A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

meditation

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With the holiday season in full gear, we’re taking in the festive holiday music, sipping the bubbly at holiday parties and counting down the days until we get some time away from the office. But it’s not all candy canes and egg nog. Between shopping, planning your big holiday meal, and trying to get ahead at work for that (much-needed) time off, we’re tired and stressed to say the least. Instead of turning to your good friend chardonnay, try meditation. Not only will it get you through the trials of  the holidays, but you’ll feel more relaxed and present for anything that comes your way. I spoke with Pure Yoga Instructor Yogi Charu on how to get started.

What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is the ability to be 100% conscious of what you are doing at that given moment,” says Charu. Although we may not notice, our minds are constantly in the past or thinking about the future. The aim of mindfulness is to live in the present moment. “When you eat, be absorbed in eating. When you talk to someone, be absorbed in the conversation instead of thinking of other things. When you walk in the park, enjoy the scenery of the park instead of the body being in the park and the mind is somewhere else.”

What is the ideal setting for meditation?
Charu describes the perfect atmosphere for meditation: quiet, dim lights, lavender aroma (not too strong), warm (not too hot) room temperature, wall pictures of beautiful landscapes—forests, mountains, sunrises, sunsets, the ocean—and bare feet. He recommends creating a space where you can meditate on a regular basis and where only meditation is done. For those with small living quarters, even choosing a corner of a room will do wonders.

How should a first timer meditate?
“Still the body as much as possible, either sitting or standing, then focus your mind on the breath moving in and out of the nostril,” says Charu. “Because the breath is taking place in the present moment, it will bring the mind into the now and meditation begins there.”

How often should you meditate?
“Start off with doing it three times a week for 15 to 20 minutes. After a year you can evolve to daily practice and increasing the time if it suits you. If you can only find five minutes, this is better than noting at all.”

How can the easily distracted keep their minds focused?
With thoughts going through our minds constantly, it’s almost impossible for your mind not to wander during meditation. But Chari promises that it does get easier with practice. “It’s like a fan spinning. When you unplug the fan it will continue to spin for a while, and eventually it stops spinning. So when you sit down for meditation, initially thoughts will come in and out of the mind, and gradually they will stop.”

What can you expect from a guided meditation?
Yogi Charu teaches meditation classes at Pure Yoga. “Students are asked to sit in a cross leg posture, or use a chair if they need one, for at least 20 minutes without moving. With eyes closed, I guide them to be aware of the breath for five minutes. Next, I guide them to a chakra meditation which corresponds to an emotion for the students to cultivate in their daily life. Then we conclude with just trying to be in the present moment again with the breath, but being a witness of the different thoughts that may enter the mind from time to time.”

Although I did not take the meditation class, I was able to partake in Charu’s Yoga Nidra, a practice that puts the body in a deep sleep while the mind remains fully awake. Very similar to the meditation described above, it teaches the mind to stay present, mindful. As a first timer, I found myself falling in and out of concentration while the instructor guided the class. Although the mind did wander, I found it more successful than individual meditation. With an instructor, his voice brings you back to the present, whereas because we breathe all day and never think twice about it, it can be hard to use the breath as a reminder to return to the present.

Can’t make a class? Get a similar guided experience with an app. Headspace has a 10-day starter program that provides guided meditations, specifically for beginners. Mindfulness Meditation provides guides depending on how much time you have—whether its as much as 30 minutes or as little as five. For those who want to practice meditation more for a restful sleep, try Deep Sleep with Andrew Johnson. Not only does the instruction guide you into mindfulness, but it relaxes the mind and body right into deep sleep.

Read more: 10 Ways to Instantly De-Stress This Holiday Season

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