate. There are so many choices and confusion. So what kind of meditation should I actually start with?
In reality, meditation has been taught for thousands of years. And it has always been introduced to a beginner in the same way. Thankfully it’s effortless and straightforward. No need to adopt any spiritual beliefs or affectations or pay thousands for secret techniques.
What kind of meditation one should start with depends on the person’s goals. But most people are unsure of that as well. They’ve heard of the scientific benefits of meditation, and it’s piqued their interest. Or maybe they simply want to try it but don’t know where to start.
The truth is that meditation begins with the breath. Nothing extreme, nothing complex. So what we’re going to recommend first, and dive into, is starting with a basic breathing meditation practice. From there, we’ll use what we’ve learned to move to a mindfulness practice.
To begin, the best kind of meditation you should start with is just a simple breathing practice. The breath is what most types of meditation practices use to anchor your attention and serve as a vehicle to get you to a meditative state. So to start, the breath is good practice before we graduate to a mindfulness practice.
1. Breathing is a process
The human mind always seeks novelty. Our mind continually looks for entertainment and distraction. So if you begin your practice by merely concentrating on a spot on the wall, you would not last long. Within seconds your mind will be daydreaming or thinking of something different.
Breathing, on the other hand, is not just “a thing” out there – but a process that is continuously unfolding in time. For the mind, this is a much easier starting point, and a great kind of meditation practice to start with. There is movement, there is change, and there’s a rhythm to it.
2. The quality of your breathing affects the quality of your mind
This is quite apparent when you’re nervous. You’ll notice that when you’re worried, your breath will be shallow and uneven.
For example – when you’re watching a scary movie, and you know that it’s building up to a frightening moment – if you turned your attention to your breath, you’d probably discover that you’re holding it in anticipation.
That’s why we’re often reminded to ‘take a deep breath’ to calm ourselves down.
3. As your breath relaxes, your mind will relax too
This is very much related to the point above. When we begin to meditate on the breath – just the very act of paying attention to it will start to transform it.
After a while, as your breath begins to become smooth, deep, and relaxed, you’ll start to experience a deep sense of relaxation. A sense of letting go of all mental and emotional tension.
This in itself improves your ability to focus more fully onto the breath, which in turn relaxes and de-stresses you further.
You may have heard of the term “mindfulness.” Simply put, mindfulness is a way of paying attention that focuses on what’s happening right now in the present. It’s a way of perceiving something directly rather than thinking about it or reflecting upon it. It’s also another great kind of meditation to start with. This is all done without placing judgments or trying to change what’s happening right now. It’s open awareness and acceptance of the present moment.
When I used to study art, I inadvertently learned mindfulness in my drawing class. When you usually look at an object, your mind immediately names it and begins to spin a narrative about it. So you see a chair in front of you – and you immediately know that it’s a chair, it’s used for sitting – this one doesn’t look that comfortable – in fact, you should probably buy a new chair. We tend to add a story to what we’re perceiving, experiencing, feeling, and thinking.
When you’re drawing a chair, you begin to look at it very differently. For a start, what it is doesn’t matter. You focus more on the raw form, the textures, and the colors. You begin to notice the space around the chair. In this way, you’re perceiving the chair directly – rather than your thoughts about the chair.
Mindfulness on the breath is using this form of awareness, directed on your breathing. While you do this, you may also notice the thoughts and feelings that surface in the peripheral of your attention. The key is to not allow your attention to follow these thoughts. Instead, use the breath as an anchor to steady your mind and awareness. Inevitably, your mind will wander, and you will become lost in thought. When that happens, gently bring your attention back to the breath.
We’ll describe the process of a simple mindfulness practice below. However, we recommend getting some guidance to make it easier to learn. You can of course look at something like a meditation retreat, or you can try to learn meditation on your own at home, it’s up to you.
1. Sit comfortably upright
It doesn’t matter whether you sit cross-legged on a meditation cushion, or on a chair, or what kind of pillow to start with. The key is to sit with your back upright and without using the backrest of your chair. Here is a short guide on how to sit comfortably upright for meditation.
Before you begin the actual practice, just take a few slow, deep breaths. Relax your body – notice if you’re holding tension in your shoulders or in your face. Let everything go. A good tip is to relax your tongue – it helps to calm mental chatter.
Notice your weight pressing against the chair or floor. Notice physical points of contact, such as the legs against the floor or back against the chair. Steady your mind and thoughts here.
Also, notice the thoughts, mood, and intention you’re bringing into the practice.
3. Place your awareness on your breath
Just begin noticing your breath. The most important thing is to stop any attempt to “control” your breath. All you need to do is use a gentle, soft focus – and notice your breathing. It doesn’t matter if it feels restricted or shallow. Just give it some attention.
Start at your nostrils. Notice how the air moves in and out. Listen to the sound your breathing makes. Feel the sensation of your nostrils. You can shift your awareness from your nostrils to your sinuses, and bit by bit, all the way through your lungs down to your diaphragm. Feel the sensations of the shifting air currents, the expanding and collapsing of your lungs, the movement of your diaphragm.
4. When you become distracted, bring your awareness back to the breath
This is the first workout in the beginning. This is where you build your “mindfulness muscle.” Very quickly, you’ll notice that your mind is full of thoughts – continually moving from thought to thought.
Don’t get disheartened – this is normal and expected. When you notice that you’ve gone off-course, just redirect your awareness back to your breath. It’s this catching yourself, and refocusing that is of prime importance in your meditation training.
This is why it’s called a practice. When you’re deciding what kind of meditation to start with, remember that ultimately what you’re doing is finding a practice. A way to work your mindfulness muscle. A way to set time aside every day to work on yourself and improve yourself.
As you can see, a meditation practice is quite simple. But as you will discover – it is also quite challenging.
Now that you have an idea of what kind of meditation to start with make your practice a little easier and use our Declutter The Mind app. The guided meditation lessons will stop you from getting lost and help to bring your attention back to your breath.
With a little practice, the benefits of meditation are incredible. It won’t be long before you begin to enjoy more significant focus, more energy, and less stress and anxiety. Make it a daily habit, and the benefits will subtly transform every aspect of your life.