I’d like to (re)start meditation: where do I go?
Whether you’re just starting out with meditation or re-engaging after a pause, Adiba offers a guide to get you off the ground, sharing her own story of starting out with meditation, and offering links to helpful free resources.
I remember the moment I said to myself “I need to learn meditation”. My world had crumbled a few months before, or at least that’s what it felt like. For days, weeks and months my mind was chewing over the same thoughts that just made me feel miserable…why, why not, what if, how dare, etc etc…I couldn’t pull myself out of it, no distraction helped, I found myself back in that thought-pit again and again. At one point I got to wondering if this was really how it’s meant to be…will I forever be a slave to this endless cycle of thoughts and feelings that just kept pulling me down? Hang on…aren’t we supposed to be able to master our thoughts?
And that is precisely the reason I gave when Wim, a tall German meditation teacher with long white hair and the presence of a man who knows more than he will ever tell you, asked me why I want to learn meditation. I had signed up for a private meditation class with him at a beautiful wellness retreat on a hilltop in Asia..to learn to master my thoughts. I had tried group classes in London but it all felt too vague and mysterious for me…I could follow the instructions, but I just kept wondering why we are doing this (for example, focus on your breath) or what will this achieve (for example, repeat this phrase). I had too many questions for the group classes to work as a starting point. It turned out that Wim was also mysterious. He asked me to observe a tree for an hour, and said very little. There wasn’t room for a lot of questions.
The lesson stayed with me, perhaps for the simplicity of it. It did however leave me with lots of questions still, and I carried on trying different styles of meditation, in different classes, but I realised it was quite challenging to find all the answers even when starting out with meditation.
With my starting out experience in mind, I am offering some tips here that I hope will help you to get started with meditation, answer some of your questions, and offer helpful resources for you to try.
He asks: Why do you want to learn meditation?
She replies: To master my thoughts
Which type of meditation should I learn?
Once you start looking you’ll soon realise there are different types and traditions of meditation, and it can all seem a bit bewildering. It did to me. Is mindfulness the same as meditation, and how do I choose between mindfulness meditation and Vipassana, Transcendental Meditation and Zen? To make things easy for you we’ve described the main types of meditation in our post: “How to choose the right type of meditation for you?”. We’ve also given suggestions of which ones you can try, depending on your motivations. In my view, you don’t have to choose one type over another, it’s possible to combine them in one meditation session.
Where can I start practicing?
I will offer my recommendations here for the generalist, keen to meditate for its many benefits – be it greater self-awareness, or more calm (see our post “How meditation improves our quality of life: proven benefits of meditation”). If you know you want to specifically learn Transcendental Meditation or Zen meditation, it’s best to search online for teachers or group classes near you.
One-to-one meditation class
In my view, a one-to-one meditation class, whether in person or online, can be a great idea to just get started – it can help you understand what the basic techniques are for your particular motivations, answer any questions that come up along the way, and discuss your experience (am I doing it right??). The teacher can recommend resources for you to continue on your own, and if you want you can check in with them over time. This is how I started, and I only had one private class before starting my own practice.
When I guide a private meditation class I discuss what brought the person to meditation, then take them through different techniques, explaining how they work on the mind. My intention is to make it possible for the person to meditate on their own as soon as possible and be transparent about the techniques.
Free online guided meditations
Then we enter the world of apps and sites where you can learn meditation. Many paid-for apps are now available in throughout the world, and they can certainly help you start off with meditation. However there are a world of free resources with guidance from highly respected teachers in meditation, and these are the ones I recommend here. Try them, and see which resonate for you.
From live meditation classes and courses to guided recordings of a few minutes up to an hour, Insight Timer is a great resource to browse and try different guidance from different teachers, and carry on with what resonates most with you. Distinguished teachers such as Jack Cornfield, Tara Brach and Sharon Salzberg are all featured here along with many new teachers making their presence known.
Omega is a nonprofit, mission-driven, and donor-supported educational organization for holistic studies. Their Youtube channel features related talks and conversations, but they have a Mindfulness playlist which is great to try meditating with some esteemed teachers, from Prema Chodron to Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered around the world for his pioneering teachings on mindfulness, global ethics and peace. Plum Village is his monastery in France, and it has launched the Plum Village App making his teachings and meditations accessible to everyone, for free. The app offers meditations from different teachers all of whom have learned with the great master.
The Universiy of California, Los Angeles, has always been at the forefront of scientific research on mindfulness. They have meditations of all different durations, categorised helpfully on different topics.
Meditating on a mantra has been proven to induce states of calm and even higher states of clarity and awareness – cultures around the world have ancient traditions of mantra meditation, from Hindu Vedic meditations to Sufi Dhikrs. Aum is one of the primordial sounds, and I’ve found meditating on this beautifully simple and calming. This Youtube video is just one place you can meditate this way, whether you have 3 minutes or 3 hours.
If you prefer the immediacy and interaction of a live class, the Mindfulness Association offers free daily classes you can join.
That’s right, we also have some free guided meditations on offer on our site. Suitable for everyone there are meditations for different phases of the day (Awake, Centre, Sleep) and for different motivations (Focus, Smile). Inhere guided meditations combine techniques from mindfulness meditation, compassion meditation and visualisations to bring guidance that is helpful and easy to follow.
Simply do it yourself
Last but not least…and I’m a big fan of this…sit comfortably somewhere where you will be undisturbed for a few while…close your eyes (not mandatory but usually helps)…and:
- Settle your attention…just listen to the sound of your breathing…
- Silently observe whatever comes up for you…noticing physical sensations…notice any thoughts that arise ..and then let them go, recognising that they are just thoughts…and feel any emotions that might be present…
- Rest in the felt-perception of the moment….staying very much in the body, gently, with compassion
This is just one variation, but you will find as you try meditations that many of the instructions are the same. What changes is what you notice…your moment-to-moment experience.
You can also meditate on a question…bring one to mind and without thinking of an answer, just sit with an open, relaxed state of being in the moment..and see what comes up, in the body, thoughts or emotions. It might offer some insight.
I believe we can all meditate anywhere, any time, without any special props, costumes or postures. Remember that to meditate means to contemplate your inner experience of being you…studying your mind…compassionately and without judgement. Trust yourself to find your own way into meditation, seeking guidance as and when you feel called
I hope my suggestions here help you to (re)start your meditation practice, but if you have specific questions I haven’t covered feel free to get in touch and I’ll get back to you as best as I can.
Photo credits (from the top):
Kindel Media, Adiba Osmani, Plum Village, Ekaterina Bolovstova