Guided Meditation Help for Beginners and Skeptics
You would have to be living under a rock to imagine that meditation is a zero-sum activity. Study after study confirms the benefits of meditation for everything from decreasing anxiety, depression and stress to improving memory, compassion, and attention. So if you haven’t started to meditate, or if you have started and are struggling, chances are that any skepticism you feel is about your ability to do it right. Guided meditation, along with the unmasking of a few meditation myths, will save the day. You too can enjoy practicing this ultimate act of self-care and become ‘a woman who meditates.’
Types of Meditation
There are dozens of types of meditation. All of them share a common goal of helping us “rest our minds and attain a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. Meditation is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within.”
The various types of meditation practice fall roughly into one of two categories:
- Focused Attention–Depending on the type of meditation, you might focus on your breath, a candle flame, mantra, or visualization. You know you are making progress when you can go longer and longer without being distracted by thoughts and feelings.
- Open Monitoring–Instead of focusing your attention on one thing, you recognize everything happening within and around you. You know you are making progress when you can recognize your thoughts and feelings without dwelling on them or judging them.
Here’s an excellent list of twenty-three different types of meditation, each with details of: origin and meaning; how to do it; where to learn more, and tips for deciding if it is appropriate for you. And I love this Meditation 101 Beginner’s Guide. It is practical, reassuring, and honest about what you might find challenging and where you’ll likely find your bliss.
Guided meditation is simply meditation with the help of a teacher. Instead of focusing your attention or monitoring what’s happening by yourself, there’s someone there to guide you through the process.
Guided meditations are most popular for the type of meditation referred to as ‘mindfulness.’ Mindfulness meditation is about focusing on and accepting the present moment without judgment. It is a very popular form of meditation because it offers physical and mental benefits without the extra layer of spirituality or religion that accompanies many of the other types. Mindfulness work exists as both formal meditation practice and as meditative awareness during daily activities. An example of the latter is eating mindfully by focusing your full attention on each bite of food.
Guided meditations may deal generally with teaching mindfulness or may be tailored to achieve a specific goal. If you need help to relax, quit smoking, enhance your creativity, or relieve work stress, a guided meditation is standing by on your computer or smartphone.
My Top Three Guided Meditation Sites
You can attend a class where you will be taught to meditate. I have been to three– a half-day twenty years ago in Toronto, three days at the Omega Institute in Rhineland, New York, and seven days at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. All were worthwhile experiences, but none of them stuck. Then I tried reading some of the hundreds of books about meditation. Real Happiness, a book and CD set by Sharon Salzberg was one of the best, but I still only made it through ten days of her twenty-eight day program.
A semi-regular meditation practice eluded me until I discovered the guided meditations that are available online. I still don’t have a regular practice, but these teachers have been so helpful that I am feeling hopeful.
Deepak and Oprah 21-Day Challenges
If you like a thematic approach, these meditations are exceptional. On each of the 22 days (there’s always a bonus day), you get a stunningly gorgeous image, a centering thought and message, a Sanskrit mantra, and an approximately 20 minute meditation. Oprah talks for the first two or three minutes about the day’s focus and how it applies to life. Deepak Chopra goes even deeper for another four or five minutes and he explains the mantra and gets you started on the meditation. Then you meditate with beautiful new age music for about ten minutes until a bell sounds. Deepak closes with some concluding thoughts to take into your day.
The 21-day challenges are on the expensive side ($50 US) but they are beautiful and slick. I especially like the journal component where you can record and save your responses to four questions at the end of each day’s meditation. Three of the four questions vary each day; they are great for applying the day’s teaching to your life.
New series are free when they are first launched and available at a reduced price for a short time after the launch. Subscribe to the site to be notified of the start date for the next launch.
Daily OM, especially Melody Litton’s Course
When you subscribe to Daily OM, you receive a daily email with a beautiful image from nature and a couple of paragraphs related to an inspiration of the day. Daily OM also offers courses, dozens of them, in categories as varied as art and writing, spirituality, meditation and relaxation, and home and garden. I’ve only tried one course, but it has been superb. I highly recommend Melody Litton’s new course, 21 Days to Love Your Body.
I’ve talked in other posts about my desire to lose weight and the obstacles I’m confronting. In an effort to practice the self-acceptance I referred to in the pajama days post, I decided to give Melody’s course a try. I’m so glad that I did. Melody is a warm, inspiring woman. Her course includes videos, affirmations, fabulous songs, and the most powerful and vivid guided meditations I have ever experienced. Each meditation, without fail, has left me with a richly detailed, multi-sensory visualization that has stayed with me for days. I wrote the post about the power of creative visualization because of Melody’s course. It has truly been a transformative experience.
Daily OM courses are available for your choice of $10, $25 or $40. You pay what you wish.
I first learned of Tara when I read her book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. I picked it up because of the aforementioned desire for self-acceptance. Again, like Melody, it was a case of finding the right teacher at the right time. I have written thirteen pages of notes from reading Tara’s book.
Tara is a powerhouse in the meditation world. Trained as both a psychotherapist and a Buddhist teacher, Tara has amalgamated the two traditions to train other psychotherapists in applying mindfulness strategies to their clinical work. She also started the Insight Meditation Community of Washington DC, now one of the largest meditation centres in the United States.
On Tara’s website you will find dozens of free guided meditations, each 10-30 minutes in length. There are also dozens of audio and/or video talks, including a collection of introductory talks about mindfulness for beginners.
Working with a guided meditation is helpful, in part, because it dispels some of the concerns about doing meditation incorrectly. For each of the following myths, one or more of the teachers I’ve mentioned has provided a reassuring counterpoint.
To earn the trust of your meditation, you have to visit it every day. It’s like having a puppy.Chelsea Richler
You must meditate an hour a day for it to have any benefit.
Melody’s meditations are incredibly powerful, with long-lasting impact, yet they are often just three to five minutes in length. A consistent meditation practice is far more important than how much time you spend meditating. I have found the 21 day thematic approach of Deepak, Oprah and Melody Litton to be very helpful. It’s easy to skip a day or two because the programs are online and retrievable anytime, but I’m usually interested enough in the theme that I want to hear the next piece of the discussion.
You must be able to sit in a full lotus position while you meditate.
Thankfully, you don’t need to have the flexibility of a yogi in order to meditate correctly. You can sit in a chair to meditate, or even lie down as long as you don’t fall asleep! Deepak encourages you to “make yourself comfortable” in every one of his 21-day challenges.
Here’s an interesting article about meditation postures, including the meaning of placing your hands palm up and why you might want to consider palm down. For me so far, the only aspect of posture that really matters is keeping my back straight and my spine elongated. Doing so helps me breathe easier.
Meditation involves lots of woo-woo–chanted words, flowing robes, burning incense, and special temple-like settings.
There is ritual to meditation practiced in a religious context. Otherwise, no woo-woo required. The mantras used in Deepak’s meditations are simply an alternative to focusing on your breath and are meant to be repeated silently, not chanted.
While meditating we are simply seeing what the mind has been doing all along.Allan Lokos
It does help to meditate in a room where you won’t be interrupted.
It’s only meditation if you replace thought with transcendent experiences.
Attempts to stop thinking will only make you think more. The goal is simply to be aware that you are having thoughts. This awareness allows you to become an observer of your own mind, to realize that you are having thoughts but are not your thoughts.
As for transcendent experiences, they’re apparently difficult to come by and probably unattainable by beginners like us. Rather than moments of bliss during meditation, the benefit of practice is that you feel more centered, compassionate and productive in the rest of your day.
Have you tried guided meditation? If so, what resources have helped you? If not, which meditation myths have been getting in your way? Please let us know in the comments below.