An introduction to meditation
Meditation is a primary feature of Buddhism (certainly as practised in the West), and has benefits for people in their day to day life. It can be used as a means of relaxation, to help beat the stresses of modern lifestyles.
If you want to take up meditation in the style of a particular school of Buddhism, you should find an authorised teacher who can give you instruction and advice. This is particularly important with some forms of Buddhist meditation, such as Rinzai Zen and some Tibetan Tantric visualisations.
But if you have no teachers in your area or you just want to use mediation as a relaxation technique, or just have a taster, you can practice a simple technique such as Mindfulness of Breathing.
Pick a time when your surroundings are quiet. Choose a pleasant room, perhaps with dimmed lighting if you prefer. Some people like to light some candles and incense, and sit in front of a statue or picture - to make the occasion special.
You can meditate lying down, standing still, walking or sitting. Most people prefer to sit. There are several sitting postures - lotus, half-lotus, kneeling, using a bench, sitting on an ergonomic chair, or just sitting on a chair. You do not have to tie your legs in knots to meditate, sitting in a normal chair does not mean you will never become enlightened! But it is important to be in stable position and to sit up as straight as you can and be alert. So if you sit in a chair, place your feet firmly on the ground and sit towards the front of it, rather than slump against the back. Sitting in a slumped posture dulls the mind and makes you feel tired. Ideally try to get your hips slightly higher than your knees, by using a cushion. Close you eyes if you like (most people do). Place your hands comfortably in your lap or on your knees.
Bring you attention to your posture, mentally scan through your body to see if there is any tension or discomfort; if you find any tension, readjust your posture and relax the muscles. Pay particular attention to the shoulders, neck, face and forehead. Then bring your attention to you breathing and count your breaths from one to nine. Count the in-breath or out-breath, at the tip of your nose or as your chest rises and falls - which ever seems most natural to you. Just breathe naturally, it is not an exercise in some deep breathing technique. When you get to nine start counting from one again. If you loose count or you mind drifts off into a chain of thoughts then very gently bring your attention back to the breathing and start counting again. Do not get angry or annoyed with yourself, everyone's mind will drift off into thought, many times.
When you end you mediation, gently bring your attention back to your body and your surroundings, and get up gently and have a stretch. Don't end the meditation suddenly!
This kind of mediation is not an endurance test. So do not try to sit for too long, if get cramp or numbness adjust your posture or stop. But it is good to set yourself a realistic time for the meditation, start with 5 or 10 minutes and build it up. Do not sit for more than 40 minutes without a break! If you start to experience strong emotional or mental problems stop and seek the help of a teacher before you start to meditate again. Do not meditate just after a meal, digesting the food will make you sleepy. Do not drink alcohol or strong coffee beforehand either.
There are lots of other meditation techniques, Buddhist and non-Buddhist; they can also be found in books about stress management. Do give them a try, and it is worth making an effort to do each one for a week or two, so you can find the good and bad points. You will eventually find one that will suit you, or several that can be used beneficially in different situations. You may like to establish a routine and regular time(s) of the day for your meditation.
You may find that you do some of them naturally already, for example: - taking a deep breath and counting to ten when someone annoys you, counting sheep to help you relax before you go to sleep, sitting down and listening to a favourite piece of relaxing music or just thinking through something that happened during the day and planning how you could have handled it better.
Other forms of Meditation
To obtain mediation instruction in a particular Buddhist Tradition you could contact some of the Buddhist Groups in and around Hull or search the web.