Meditation can have a profound impact on your life. It can reduce stress and anxiety and improve your focus. Meditation can help you be more resilient. Over time it fosters greater compassion and kindness, not only to yourself but to all beings.
Are you interested in meditation but have convinced yourself you can’t do it?
Or maybe you’ve tried in the past but have struggled to be still and stop the chatter in your mind?
Can I convince you to give it a go … or maybe to give it another go? Does it help to know that the point of meditation is not to empty your mind? And that there’s no right or wrong way to meditate? There are, however, many different meditation techniques. Let me help you find a technique that works for you.
Don’t try to empty your mind
It’s normal to think we can’t meditate or that we’re “doing it wrong”. Trying to stop the mind chatter seems impossible and this can sabotage our efforts. But, after all, the job of our mind is to do mind things! Things like planning, reflecting, problem-solving and decision-making are signs of a healthy brain, so don’t be hard on yourself if you struggle to calm it.
Meditation is not making the mind quiet. It is tolerating all the noise without resistance and discovering the silent depths.Lorin Roche, The Radiance Sutras
The reason for meditation is to train our attention, our focus, and turn inwards. In doing so we can cultivate greater self-awareness, self-acceptance and contentment. This cute video from Headspace explains it beautifully.
The physical and mental health benefits of meditation are a by-product of the practice.
There’s more than one way to meditate. Find a technique that suits you.
We each have different ways of engaging with life around us and within us. Here are five meditation techniques to try. Which one instinctively suits you best?
1. Breath Meditation
The most common and accessible meditation technique is to sit, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Let your mind wander and when it does, bring your awareness back to your breath.
You might experiment with noticing the qualities of your breath as it expands and collapses. Try lengthening each exhale for a few rounds and then focus on the pauses between the breaths. Be creative with how you can focus on your breath. You can find bliss in just being with awareness of your breath.
Try this technique for instant calm.
2. Body Scanning
This technique involves bringing attention to different parts of your body and the sensations you feel, in a sequential way. You could say it’s an in-depth audit of your body.
Lie down, close your eyes and establish a deep, steady breath. Starting at your toes and working your way up your body, bring an awareness to each part noticing any sensations, emotions, tensions and ease. There are plenty of apps and guided meditations available to help you stay focussed. I love to end a yoga class for my students with this type of meditation.
If you love self-care practices like massage you might resonate with this technique.
3. Candle Gazing (Trataka)
Trataka, or Candle Gazing Meditation is a meditation technique which uses the sense of sight to still your mind.
Sit in a darkened room with a candle in front of you, about an arm’s length away. Gaze softly at the candle, keeping the eyes open for as long as possible without blinking. Your eyes may become watery – Trataka is also said to be an eye cleansing practice. After 5 minutes close your eyes and focus on the light behind your closed eyes for as long as possible.
This technique might appeal to you if you love ritual.
4. Open Awareness
In open awareness meditation your attention isn’t directed inwards and on one thing as per the previous techniques. Rather, your awareness is on the sounds and sensations around you.
Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and steady your breath. Focus on all the sounds around you, just being curious about them. Then focus on the sensations on your skin, again just being aware of them and avoiding judgement or telling yourself stories. Move attention to any smells around you, then any tastes in your mouth, then any colours and patterns behind your eyes. Try to be present in awareness of each of those senses around and within you.
If you’re somebody who loves creativity you might like this technique which taps into all the senses.
5. Walking Meditation
Whilst not a traditional meditation technique, walking meditation is based on mindfulness – being fully present in the moment. Next time you’re taking your lunchtime stroll (you know, that healthy habit many of us acquired during lockdowns!) give this a try. It beats thinking about your worries.
A walking meditation requires you to be aware of all of your senses and surroundings. Notice things like the ground under your feet, the leaves and grass as you walk over them, the hues of the trees and the sky, the speed of your breath and your heart rate. Notice the temperature of the air on your skin and the sounds both near and distant.
This technique might appeal to you if you struggle to sit still.
Science confirms what the yogis knew all along
Meditation is not a New-Age fad. It has a rich and diverse history with the earliest written records being from Hindu traditions in India from around 1500 BCE. Other forms of meditation are then cited around the 6th and 5th centuries BCE within Taoist China and Buddhist India.
According to the sage Patanjali’s in the classical yoga philosophy text The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, meditation is the 7th limb of the 8-fold yoga path. In this model, the physical poses (Asanas) are performed for the primary purpose of preparing the body to be still and meditate. By doing this the yogi is closer to achieving enlightenment (Samadhi), the 8th and final limb. The yogis were on to something!
Nowadays we have advances in neuroscience to confirm what the yogis knew all along. That meditation really is life-changing.
A few final tips
- Start small (try 5 minutes each time) and don’t feel you have to meditate every day
- Don’t force yourself to meditate at dawn if you’re just not a morning person. Choose a time of day that suits your inherent nature.
- Create a space for your practice which feels inviting and comforting. It can be as small as a shelf on a bookcase, a corner of a room or a cushion that’s just right.
I encourage you to honour your personality and your preferences when establishing a meditation practice. By doing so you’ll be developing a beautiful and personal practice that supports you and enriches your life.
I’d love to know how you go finding a meditation technique that’s right for you.
Love, Sally xx
PS You might also like to read this post of an interview with my mum, a meditation teacher.