Paolo Assandri
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How to meditate: easy (and quick) instructions

As much as I like Mariah Carey as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, her superhuman vocals on the notes of All I want for Chrismas is you relentlessly remind me that Christmas and the end of the year are approaching. And suddenly everything speeds up and I find myself chasing my days.

This is the time of year when I need extra me-time; time where I can refocus, regenerate or where I can simply appreciate what seems to have no place in the pre-Christmas days: slowing down. These are the days when I realise how important meditation is for staying in touch with myself.

Precisely for this reason, I would like to share with you some tips to help you start a meditative practice, a practice that will help you cope with a time that, for many of us, can hide many challenges, both physically and emotionally. At Christmas, in fact, more than at other times of the year, we may feel fragile, inadequate, alone. We may feel crushed by expectations. We may have to deal with sadness and grief over significant losses.

To help you build your meditation practice, here is a series of tips and guidelines suitable for beginners, but also for those who have been meditating for a while. Of course, these tips come from my personal practice and are influenced by my understanding and practice of meditation. They are influenced by a specific type of meditation: mindfulness meditation. I therefore invite you to read them and put them into practice with a sense of openness and discovery.

Before I start with practical indications, I would like you to know some of the benefits of consistent meditation practice. In fact, several scientific studies have confirmed the following positive effects of meditation:

  1. Meditation can reduce stress
  2. Meditation can improve sleep
  3. Meditation can decrease blood pressure
  4. Meditation can help you manage pain
  5. Medition can improve your concentration

But, in practice, what does meditation consist of?

  • Forget the images of Buddhist monks or cross-legged hermits meditating for days, months or years on end. Mindfulness meditation does NOT necessarily require this kind of posture and does not require this kind of commitment, although it does require some effort and perseverance.
  • Mindfulness meditation is very simple, but it is not necessarily easy. In a meditative practice, in fact, the only thing we are asked to do is to pay attention to the breath, without forcing it or judging it. And when something happens outside of us or within us, our task is simply to bring our attention back to the inhalation and exhalation. In this way, we train our ability to observe without judgement. We thus give ourselves the opportunity to 'be', without necessarily having to 'do'.
  • The goal of meditation is NOT to eliminate thoughts. This goal is unrealistic for us human beings who continuously produce thoughts automatically. Instead, the goal is to train ourselves not to get caught up in thoughts, but to let them go as if they were windblown clouds. In this way, we can improve our ability to tolerate the stress and anxiety that thoughts produce. The goal is not, therefore, to have a thought-free mind, but to shift our attention to the breath whenever we realise that our thoughts are taking our mind for a ride. If, in fact, through meditation, we learn not to be captivated by thoughts (and remember that worries are also thoughts), then we can improve our ability to tolerate stress and anxiety and, consequently, to act less impulsively.
  • Mindfulness meditation can be practised anywhere and in any position. It is preferable, however, to meditate in a 'dignified' sitting position that allows us to remain alert. The goal of meditation is not, in fact, to fall asleep or to relax, although relaxation could be one possible effect. Remember that the goal of meditation is to decrease the reactivity of our nervous system to stimuli, particularly thoughts, and to improve our capacity for non-judgmental observation.

To sum up, here are some practical tips:

  1. Sit down
    Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet. If you want to close your eyes, it will help you concentrate more easily.
  2. Set a time limit
    In the beginning, it can be helpful to choose a short period of time, for example five minutes. It is better to meditate daily for five minutes than to meditate once a week for an hour.
  3. Observe your body
    Sit in a chair, armchair or cross-legged, with your spine straight but not too stiff. If you need to, adjust your position. If you meditate lying down, try not to fall asleep, but to remain alert.
  4. Pay attention to your breath
    Pay attention to the sensations your breath elicits as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
  5. Notice when your mind starts to travel.
    Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places, carried away by thoughts. When you notice that your mind is travelling, simply bring your attention back to the breath.
  6. Be kind to yourself
    Do not judge yourself for having thoughts while meditating. Simply refocus on your breath.
  7. Close your practice with kindness
    When you are ready, open your eyes with kindness. Gently reconnect with your surroundings. Notice how your body feels at this moment. Notice your thoughts and emotions.

In short, this is the practice: focus your attention on the breath, your mind will wander, bring your attention back to the breath as gently and purposefully as possible, and keep repeating this process as many times as you need to.

I hope you will find in this practice a chance to refocus, to regenerate and to make friends with yourself.

“Meditation is not a way to enlightenment, Nor is it a method of achieving anything at all. It is peace itself. It is the actualization of wisdom, The ultimate truth of the oneness of all things.” 

Dogen Zenji

Author: Paolo Assandri is a Counselling Psychologist (HCPC and British Psychological Association registered), a Psychotherapist (UKCP) and Psychologist-psychotherapist (Ordine degli Psicologi del Piemonte). He is based in London where he lives and works.

No responsibility disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional health or medical/psychological advice or treatment. The article is for general informational purposes only to improve wellbeing. Consult with a licensed health care practitioner (doctor, psychologist or psychotherapist) in case of need. Authors, producers and consultants linked to this article are not responsible for choices nor actions of readers following the read of this article.

No one is the ultimate version of themselves