Meditation 101 - The Best 5 Meditation Techniques for Beginners

Just as your physical fitness can be improved by exercise, your mental faculties can be trained and thereby greatly improved by meditation.

At the core, meditation can be broadly defined as a mental practice where a person uses a particular technique, which could be anything from focusing the mind on a specific object, thought or activity, in order to achieve a calm and clear state of mind. 

Meditation is extremely beneficial for mental health and physical wellness, when practiced regularly. As meditation involves the calming of your thoughts, the slowing of your breath and gentle stretching, meditation reduces blood pressure, stabilise heart rate, ease muscle tension, improve sleep quality, on the physical side.

On the psychological side, meditation reduces stress levels, promote inner peace, helps you find clarity of thought, induces good behavioural traits by making you more aware of situations before you act on them and sharpens your concentration.

If you are a beginner and want to get started with meditation, in this introductory session we break down the best 5 meditation techniques for beginners like you! 

1. Breathing Meditation

This is the easiest way to get start with meditation. It involves an activity that every person does, non-stop, 24/7 - breathing. Here's a step-by-step guide for a simple breathing meditation: 

1) Find a quiet spot where you can meditate without distraction,  sit down in a comfortable position - can be either a cross-legged position on the floor, or just any positions on your comfy chair. 
2) Keep your back straight, to prevent sluggishness or drowsiness from taking over your mind.
3) With your eyes partially closed, start to take deep breaths and focus on the breath cycle - breathe naturally without attempting to forcefully control the breath.
4) Add a 2-second waiting period between your inhale (when your lungs and stomach are full) and your exhale (when they are empty) to slow down your breath cycle. 
5) Focus your mind on how parts of your body react to your breathing. Feel your diaphragm, throat, shoulders shift or any relaxed muscles of your body as you inhale and exhale, to let your muscle reaction occupy your mind.

6) Redirect your wandering mind to your breath pattern. At first your mind may still be distracted by many things, this is natural and don't give up if you're struggling to stay focused. Think of a word or phrase like “breathe” to repeat to yourself when you catch your mind wandering. 

By concentrating on your breath pattern, this technique can calm your mind and give you sensations of peace and tranquility. Recommend to start with a 5-minute short daily practice, then increase gradually to 15 minutes per day. 

2. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is very similar to breathing meditation. Whilst in breathing meditation where the sole focus of the participant is on the breath cycle, in mindfulness meditation, the breath cycle is used as a means to focus the mind and make it situationally aware.

1) Sit in a comfortable posture in a quiet environment. If your attention wanders away, just GENTLY bring it back to your body and the environment. It's very natural that minds wander, so don't be nervous about it, just slowly bring your mind back to the environment again. 
2) Rest your attention lightly (yes, only lightly) on the breath. Don't get caught up in worrying about getting your breath "right". Just let it be whatever it is. 
3) Observe the flow of thoughts running through your mind as it relates to the flow of breath in your nostrils, without any judgement. 
4) Wherever judgement pops up in your mind as a result of your thought stream, make a mental note of it and let it pass by. When you notice that you have gotten so caught up in thoughts that you have forgotten that you're sitting in the room, just gently bring yourself back to the breath again. 

Remember that mindfulness meditation is NOT about getting ourselves to stop thinking. Instead, non-judgement is the essential here - focus on experiencing awareness without judgement, attachment or criticism. Whether you recall some memories, or thinking about plans for the future, fantasies, snatches of jingles from video ads, just let them be and include them in what you notice. 

Recommend to start with a 10-minute daily practice and gradually increase to 30 minutes every day. 

3. Walking Meditation

This type of meditation is a little more involved, as you will be doing a physical activity that requires you keep your eyes open - walking, and takes a bit of practice to get used to.

1) Find a quiet location to walk - this could be a small lane or even the neighbourhood park.
2) Walk at a natural pace. If you find it useful, you can count steps up to 10, and then start back at 1 again. 
With each step, focus on the components governing each step. Notice movement in your legs and the rest of your body. 
3) Next, expand your attention to sounds, without labelling, naming, judging, or getting caught up in whether you find them pleasant or unpleasant. Notice sounds as nothing more or less than sound.
4) Shift your awareness to your sense of smell. Again, just non-judgement notice. Don’t push or force yourself to feel anything at all, just bring attention to the sense of smell. 
5) Move to vision - colours and objects and whatever else you see. Patiently coming back gently each time something grabs your attention, or even if something needs addressing, like avoiding an obstacle. Stay natural, no need to overly rigid, daydream and drift.
6) Now, keep this open awareness of everything around you, wherever you are. Nothing to judge, nothing to fix, nothing to change. 
7) Come back to awareness of the physical sensations of walking, wherever else your mind found itself throughout the practice. Notice the movement of your muscles or the contact of your feet with the ground.

Walking meditation is perfect if you feel stressed in an indoor environment, or do not have the time to practice a sitting form of meditation. The practice of walking meditation can be fitted in to the gaps in our lives easily. Even walking from the office to MRT can be an opportunity for a minute’s walking meditation.

4. Mantra Meditation

Mantra meditation involves the use of a mantra which could be a sacred syllable or word in the Sanskrit language in order to meditate. The word “mantra” comes from a Sanskrit root, means “tool of the mind”.

The main focus of this type of meditation is the repetitive utterance of a mantra as a means of concentration. The repeated utterance of a word focuses the mind on that singular activity, thus blocking distracting thoughts and emotions from taking over your mind.

1) Posture yourself appropriately as with the other meditation techniques. 
2) Pick any mantra which inspires you, and chant it repetitively varying the speed of your chants as well as the loudness or force of your chanting.
Typically, short mantras (one to three syllables long) are often repeated more slowly than phrase-long mantras. If loudness happens naturally, just let it be.
3) You may or may not synchronise the mantra with your breathing. You can use your breath as a means of focusing your chanting. With time, the breathing tends to naturally synchronise with the rhythm of the mantra.

Your mind's task is to actively pay attention to each mantra repetition. Let every repetition be fresh, new, full of awareness. Once again, don't force your mind, this meditation is simply to maintain awareness of the mantra. 

5. Empty Mind Meditation

This might be the most advanced technique of the five, since this involves the ultimate goal of most meditation techniques - an empty mind, a state of no thought. It is a powerful state as you can then focus your mind on any thought, indefinitely. 

1) Posture yourself appropriately as with the other meditation techniques.
2) Use abdominal/belly breathing. Feel your abdomen expand as you inhale, contract as you exhale.
3) Count your breaths from 1 to 9. At 9 begin counting over again at 1.
4) Observe the thoughts passing through your mind, without judgement, until you experience a very small gap between two thoughts where there is no thought.
5) Focus gently in those short gaps, at first they can be very short and it's natural. With time and gentle focus on these gaps, you can make the gaps in the thought stream increase and increase to a point where no thoughts remain.

This technique was used by Buddha to achieve enlightenment. It has been used successfully by millions of meditators since to achieve a calmer state of mind.