Many people swear by guided meditation as a way to boost overall wellbeing and mental health. But how does it work? What are the benefits of meditation?
Guided meditation is just one branch of mindfulness practice. It’s regarded as one of the most accessible forms of meditation, especially for beginners, as the practitioner is guided through the process, usually by the teacher’s voice. Benefits of guided meditation include reducing stress and anxiety. According to the charity Mind, one in four people experience mental health issues each year in England. It’s no wonder we are seeking better ways to strengthen and maintain our mental health. Read on to discover what guided meditation is and how it works.
The ancient practice of meditation – training your awareness and attention – is believed to have originated in India several thousand years ago, and traditionally has strong religious ties to Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and other faiths. In recent years, it has gained enormous mainstream appeal for its many nurturing health benefits, both mental and physical, and is now practiced by millions of people around the world. The goal of meditation isn’t to clear your thoughts (which can be a common misconception), but instead to learn how to observe your wandering thoughts as they pass, without any judgement.
In a guided meditation, an experienced teacher leads you through the meditation practice step by step, usually focusing on a particular technique (perhaps breathing exercises, visualisation, a body scan or a repeated mantra). While there’s no specific way to ‘meditate properly’, newcomers will find guided meditation especially rewarding – the expert voice helps you maximise the benefits of meditation and sessions often end with tips on how to carry those learnings into the rest of your day. Teachers can guide you in person at a studio class, over a live digital session, or via pre-recorded app, video or podcast. With time, you might move onto unguided, silent meditation, which is practiced independently.
Meditation brings your attention to the present moment and develops mindfulness, the ability to be focused on the here and now. This can help with managing stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. Meditation is also thought to boost happiness, self-confidence and focus, as well as kindness, patience and a feeling of calm. There may also be knock-on physical benefits, such as reducing inflammation or chronic pain.
A step-by-step guided meditation allows you to become immersed in the moment without the pressure to lead the practice, focus on your technique or worry about any other elements – you simply follow your teacher’s lead. Through guided meditation, you’ll also work out which techniques work best for you and pick up options to use independently further down the road.
The key for anyone getting started is to set aside a time for meditating that suits you. Finding a regular, consistent time of day to meditate will help you keep up and develop your practice, whether that means a specific in-studio class or an allocated 10 minutes at home. Most people find meditating first thing in the morning or just before bed most convenient, when there are fewer distractions and other commitments jostling for attention. Evening meditation can help you relax into better sleep, while morning sessions have the benefit of starting the day on a positive note.
Most meditation techniques are anchored in the breath; it’s best to begin with short meditations (around five minutes) and build your practice gradually, just as you would with exercising a muscle. To get started, find a relaxing space free from distractions. Switch off your phone or pop it on airplane mode. Sit comfortably and straighten your upper body without forcing it. You can even lie down, if you like. Then focus on your breath, observe the present moment and let your teacher lead you into the guided meditation.
Guided meditation has never been more accessible. You can find courses in retreats all over the world. If you’re based in the US or the UK, you might be interested in learning more about Culture Trip’s own range of meditation retreats, based in the Hudson Valley, Lake Tahoe and the UK’s Thames Valley.
You might also enjoy the joint focus and community feel of a virtual group meditation class. Hugely popular meditation apps, such as Insight Timer, Calm and Headspace, are the ideal place to start. They offer dedicated meditations for specific issues (such as difficulty sleeping, improving focus or increasing productivity) and for varied levels of experience, whether you’re looking for a two-minute beginner taster or an advanced practice. These apps cover everything from breathing exercises to sleep stories to calming soundscapes, and are packed with daily reminders and practical tips. You’ll find similar resources through music-streaming services, video websites and podcasts, as well as an ever-growing number of mindfulness websites.