Meditation is having a moment. While we all struggle with the pushes and pulls of busy everyday life, meditation practices have been proven to strengthen body and mind with their simple and straightforward techniques. We all know we should probably be doing it but how do we start and what does it even feel like when we’re doing it. Allow us to answer your questions and debunk the myths with our handy beginner’s guide on how to do nail it...
There have been many studies that boast the emotional and physical effects of long-term meditation practice but what might surprise you is that in just one session you’ll reap rewards. Simply put, with your first 15 minute meditation experience certain neural pathways of the brain will change. In particular, amygdala - the collection of cells at the base of the brain thought to be the core of the neural system for processing fight-or-flight. By reducing the impact of amygdala, you’ll become better equipped to deal with stressful situations making daily life more manageable. As well as managing what’s already there, we also know that because the brain responds brilliantly to new stimuli, new neural connections will be formed and strengthened. In essence, the more you revel in the stillness, the better it will feel.
Whether you’re aware of what you’re thinking of feeling or not is all down to the meditator and you’re not likely to have the exact same experience as another meditator. However, there are several shared sensations such as a feeling of calmness or deep serenity. This is the most commonly thought of meditation experience and probably the one you think of when you imagine what it feels like. The mind is slowed, satisfied and present in the moment. Through this can come vastness which acts like an expansion of the mind. This is when you feel mentally decluttered – some people even report an emptiness void in their heads – and have crystal clear mental vision. However, it is also common to feel frustrated even when you’ve been practising meditation over a long period of time. You might feel as if it’s not going well or is pointless which leads to feelings of fatigue and restlessness. It’s important to work though these feelings and try to stay present and focused.
Just like falling asleep, the transition from meditation into a deep meditation level can be subtle and there are times you might not be sure if it’s happened or not. There are signs to help you spot it afterwards, just avoid trying to work it out during the practice or you might ruin it.
You have may forgotten you were even meditating. As your mind travels from aware to not aware you’ll lose feelings of self and any emotional or physical stressors. What results is a resounding feeling of peace. The more you embrace and appreciate your non-meditative thoughts as your brain flows through awareness states, the more you’ll get from it. Let go and accept the thoughts and feelings that arise.
If after the meditation you felt like less time passed than actually did, you probably went into a deep level. Likewise, you might feel that an hour had passed but it was only 20 minutes. And sometimes time stands still. You’ll also find your entire body relaxes so much so afterwards you’ll feel you’ve had a full night’s sleep and breathing will respond this so you may breathe very shallowly as if you would during deep rest period.
Just in the way we meditate for different reasons, there is no one correct way to feel after meditation however if it’s going well you’re likely to feel centred, content and peaceful. Having just spent quality time with yourself it’s natural to feel a strengthened connection between body and mind and that in turn makes us feel happy and clear-headed. Likewise, when we focus on our breathing our bodies will become more relax, shoulders and other muscle groups are less tense, our jaw unclenches and we might feel lighter or as if we’re walking on air. But in turn you may also feel negative emotions. If we’ve been addressing a trauma it’s not uncommon to cry during or after a meditation. It’s just the body’s way of cleansing and releasing a sadness or stress.
For a practice that should be simple, we spend a lot of time trying to establish whether we’re doing it right. If your meditation is generally getting easier then you’re probably becoming a pro. Many meditators will feel themselves slipping into meditative states at various times during the day without thinking about it. Those times you used to carve out for meditation may also be a thing of the past – any time of day is now good for you and you may no longer need the beginner support aids such as incense, cushions or mantra chants you used to rely on. You can stop comparing meditations knowing that each and every one has its earned place in your bank of meditations and you can learn from them all. All in all you’ll feel a happier, more centred and restful person as feelings of stress, anxiety and negativity lose prominence.
Here’s where the frustration lies. When you’re told not to think about anything at all chances are we’re going to be having thoughts and those thoughts are more likely to be disheartened and increasingly irritating to us. The key is to let the mind wander through thoughts and tasks and to stay present and let them exist without having to act upon them. Breathing techniques such as fully inhaling for 3 to 6 seconds and fully exhaling for double the count will help you concentrate on only your breath. By counting your breaths, you have a focal point to concentrate on while finding that state of consciousness. The mind may still go to weird and sometimes annoying places but bring focus back to the breathing and you’ll become more aware.
Feeling joyful, giddy or euphoric can be for everyone if you experience deep meditation. By allowing yourself to be still, calm and present you can experience a natural high and the best part is that it’s harmless, free and something you can tap into daily, wherever and wherever you want it. Just keep practising and remember a meditation session is all about being not trying.