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.
As a beginner meditator, I did everything wrong.
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.
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. (I later learned it was a meditation mala–one of the most important items a meditator can own)
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, one of the world’s best spiritual gurus.
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.
Truth is, there are risks of meditation. And meditation must be learned properly.
CLICK TO TWEET: “Only when all spokes move as one can the wheel begin to turn.”
Why So Many People Begin Learning Meditation Wrongly
In the West millions are beginning to learn 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 beginner meditators 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.
It is imperative you learn and practice in the right way.
Beginner Meditators Must start By Learning The Basics Of Meditation
Unfortunately there are lots of myths and lies about meditation.
Because of that, many beginner meditators learn incorrectly.
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.
The Right Way For Newcomers To Begin Learning Meditation
There are many hundreds of meditation techniques
Those techniques use the mind and body in subtly different ways.
However, there are some similarities shared across the spectrum of techniques.
There are basic rules of meditation on which the house is built.
If you think meditation isn’t working for you, check these things. These are the essential bricks and mortar out of which any meditation regime should be constructed. These are the all important basics of meditation.
10 The Basics Of Meditation For Beginners
1: The Right Space For Meditation
Firstly, it is important to set aside a special place for meditation.
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.
The rules on a meditation space are:
- Must be peaceful
- Should be quiet
- Should be conducive to both relaxation and focus
- As few distractions as possible
When you are beginning meditation, meditate in the same space and reserve that space for meditation.
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.
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..
3. The Best Time To Meditate
There are good times to meditate and there are bad times.
The worst time for a beginner to meditate is when they are highly emotional.
When you are starting to learn meditation, only meditate when you are already relaxed (later on you can turn to meditation in times of need, but not in the beginning).
It helps to have a routine too. And there are apps like Headspace and Calm that can help you with that.
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 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.
4. Get rid of negative energy before you meditate
Experienced meditators are able to use meditation to stop negative energy. But beginner meditators should get rid of that negative energy before beginning.
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.
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.
5: The Right Posture For Beginners
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.
One of the most important basics of meditation is to sit with good posture.
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.
Make sure you have a good meditation cushion. This will support your body and prevent injury.
6. 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.
Some beginner meditators try to force the breath. The breath should actually be relaxed. It should be slow, but because you’re relaxed, not because you’re hlding your breath.
7: The Right Attitude For Beginning Meditation
It is vital that beginner meditators have the right 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.
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.
There is a lot of bad advice around today.
In fact, let’s take a look at some of that bad advice.
5 Pieces Of Bad Advice Beginner Meditators Should Ignore
1. You don’t need to consider your health before meditating because meditation can never go wrong.
This is the single worst piece of advice that you will ever read about meditation.
You should always consider your health before meditating.
Because even though meditation is perfectly safe for 99% of people, there are a few select people who experience negative effects when meditating.
Epileptics, for instance, should arguably never meditate. Meditation can cause increased hypersynchrony in the brain, which can lead to seizures. If you have ever had an epileptic experience, please contact your doctor before you start meditating. Likewise, those with a history of mental health complications should also contact healthcare professionals before beginning to meditate.
2. You have to adopt the right posture in order to meditate
This is a classic piece of meditation advice which is usually misinterpreted.
The idea that you must adopt a certain sitting position before meditating is simply not true.
You do not need to sit in lotus position to meditate. If you struggle to sit in lotus position, you can just as easily sit on your knees.
Some types of meditation like Zen do involve specific sitting positions, but even then it is not compulsory.
What matters is posture.
You need to adopt proper posture and meditate in a position that will allow you to relax.
But that position does not need to be lotus position or any of the other traditional Zen meditation positions.
What matters is that you are comfortable, balanced, and have good posture.
3. You should always be relaxed when meditating
Again, this is not entirely true.
It’s easy to see why this meditation advice makes sense.
Most people do relax when meditating. But not everyone.
People suffering from stress, anxiety, or depression, as well as people with general worries, will often feel less relaxed at first.
Meditation forces you to face your fears and anxiety. Meditation brings those fears and anxieties to the surface so that they can be released. However, in order to be released, they first have to be faced. That’s why you may sometimes feel less relaxed when meditating.
When I suffered from an acute reaction to extreme stress many years ago, meditation made me feel worse. It was quite a challenge to motivate myself to continue to meditate. I did continue, and eventually meditation began to cure me of my stress. Without meditation I may never have recovered. But it was vital that I go through the stress in order to overcome it. Relaxation is often a secondary stage in healing.
4. Go nuts and try tons of different meditation styles
There are lots of publications that teach beginner meditators advanced meditation techniques. Big mistake. There are some meditation techniques that are completely unsuitable for beginners (Merkaba, Dhyana, Bhakti)…
Good advice for meditators is this: try a selection of different beginner techniques (my guide to Buddhist meditations for beginners will get you started).
But definitely do not go nuts.
The Dalai Lama himself tells us that we must respect meditation and go at an easy pace. No one, for instance, should start meditating with an advanced technique like Nataraj (a dance meditation created by Osho).
Start with breathing meditation. Then down the line try another form of meditation, something simple like Zen walking. Then begin to advance in a progressive fashion. Don’t rush.
5. Meditation ends at the end of your session
Many believe that meditation begins and ends in the designated time slot.
In other words, if you’re meditating for 20 minutes then once the twenty minutes is up you’re done.
In truth, what you do immediately after meditating is just as important as what you do while meditating.
At the end of your meditation sessions, you should take a further 10 minutes just to relax. That way you can smoothly transition back to your normal mental state. This period of time after meditating is important for allowing your mind to adjust.
It is essential to start learning meditation the correct way.
If you are a beginner meditator and you want to learn meditation the right way, read my book Journey To The Buddha Within You. In the book I share my journey to enlightenment and I lead you though a practical course in meditation. Take a look at that link and join me on the path to enlightenment.
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