How to Meditate

How to Meditate: 3 Mind-Calming Lessons From My First Meditation Class

I am a big believer in the power of meditation. Meditation de-stresses, improves productivity, builds positive moods, and helps manage a healthy weight.

Admittedly however, I am a horrible meditator. My mind wanders, my body fidgets, and even 2 or 3 minutes of sitting quietly feels like an eternity.

I want to learn to meditate better.

That’s why I signed up for a 30-minute meditation class. I wanted to see how others do it. How do they let their mind relax and how can I develop that same ability to find mental peace?

Meditation 101: My First Experience With Group Meditation

I showed up at my first meditation class and was warmly greeted by Trish, Sheila, and Margo, three master meditators who seemed a little surprised to have a new member join their group.

(I was also the youngest in the group by about 30 years, so that might have contributed to their surprise)

We met in a tall boxy building that might have once served a storage facility. It had cinder block walls and few windows, but the interior had been converted into a cozy auditorium with seats for about 50 people.

The four of us went up a flight of stairs and entered the meditation room, a small space painted like the inside of a cave. A stereo played the sounds of a rippling stream in the background. The lighting was low and there was a smell of incense.

The meditation began.

Trish rang together a small brass bell three times and then read a poetic scripture about being peaceful and bringing peace into the world. Everyone went silent.

Meditation Bells

The meditation bells used to signify the beginning and end of our session.

My three teachers were sitting in very meditative poses, cross-legged with straight backs, hands on their knees, and with their thumb and fingers pinched together. I followed their lead. Like them, I closed my eyes and tired to clear my mind, breathing deeply and rhythmically.

This is great! I’m doing it! I am meditating!

meditation hands

Gyan Mudra – a hand position during meditation that is supposed to promote wisdom and focus.

I opened one eye just a crack. One minute and twenty-two seconds had passed. Just twenty-eight and a half minutes to go!

As hard as I tried, my mind just wouldn’t empty. I started thinking about the groceries I had to pick up and about the route I would drive home in order to avoid construction.

Soon my back started to hurt from sitting cross-legged for so long, which had been about 8 minutes at that point. I became keenly aware that my bladder needed to be emptied…darn that flowing water soundtrack!

I tried not to fidget. I didn’t want to disturb Trish, Sheila, and Margo, all of whom looked statuesque in their meditative poses, but I couldn’t handle it any longer. I straightened my legs for a minute. Then I scooted backwards so that I could rest against the wall. Relief!

Sitting against the wall provided comfort and rest for my muscles. Maybe too much rest – I could feel my head starting to bob as I began drifting asleep (this is usually how my attempts at meditation end!)

Fortunately I was saved by the bell, literally. Three rings of the bell signified that 30 minutes had passed. I had made it.

What I Was Taught About Meditation

We opened our eyes and Trish, Sheila, and Margo looked straight to me. They asked about my experience and I was honest about how difficult it was. Fortunately, the had some very helpful advice that will make meditation much easier in the future:

1. A Blank Mind Isn’t the Goal

I think my biggest misconception about meditation was that it requires an emptying of the mind. That was always my goal: Clear the mind.

It was refreshing to learn from my three teachers that an empty mind isn’t required (or even possible?) during meditation. In fact, they recommended that a lot of thought go into a session of meditation.

For example, repeating certain affirmations can help prevent a wandering mind and help bring focus to a positive sentiment. Here’s a simple one to try:

My attitude grows happier and healthier every single day.

Another tactic that Trish explained was the use of receptive visualizations to generate a peaceful mind without aiming for emptiness. She gave the example of imagining being on a walk in the woods or on the beach. What can be seen or heard? How do you feel while walking?

Visualize during meditation

Receptive visualization places you somewhere peaceful and relaxing. It gives your mind something to focus on.

Giving your mind something to focus on is often more effective than trying to remove thoughts altogether.

2. Set Realistic Expectations and Be Patient

When I work with clients who are looking to lose weight I like to emphasize this approach:

Strive for progress, not perfection.

Whether it be exercise or making healthy eating choices, it’s all about baby steps that lead to big changes over time. However, for my own meditative practice I seemed to think different rules apply:

Why can’t I just be a great meditator from my very first try?

Just like anything, meditation takes practice. Expecting to be able to quiet your mind and make your body still for a 30-minute meditation is likely asking a lot on the first try. In fact, Sheila, who has been practicing meditation for years, told me that she still has days when it’s a struggle.

Meditation takes practice and starting out with mini-meditations is a good way to gain a feeling of mastery and success.

3. There Isn’t One Best Way to Meditate

I was looking to meditate “better” or to learn how to meditate “properly” but am now learning that both of these end goals might not even exist.

When thinking about physical exercise, I strongly believe that the “right” type of exercise is different for everyone. Some people enjoy walking and feel great after a long walk. Others need to run. Some prefer to compete in a sport. The “best” way to exercise is very dependent on each individual.

So it is with meditation. I’m not sure that my “perfect” meditative practice will ever be a 10-day silence retreat like MeiMei Fox explains in this presentation called “Shut the F*** Up”, but this will appeal to some.

The important lesson I learned was to keep trying even if my first attempts don’t feel quite right. There is a meditative practice that will suit me, but it may just take several attempts to find a style that works.

My Meditation Goal This Week

Sitting in complete silence is a little too much for my wandering mind at this point. Instead, I am going to attempt the following four guided meditations this week. Each one gets a little longer, with the longest being 20 minutes. Want to try them with me?

5 Minutes

10 Minutes

15 Minutes

20 Minutes

Comment below to let me know how these guided meditations work for you. And, let me know if you have any other go-to meditation tricks that can help me build my practice.

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