Meditation is simply the practice of neutrally attempting to focus your attention on one object (physical or mental) or on a verbal phrase (for example, “Peace”) for a period of time. There are many styles of meditation to choose from, we will discuss two basic ones that are easy to learn for beginners:
One basic component in learning meditation, that can be used alone or in addition to other meditation techniques is a technique called grounding. Begin by sitting comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, relaxed but not slumped over and your hands resting on your lap with your eyes closed.
Bring your awareness to the base of the spine. Imagine that you are sitting outside in a natural setting on a large comfortable tree stump and that the trees roots reach all the way down to the center of the earth, connecting you with the earth and you feel a part of and connected to this tree, rooted to the earth. As you exhale, imagine that this releases any tension down the roots of the tree and that it also allows you to release anything you want to let go of, any thoughts, any stress, etc. As you inhale, image that the warm, golden sun is above your head, filling you up with a sense of further relaxation. You can practice this for a minute or for however long you feel inclined.
2. Benson’s Technique – The Relaxation Response
Herbert Benson, M.D. of the Mind/Body Medical Institute developed this technique in the late 1960’s, while working at Harvard Medical School.
The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress, i.e. it causes a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. He posits that if practiced regularly, it can have lasting effects when encountering stress throughout the day and can improve health.
Furthermore, he states that elicitation of the relaxation response is not difficult. There are two essential steps to eliciting the relaxation response that I’ve summarized here for beginning meditation:
a. Repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system. Dr. Benson gives the following examples: “one”, “peace”, “The Lord is my shepherd”, “Hail Mary full of grace” or “shalom”.
Be sure to sit comfortably and close your eyes. Breathe slowly and naturally and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale and allow your muscles to relax.
b. Passively disregard every day thoughts that inevitably come to mind and then return to your repetition. Don’t worry about how you are doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself to let those go and then return to your repetition.
You can continue for approximately 10 to 20 minutes. Then, continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, and open your eyes slowly, while allowing other thoughts to return.
The relaxation response can be brought forth through many other techniques in addition to the method above. There are several other forms of meditation, such as mindfulness, to choose from as well. Each person can choose a technique with which they feel most comfortable for beginning meditation.