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Meditation isn’t so much about emptying the mind, but as one of my yoga teachers, Philip Clift, said, “meditation is not something we do, but a natural state of consciousness that we surrender into". If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. Once we surrender to the practice and try to meditate--making it a daily habit--it will eventually become easier and second nature.
But for beginners, starting a daily meditation practice is often the hardest part. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to mediate that don’t include sitting on a zafu listening to the sound of silence. Here are five approaches worth a try:
1. Get 'appy'
Using an app is one of the easiest ways to begin a meditation practice. Apps such as Headspace and Calm are some of the most popular. Headspace teaches basic meditation principles by the way of meditation “basics,” with fun info videos and Andy Puddicombe’s calming voice. Calm’s meditations are simple and straightforward, with plenty of customizable options (length, time, music, no music). Calm also has nice pictures with the meditation's theme on them that you can easily post to Instagram.
2. Get romantic
Candles aren’t just for romantic nights and fancy dinner dates. They make a great visual ambiance for your meditation practice. In traditional candle gazing, you light a candle (if it has a smell please make sure it is natural fragrance not synthetic) and start at any part of the flame. A peer of mine adds a unique twist to her candle gazing practice: after she gazes on the candle, she will close her eyes and continue to imagine the candle. You can also build upon this exercise by adding in some pranayama (breathing exercises) to such as Diga (3 Part Breath) Pranayama.
3. Get physicalTake a cue from Olivia Newton-John and take your meditation practice to the gym or even the great outdoors. For those of us who find it difficult to be still, a physical meditation practice is the way to go. There are a variety of physical meditation practices. I have had great success with a Walking Meditation inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh. As you are walking outside (or on a treadmill at the gym), sync your breaths to your steps--count how many steps you take as you inhale, and repeat on the exhale. You can also take this time to feel your feet on the ground (if barefoot), or feel the wind and sun touch your body. Other activities, such as running, swimming, dancing (my personal favorite), weight lifting, hoop dancing, can also be experienced as moving meditations.
4. Get visual and go exploring
Don't spend lots of money on your next vacation--meditate! Everyone can go somewhere in their mind, and that alone can help you stay in a meditation zone longer than if you weren't using visualization. Visualization exercises are also accessible for beginners, as it provides a more concrete and tangible dynamic. Some great places to go exploring on your meditation are: taking a walk through a forest, going to the beach, lying down in a field of daisies, etc. You are only as limited as your imagination.
5. Get artsy
Last but not least, make art. You don't have to be the next Van Gogh to reap the benefits of artful meditation. Some simple exercises, regardless of whether you are an advanced or newbie artist, are: line drawing (using ink so you learn to be ok with mistakes), painting dots and color blends with watercolor paints, and collages. Collages are great for meditation due to the multi-sensory, tactile, and force you to focus on creating an image with found objects and images. Other fun ways to add art to your meditation practice include mandalas (sacred circles), coloring pages, needle felting, knitting, crocheting, or--an old time favorite--cross-stitch.
Let these tips be an inspiration for you to start or re-work your meditation practice.