My introduction to meditation came through doing a recorded guided meditation. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in meditation at all. I was interested in controlling the thick, sticky webs of anxiety that were hemming me in.
I was in my mid twenties and in early recovery from alcohol / drug addiction. The guided meditation helped. I soon started collecting recordings that had ‘stress relief’ in the title and listened to them almost daily for a few years, until I walked into a meditation group and began a more formal sitting meditation practice.
After a long break I’ve rediscovered guided meditations over the last four years or so. Last year I began training as an I-Rest Yoga Nidra teacher. Guided meditations are again a daily part of my life, and they work beautifully as a component of my meditation practice.
Guided meditations can provide a deep and powerful practice. This means it’s worth taking the time to set up your experience so you get the most possible benefit. So let’s look at some ways you can get the most out of doing guided meditations.
What is a guided meditation?
A guided meditation is a meditation you do with the help of a guide. The guide may be in the room with you giving verbal directions, or you might listen to instructions through an audio recording.
In this post we’ll be focusing on how to get the most out of a guided meditation recording.
The role of the guide is to support you in moving through a meditation process from start to finish in a safe and helpful way. Even in a regular meditation practice there is usually some form of guidance going on—meetings with a teacher, classes and discussions, readings.
The main difference is that on a guided meditation, the guidance is an in-the-moment affair. The guide is right there with you, in a sense, as you go through the experience.
Having a practice that combines guided and non-guided meditation sessions is like a form of spiritual cross-training. Both sides of the equation are enhanced.
Set an intention for your practice
As you are getting ready to do your guided meditation take some time to reflect on what you are hoping to get from your practice. Imagine that you have been using guided meditations for a while, what are some of the changes you imagine might happening for you as a result? Go over your answers and choose any that appeal to you. These can serve as seeds your starting intention.
Briefly imagine what it would be like if these desired results come through. What would it feel like? What subtle changes would you notice? Is there something different the people closest to you might notice if you these things started happening for you?
Once you know what you would like to get from your guided meditations, then your intention becomes clearer. Perhaps your intention is to create some kind of lasting change, to ‘feel calmer’ or ‘have more energy’. You might simply want an enjoyable experience.
Having an intention for your guided meditation practice can be helpful when it comes to choosing your meditation, and can help you keep motivated to do the guided meditation regularly.
If you journal, write your intention down. A line or two is plenty. What you are wanting is to bring that intention into the world and affirm it.
Writing down your intention is also useful as you can come back later and reflect on how it’s going. You can determine if anything has changed, or been clarified, about your intention. This allows you to refine your practice as you go.
Find a guided meditation recording that suits you.
I learned the importance of this the hard way after purchasing a few ‘unlistenable’ guided meditations.
Listening to a guided meditation is an act of trust. You are relaxing some of your defenses and agreeing to be led through a process,. To do this it’s important that you feel comfortable with both the process and the person leading it.
Always try to access a preview of any meditation you are interested in buying or downloading. That way you can listen to a few minutes of the audio and decide if it’s suitable for you.
What to listen for:
Is the guide’s voice soothing or comfortable? Is it annoying in some way? Is there any background music / background sounds? How do you feel when you hear them? Soothed? Inspired? Annoyed?
This is important, because you don’t want to be lying there rolling your eyes and arguing with the guide as you meditate. You want to be able to let go and be fully with the meditation. If a preview annoys you then it’s going to be difficult to give all your attention to the meditation.
Also check for periods of silence between the instructions. A skillful guide allows you some space to feel the meditation process. There should be a nice rhythm between verbal guidance and silent spaces for you to experience, and get the fruits of, that guidance.
What imagery or themes are covered? Imagery is often a key part of guided meditations. You can usually get a sense of what imagery might be in the meditation by reading the description, or from the cover art.
And finally, does it fit with the intention you set in the first step?
If you are wanting to feel less anxious, does this seem like the kind of meditation that will help you with that? If you wanted an enjoyable experience, does it seem like a meditation that will give you this experience?
Create A Safe and Nurturing Container For Yourself
You’ve thought about what you want from your guided meditation, you’ve chosen your recording, now it’s time to create a container for your experience.
Can you find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. You might think of it as your own personal oasis tucked away in the middle of your day.
You want to dive into this experience fully.
Make your meditation space beautiful and nourishing for you. Eventually you will develop associations with the place you do your guided meditations. Over time, as you lie or sit down to do the meditation you are rewiring your neural networks and soon enough just the act of preparing for your session will shift you into a relaxed and receptive state.
Make yourself Comfortable
Now that you have your space set up, it’s time to get your body taken care of and ready to go.
Make yourself comfortable. Not too comfortable though, unless you want to go to sleep. Find a middle balance between too squishy and too hard. I like to lie on the floor in a darkened room with a yoga mat and a blanket over me.
Some other options might include: a comfortable chair, eye pillow, bolsters, cushions, a folded up towel or thin pillow under head.
During The Meditation
The most important thing you can do during the meditation is to relax and enjoy the meditation as much as you can. This is not meant to be hard work, and you can’t really get it wrong.
Occasionally you will drift off during a meditation, that’s perfectly okay. It’s also okay to make it easier for you to stay focused and aware during the meditation process.
A Simple Trick To Avoid Drifting Off
Remember earlier, when I suggested you listen to a preview to see if the guide’s voice is a fit for you? If you did that then this tip will be much easier to follow.
As you listen to the voice, imagine it is an internal voice in your head. This helps to minimise thinking and distractions as you follow the meditation. It requires trust in the person doing the meditation, and that you are comfortable with the person’s voice/mannerisms etc.
Adopting the guide’s voice like this takes a layer of thinking out of the process. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, then definitely don’t. But if you do, it can really deepen your experience.
Ease Back Into Your Day
We’ve looked at the preparation process before the meditation and how that helps. Just as important is the process of transitioning back into your day after the meditation.
Allow yourself some time to come out of the meditation. Guided mediations can be very powerful, you need to integrate the practice and feel fully prepared to move back into your day.
Specific actions like having a few moments to stretch your body, or wash your face, maybe have a sip of water. Even packing away your things can serve as a useful transition ritual. Any kind of movement works.
I like to walk around a little, to ground myself by putting my awareness down into the feet and walking a little. Physical actions are great because they ground you back into the physical world.
I also find it helpful to say something out loud like: “I am now stepping back into my day.” Or “This meditation is now complete.”
It doesn’t take much to get you ready, but it is important to take one or two clear actions that say “I am moving onto the next thing.”
A Final Guided Meditation Tip
Just a final point if you are thinking of doing guided meditations as a regular thing.
It’s good to try a few different options and develop a feel for what you like, but once you have a couple of guided meditations that really work for you stick with them for a while.
A good guided meditation can be useful over a period of time, I like to spend a t least a month or so regularly doing a guided meditation before moving onto a new one.
If you jump around too much you miss out on this deepening aspect of the practice. And remember, if you’re interested in meditation you probably have a desire to settle, to ground deeply, and investigate. Bring that sense of grounded-ness to your guided meditation practice and you will see the benefits over time.
I hope this is helpful to you. Do you do guided meditations? If so, maybe you could share some things that have helped you get the most out of your practice. Let us know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!