My top 4 guided meditations for beginners:
1. Visualisation Meditation
One of my favourite visualisation meditations has to be the Mountain Meditation (15 minutes) by Andy Hobson on Insight Timer. This meditation compares the qualities of a mountain to your real life. We begin by sitting and starting to imagine a familiar mountain we know of in real life, films or imagination. The meditation takes us on a beautiful journey of becoming the mountain; the bottom of it being where your body meets the floor and the peak being the top of your head. In the same way a mountain remains dignified and grounded, even in the face of the harshest of conditions, this exercise teaches us to apply that same resilience to our own lives, allowing us to remain undeterred by our emotions, be it pain, sadness, joy, or elation.
2. Buddhist Meditation
Loving Kindness (14 mins) by Mark Joseph on Insight Timer is a great beginners meditation to cultivate loving kindness to ourselves, others and strangers, especially during the pandemic. It’s a really wonderful, energetic meditation and an all-round lovely experience. My reflections after this meditation are always that I am instantly uplifted and more compassionate throughout my day.
3. Pause & Visualisation Meditation
I became obsessed with doing Hope In Times Of Uncertainty (14 mins) by supermodel Gisele on Insight Timer. Not only was I intrigued to listen, but I found it really uplifting and a reminder that no matter what’s going on in the world around us right now, everyday we have the choice to operate out of love and hope over anxiety and hate. Our choices help shape our reality. This meditation is a great collaboration between the breath and accompanying visualisation, which in this case she uses a beautiful healing white light filling you with joy and optimism. It’s my go-to meditation.
4. Mantra Meditation
Mantra meditations are when a phrase is repeated in your head or out loud which would then be called chanting meditation. Some mantras are meant to be incredibly personal and are not meant to be shared with anyone else. In other cases, meditation teachers can give you a mantra to work with. It’s a great meditation to do for beginners if the mantra is simple like ‘Calm Calm, I am Calm’ or ‘Peace Peace', 'I Am At Peace' and ‘My Mind Is Still.’ Try Positive Energy Meditation (5 mins) by Gabrielle Bernstein on YouTube.
What hurdles may arise?
If you find yourself getting tired, you can meditate with your eyes and open with a gentle soft gaze on the same spot. Sit up straight and try to focus on the top of your head. Also, make sure you've cracked a window open. You don't want to be getting distracted by a lack of fresh air in the room. Stick to first thing in the morning if you know you become tired come the afternoon. I would recommend doing a more rigid guided meditation like some Squared Breathing which will keep you alert because you have to really focus. If you’re finding your practise boring, try to do a variety of mediations on Calm app, Insight Timer or Headspace. I like to mix it up and sometimes try it to music, or often I like to do a Contemplation Meditation which can work nicely walking in a park or a garden, taking in the nature and the detail of the colours and sounds. If continue to be bored perhaps ask yourself why you are you bored? Do you have somewhere to be? Do you think you’re wasting your time? It can be hard to go deeper and sit with ourselves but I promise you will soon see the benefits.
When do I know if meditating works?
This is completely different for everyone as meditation is so personal. Some meditators experience immediate calm and feel much more grounded after their practise. Other meditators will report how they felt the benefits much later in the day when they reacted to something in a certain way or didn’t find themselves getting lost in their story. There is much research in 2020 that gives us confidence that meditation can improve a variety of psychological areas. From stress, anxiety, addiction, depression to cognitive function, increased focus, empathy and even creativity. We are also seeing studies now that suggest meditation can reduce many modern health problems. Including high blood pressure, pain management, stress hormone levels and even cellular health. A study in 2011 by Hoezel and Lazer from the University of Harvard, showed that there are actual structural and functional changes to the brain across an 8 week span of meditation. These changes included an increase in grey matter in the brain, which is in the regions of the brain associated with muscle control, sensory perception, memory, emotions, speech, decision making and self-control. In 2010, Goldin and Gross from Stanford University showed a decreased brain activation of the amygdala which is the part of the brain responsible for triggering fear. Majority of studies show these changes to the human brain after 8 weeks of regular practice.
I don’t seem to be able to let go of my thoughts - what am I doing wrong?
Nothing! It is absolutely impossible to block out your thoughts. When a thought arises, and they will, like the clouds in the sky they come and they will go. No need to engage in them or judge them. Simply observe it and let it go and use your breath as your anchor or home base. When I get lost in a story I use my breath to come back or I say ’thinking thinking’ which takes me gently back to being in the practise. Also I have to point out, some people feel disappointed after their meditation like they didn’t do it right or felt really distracted and it was pointless. There is never a good or bad session. You may find the results weren’t instant but later in that week you may notice a difference.
Lastly, how do I make this stick? You may have been trying but after a week or two you seem to lapse back into not practising.
Remember, for meditation to work it is path and a journey that needs to be chipped away at every day. It’s called a practise for a reason. Like going to the gym and working out a muscle, this is a practise that is never completed and can always be worked on. Repetition creates a tendency which yields lasting effects. Consistency is key and having a regular and identified meditation space in your home is important. Begin with 5 minutes a day, don’t even think about a 15 minute meditation as it could set yourself up to fail. The key is to start small and build. We spend on a daily basis 4-5 hours on social media so I’m sure 5 minutes can be carved out of your day for this act of self-care.
Milla Lascelles is an expert holistic health & lifestyle coaching service based in London supporting and guiding both women and men to make positive health & lifestyle changes into their lives. Milla is a member of the UK Health Coaches Association after graduating from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and has been studying self-development and holistic health for the last 5 years working from Bamford Haybarn Spa and various locations in London. She now successfully runs international & UK based yoga & wellness retreats and corporate workshops as well as 1-2-1 coaching based in the UK.