This article was last updated on October 3, 2019
Welcome to the wonderful world of meditation. I'm glad you’re here.
You’ve probably heard all about the amazing things meditation can help you with: relax your mind, calm your body, bring inner peace.
But where do you start?
If you’re interested in learning more about meditation and mindfulness, or if you're wondering where to start, you’ve come to the right place. This truly is the ultimate guide to meditation and mindfulness. Let's dive in!
The word meditation stems from the Latin ‘meditatum’ which means ‘to ponder.’ The Cambridge English dictionary gives two definitions of meditation, the first being:
“the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed,” and the second as “serious thought or study, or the product of this activity.”
Definition of meditation according to the Cambridge English Dictionary
If we break these meanings down, meditation is about focus, concentration, consideration, and being calm and relaxed. It is about learning how to work with our mind, to quiet the noise of stress and everyday life, and acknowledge our thoughts but let them go.
Meditation is about being aware of our thoughts and feelings but more as an observer rather than an active participant
By taking that ‘time out’ we allow our minds to rest, recharge, and reconnect. Just as an athlete needs to properly rest and care for their muscles to stay at optimum fitness, so we as entrepreneurs need to care for our minds, energy and emotions in order to maximise our abilities in growing our business.
To better understand what meditation is, it can be useful to explore what it is not. While meditation is about training our mind, it is not about controlling it. Neither is it about zoning out, stopping thoughts or feelings, nor is it all about earth-shattering or out-of-body experiences!
Of course, meditation can be deeply moving and life-changing, but it is more about training our minds to improve our attentiveness and to bring a sense of calm to our daily lives.
The terms meditation and mindfulness are often used interchangeably. They are both ancient spiritual practices which have become synonymous with consciousness, concentration, awareness, and their calming benefits, but they are slightly different.
Through meditation we observe our own thoughts and feelings but let them pass by like clouds. It gives our mind a place to chill and take a break from the chaos of a busy life. But more than this, the process of self-observation means we learn more about ourselves and through self-knowledge we can self-improve.
Mindfulness is actually a type of meditation which focuses on being present and experiencing everything in the moment. We go about much of our day on autopilot, not paying attention to how outward stimuli makes us feel. Mindfulness is training the mind to be aware of what each of our sense’s experiences, even in the smallest of moments.
For example, the simple act of drinking a cup of tea. Normally, we just drink it, right? Well, mindfully, you would focus on the temperature, taste, scent, and any emotions you feel in that moment. Mindfulness helps us to be more fully engaged in activities and situations we face, allowing us to make better, more informed decisions.
Meditation is a very personal thing, so when you first start out on your meditation journey it can be difficult to know if you’re doing it right! There are many ways to meditate, which we will cover later in subsequent chapters, but here are a few insights into what meditation can feel like.
Generally, your meditation practice will have you find a quiet space to sit, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing. You’ll likely find that your mind is cluttered, busy, lots of thoughts buzzing, maybe all those things on your to-do list swimming around in your head, maybe what you’re going to eat for lunch, or say in that meeting, or how you’re going to get that prospective client to sign…
It’s tiring but it’s also natural! Our working lives have forced our minds to juggle multiple tasks and when we sit still our minds begin to fidget with nervous energy. We begin to feel overwhelmed, restless, and stressed.
Meditation is about retraining our minds and bringing it back to place of equilibrium. Imagine your mind in meditation as stepping out of the circus ring and sitting back and just watching that festival of thoughts from a place of calm.
It’s not about controlling the performance or even analyzing it. When you simply acknowledge your thoughts in a very objective way, you begin to feel a sense of calm. You gain a whole new awareness of yourself and how you relate to the situations around you. You may eventually feel a separation from these events and circumstances, which can give you a perspective on life, work, and what is important to you.
Remember that meditation is a practise and this sense of calm and new way of looking at things might not happen straight away. You may struggle at first to resist jumping onto every thought and running with it. The more you meditate, the easier it will be to step out of the circus and let your mind focus and rest.
Meditation has been practiced around the world in different forms for centuries with multiple references to meditation across many cultures and religions, mostly in the East (India, China and Japan).
While there is no definitive answer of when it was first practised, what method or where, the earliest written record of meditation dates as around 1500 BCE. It was documented in India, in a Hindu text on Vendatism, a philosophical school of thought and path for spiritual enlightenment.
However, many historians believe meditation to be much older with it being practiced as far back as 3000 BCE. There are wall paintings dating back to 5000 BCE showing characters in seated poses with their eyes half-closed as though in deep meditation.
This ancient practice began to spread to other cultures and to the West, via the trade routes on the Silk Road, influencing other cultures and religions along the way.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study into the popularity of complementary health care in the US. The study identified meditation “as the fastest-growing trend, seeing a more than threefold leap in users.”
One of the reasons for this rise is that meditation helps us deal with mounting pressures of everyday life. The modern world is fast paced, everything in an instant, needed immediately. We are constantly ‘ON’, connected and reachable like never before.
As our world speeds up, so does our stress levels. More than 80% of US workers have reported feeling stressed and have expressed that they need help in managing stress. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, stress is now a worldwide epidemic and it also has named depression as one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.
In light of this stress epidemic, more and more doctors are now recommending meditation and yoga therapy to help counteract the symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety.
Another reason that meditation is growing in popularity is through greater understanding and open-mindedness. As we come into contact with other cultures, religious beliefs, practices and traditions, there is a sharing of experiences and a mutual appreciation.
But, more than this, we are able to see the benefits of meditation and how it can improve our daily lives, our mental and emotional well-being, and our personal and professional lives.
People meditate for many different reasons, but if asked why they meditate, almost every single person will give you one or more of the many health benefits. There are countless scientific studies proving how meditation has a positive impact on our physical and mental health.
Here are just some of the benefits that regular meditation brings to our overall well-being:
If you need an extra reason to start meditation, then how about the fact that it can also boost your business?
Researchers have found that even brief meditation practice make noticeable improvements in cognition. Participants in a study published in Consciousness and Cognition reported improvements in focus, attention span, memory, the ability to manipulate information, and a greater sense of clarity and executive thinking.
If these are the results from short-term meditation, just imagine what regular and long-term meditation practice could do for your business decision making?
As solopreneurs, we are in charge of pretty much everything in our business, unless we have some freelancers helping us out, but generally we wear many hats and work long hours. Therefore, we need to keep our energy levels up and in order to do that we need to have quality sleep which can be difficult when our brains get stuck in open loops, thinking about all those tasks we have to do.
Getting to sleep and staying asleep can be a real issue, leaving us sluggish, exhausted, and unable to focus, all of which has a negative effect on our productivity and takes a toll on our business success.A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that meditation helps us deal with stressful thoughts that can keep us awake at night, helping reduce insomnia. It also improves the quality of sleep meaning you wake feeling completely refreshed and ready to take on another day!
Not only does meditation improve concentration and focus, but it also helps to improve our emotional and mental well-being. We learn more about ourselves and how to master our emotions and responses, a great skill for navigating business decisions and tackling difficult situations.
All of these benefits help to improve our productivity. If our minds are working at their optimum, we feel refreshed, energized, and calm then we can work much more effectively and efficiently.
As mentioned, there have been countless studies into meditation, its benefits, and its effectiveness. While we can’t go into every single scientific study in detail, we can look at the main reason WHY meditation makes us feel good...
In recent studies, Harvard neuroscientists discovered that meditation changes the landscape of our brain. The study, using MRI scans, found that meditation strengthens connections between brain cells and actually increases grey matter in the frontal cortex- the area of the brain associated with memory and decision making.
The study also found that meditation affected other regions of the brain, causing positive changes to the specific behaviors or functions that those areas are responsible for. For example:
The benefits of meditation are no secret and there is a plethora of people jumping (or sitting quietly!) to get a ‘peace’ of the action. Here are just a few famous and highly successful people who are firm believers in the benefits of meditation:
You’ll be in good company if you decide to give meditating a go either for the health benefits alone or to improve your business mind. In our next chapter, you’ll discover what you need to get started in meditation.
One of the best things about meditation is that it is accessible. You don’t have to have any special equipment or an expensive gym membership to experience it or enjoy the benefits. Anyone can meditate and you can do it anywhere at any time.
While there is no right or wrong way to meditate, there are a few things that can help you build meditation into your life and form a new healthy habit.
The first step to starting meditation is making time for it. Like any new activity you want to turn into a habit, regularity is key. Set aside some time, a few times a week and then choose a place where you can sit, quietly, and comfortably. The setting doesn’t matter too much, you can be at home or outside, in the park or just any place where you can be relatively undisturbed.
Some people find that meditating first thing in the morning helps set them up for the day. Some choose to take time out in the middle of the day to help reset and destress. According to Psychology Today, there are four optimum times for meditation:
They also suggest one time to avoid meditating which is just before bed. The reason being that it is too easy to slip into sleep. Meditating is about being relaxed, but it’s also about being fully-aware and conscious. So, falling asleep would kind of defeat the purpose!
Basically, the rule is to find a time that suits you best and that way you’ll be more likely to stick to it. Forming habits takes discipline and perseverance and the easiest way to do this is to get into a routine. Try to meditate at the same time and in the same place to help you stick to your meditation practice.
A 10 minute session is a good starting point for beginners to meditation practice. At this stage, it’s not so much about the duration but the frequency. As you start to feel more comfortable, you can gradually increase the time from 10 minutes to 15, and then to 20 minutes.
Remember, meditation is personal, so if 10 minutes still seems like a stretch at first, then simply start with just 1 or 2 minutes and build it up slowly as your confidence and comfort grows.
When people think of meditation, they instantly think yoga pants, but you can wear whatever you like- pyjamas, casual clothes, a suit and tie, or nothing at all (if privacy allows!). The important thing is to be completely comfortable. So, loosen anything restricting, take off your shoes if they pinch and just relax.
Wherever you’ve chosen to meditate, you can sit on anything you like… again comfort is key! Most meditation experts will suggest starting off by sitting in an upright chair which keeps your back straight but is still comfortable. The best posture to adopt is, straight back, relaxed neck and shoulders, chin just slightly tucked in with your hands resting on your lap.
When you get more comfortable and familiar with the practice, you can purchase a meditation cushion and sit crossed-legged on the floor but don’t feel you need any special mats or seats to get started.
There are loads of tracks labeled as ‘music for meditation’ which are usually calming, atmospheric or ambient sounds. They can help you relax and focus. It’s not necessary though. Again, it’s more of a personal preference thing. Some like music, others prefer to meditate in silence.
If you do decide to meditate to music, just be careful… there is a difference between meditating while listening to music and listening to music while meditating! You don’t want to be distracted or listen to something that pumps you up or has lyrics that you end up singing along to!
The same goes for meditation apps- it’s a personal preference, however, if you are a meditation newbie, then it can be a great introduction to meditation practice and helps you get into the swing of things.
There are plenty of guided meditation apps available to download to your smartphone. We’ll take a look at the best meditation apps in chapter 6 of this meditation guide so be sure to sign up to our mailing list to get the next installments!
I will cover the different meditation techniques in the next chapter, which will be published in less than a week. Stay tuned!
This article was last updated on October 3, 2019
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