Do you want to learn how to meditate for beginners?
Meditation has seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years. Ask anyone and they’ve surely heard of meditation, or are trying to learn how to meditate for beginners.
But, far from being a trend, meditation is an ancient art that extends back thousands of years. Only now, are modern sciences beginning to validate the positive effects and benefits that are possible from the simple act of meditation.
The question is: how to meditate for beginners in a way that’s fun and becomes a lifelong habit?
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about meditation and how you can start your own meditation practice today.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is an old-school practice that’s seen a resurgence in popularity. Meditation is the art of mental stillness. It’s a practice that can enable a host of benefits from enhanced clarity, to reduced stress, increased happiness, and in the far reaches of the practice even enlightenment.
Meditation has been practiced by a variety of religious traditions over the years. Including Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Christianity. There are literally hundreds of different styles of meditation and meditation techniques you can practice. Some are even conflicting ideas.
This article on beginner meditation will help you navigate through the sea of meditation information available and give you an overarching view of what meditation actually is, the best ways for beginners to develop a practice, as well as, a simple practice for getting started in less than five minutes.
Going deep into meditation can involve signing up for group classes, reading dozens of books, or even just taking one or two minutes to sit in silence. But, being busy isn’t an excuse that should stop you from meditating.
The goal of this post isn’t to compare and contrast varying styles of meditation, or make value claims about which technique is best, but simply to provide you with a bird’s-eye-view of meditation, its benefits, and a simple practice for laying the meditation habit.
You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” — Zen proverb
When you think of meditation it’s easy to immediately think of a monk meditating high up in the mountains of Tibet, wrapped in traditional robes, with a handful of rosary beads. Or, maybe it makes you think of a group of people toting yoga mats on their way to another festival. However, the image of meditation expands well beyond these stereotypes. It’s a truly valuable practice that can bring a myriad of benefits into your life.
Meditation doesn’t even have to be about spirituality or religion. It can be an entirely secular practice, whose main goal is to help you get more from life. Meditation can be thought of as a mental practice that will help to strengthen your mind. A lot of us spend time going to the gym to tone our bodies, but do we also spend time in the meditation gym, toning our minds?
The practice of meditation will help you start to bring your own thoughts and feelings into your awareness, so they no longer lurk behind the scenes. It can be used as a tool to help you examine who you really are and what your place is in the world. It can also help to cultivate feelings of gratitude and compassion. It helps to remove the fog that surrounds your vision in everyday life, so you can truly start to see and appreciate life for what it really is.
Think of it as a way to see the world clearly, instead of seeing through the filter of a cloudy and judgement-filled mind.
Meditation is a practice that dates back thousands of years. Something that has been studied and practiced for that long must have some validity to it right?
Well, Buddhists and other meditation practitioners have known about these benefits for years. Recently, we’re seeing modern science begin to validate some of the benefits that have been purported so long ago.
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
Meditation and concentration are the way to a life of serenity.” – Ram Dass
Why would you even consider creating a meditation practice? I’m glad you asked 😉 There are countless reasons to meditate. Some are more spiritual leaning, like achieving inner peace, while others lean towards realizing tangible health benefits. Such as, using meditation for sleep, as a relaxation technique for anxiety, or even using it to relieve common symptoms of depression.
Obviously, if something has been practiced for thousands of years, then there must be some central reason. Today, modern science is catching up with what the ancients have known for years. Below we dive into a few of the most common benefits you’ll start to realize in your life when you take up a regular meditation practice.
If you’re reading this, then I’m sure you’re ready to unlock the power of meditation in your own life. It can help you feel calm, collected, and more grounded. It can promote clearer thinking and help you process your emotions.
If meditation becomes just another thing to add to the list, then it’s going to be difficult to stick with. Meditation is still beneficial if you do it every once in awhile, but the real benefits start to kick in once you make meditation a regular habit. Even something as simple as five-minutes a day can start to have profound effects over time.
1. It Reduces Stress
Meditation can greatly benefit those who suffer from stress and anxiety. A lot of issues with anxiety can actually stem from overactive thinking. Instead of being able to watch your thoughts float on by, you end up getting swept up in their current.
Meditation is one of the best ways to develop stress resilience. What is stress resilience? Basically, it’s how much stress you can handle without being thrown off center. Think of it as the ability to remain cool and collected as the storm of life continues to swirl all around you.
For people that are so creative and have this kind of creative faucet that never turns off – it just continues and continues – it can be a little exhausting. And meditation is actually the one time I get to really reset.” — Katy Perry, singer/songwriter
The amygdala is the region of the brain that’s associated with stress and anxiety. Research has found that regular meditation will actually reduce the gray matter in this region of the brain, which means that your overall response to stress will decrease.
Also, since meditation is such a great stress reliever, it can also help to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
2. Increases Focus and Productivity
Our world is more distracted than ever before. Chances are you’ve gotten distracted from this post multiple times. Distraction is slowly becoming the new norm in our modern culture. Meditation is a simple and effective method for improving focus and productivity. Think about it, meditation helps to reduce stress and promote clear thinking. This combination makes it much easier for you to focus on the task at hand.
In fact, recent research from INSEAD business school found that by doing just 15 minutes of mindfulness-based meditation a day you can improve your ability to make rational business decisions.
Meditation helps to reduce the monkey-mind chatter that plagues so much of our daily lives. Instead of letting your thoughts spin out of control, you can learn to let them float on by, which leaves you level-headed and makes it much easier to focus.
3. Improves Your Memory
Recent research has found that meditation will actually increase the amount of gray matter throughout your brain in the areas such as, memory, emotions, speech, and sensory perception. Recent research from Havard found that those who practiced simple mindfulness meditation saw an increase in growth of the hippocampus. One of the vital areas of the brain that’s associated with learning and memory formation.
Meditation can also help to protect against age-related mental decline. When we get older the frontal cortex of our brain can shrink in size, which can cause a host of memory-related issues. However, having a regular mindfulness practice can actually help to slow the thinning process.
4. Enables Creative Thinking
Who wouldn’t love to be more creative? Creativity isn’t just for artists. In the world we live in today creative thinking and ways of living are more in demand than any other time in history. Creativity can extend into your home budget, into how you cook and plan meals, into your latest marketing strategy, or even new date ideas.
Creativity extends into all aspects of our lives. By priming the creative pump you’ll feel yourself taking less common approaches to everyday tasks. In the business world, you’ll make yourself indispensable.
A recent study from Leiden University found that certain types of meditation actually caused more creative thinking to occur. Meditation changes how we think about things. Participants in the study who meditated were able to come up with more uses of a common object than those who didn’t.
5. Increases Your Levels of Compassion and Gratitude
Meditation actually alters how we perceive and treat those around us. In a growing, hyper-connected, and perhaps more aggressive world, we’re in desperate lack of greater empathy and compassion. Luckily, we might have the cure we need.
Recent studies have shown that individuals who meditate demonstrate greater levels of compassion, empathy, and self-sacrifice, than those who do not. Even if you set out to meditate for the sole reason of reducing stress you’ll begin to experience these positive byproducts. It seems that the peace you develop in yourself will begin to extend outward into those you engage with on the day to day.
Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are.” – Pema Chodron
Being grateful for you current situation in life has a host of positive benefits in and of itself. The practice of meditation (and especially gratitude meditation), can help to put your gratitude muscle to work more frequently. The habit of gratitude is one of the best skills to immediately extract more joy and happiness from your life.
6. Makes You Happier
Although there’s no tangible data that can “prove” that meditation makes you happier, we can make the connection that knowing yourself on a deeper level, experiencing less stress and anxiety, and having a calmer approach to life can all work together to make you a happier person.
Traditions such a Buddhism all have images of the laughing Buddha. In fact, the goal of traditions, such as Vipassana, have the goal that meditation will help to bring a certain awareness and equanimity to your daily life.
It’s near impossible to disagree that feeling greater levels of joy, compassion, love, empathy, and calmness, while reducing levels of stress, anxiety, and negative thinking, won’t lead to a happier life. The mind is our main control panel for life. By taking the time to refine our minds we allow a more effortless and joyful life to develop around us—who wouldn’t want that?
7. Brings You Into the Present
Do you have trouble letting go of the past? Or, do you constantly find yourself ruminating over things that happened months or years ago? Meditation can help you notice when you’re over-thinking, so you can then consciously direct your attention to other things. Instead, of constantly thinking about the mistake you made yesterday, or the embarrassing thing you did two weeks ago, you can create some distance between these disempowering thoughts.
So often we find our day to day lives filled with stressful and anxious thoughts that bring us out of the present and into the non-existent past or future. When we spend our days living in these false worlds we’re never actually living. We’re simply inhabiting an in-between space that isn’t wholly real. And we wonder why it feels like so much of our life has “passed us by”.
Meditation is a gateway to the present. The only real (and fleeting) moment that actually exists.
8. Helps You Do Away With Anger and Irritability
Angry or irritable? Meditation can help with that. Often when you’re angry or irritable you’ll end up saying things that you don’t really mean. With a regular meditation practice you’ll have the ability to recognize a lot of these thoughts before they become directed outward.
Like we mentioned above, meditation helps to build compassion and empathy, both of which work together to counteract anger before it develops.
How To Meditate for Beginners: Learn to Quickly Cultivate Your Own Meditation Practice
Mastering the art of meditation isn’t something you need to worry about immediately. Meditation is called a practice for a reason. Often, a lifelong one. You aren’t going to experience states of deep bliss the first time you meditate, it’s near impossible. However, just like anything in your life you will get better with time.
However, meditation can be a difficult thing to get started with when you’re in the initial stages. The two biggest hurdles you’ll have to overcome in the beginning are meditation seeming like just another thing you “have” to be doing, like exercise and eating healthy, and, meditation seeming like too daunting of a task to become good at.
Don’t let these deter you, the longer you meditate the easier it’ll become and the more benefits you’ll realize in your life.
So, what is meditation?
The textbook definition of meditation is as follows:
To think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation. – Dictionary
This definition actually mirrors pretty closely the practice you’re going to be partaking in.
Learning how to meditate properly is more about commitment than anything else. Setting a little time aside each day for yourself, your happiness, and your own personal growth.
Below we outline a process that’ll give you all of the foundational knowledge you’ll need to build a sustainable (and even enjoyable) meditation practice, so you can learn how to do meditation the right way.
1. Preparing for Meditation
The foundation you lay for your meditation sessions is crucial when you first begin meditating. You’re going to be dealing with a much more rabid mind, so it’s important to reduce resistance as much as possible. The steps below will help you get much more out of your meditation practice and make it much easier when you’re first starting your practice.
Choose Your Environment Wisely
It can be very helpful to dedicate a section of your home, or a corner of your room to regular meditation. Find a place in your home that’s going to be free from distraction. Having a meditation zone will make it much easier to focus over time. Your brain will begin to build associations with the space, which makes it much easier to drop into a meditative state of mind.
For example, when we go to the gym we’re much more likely to workout, as opposed to trying to force yourself to workout from home. You’d feel awfully silly going to the gym, only to lounge around in your sweatpants, staring at your phone.
By creating a meditation space you can develop that initial motivation. This can greatly help to overcome some of the initial hurdles that beginner meditators feel.
When choosing your environment pick a place that’s going to be as free from distractions as possible. If your home is crazy, then try to pick a time when there’s going to be some peace and quiet throughout your home.
It can be helpful to invest in a meditation cushion, or stool, which will help to create a sense of space for you to return to every single day.
However, this step isn’t 100% percent necessary. One of the benefits of meditation is its convenience. It can be done anywhere, at any time. So, if you want to meditate every day, while sitting on your bed, or in your favorite chair, then that’s perfect. Just make sure it’s something you’re going to stick with.
What’s Your Intention?
Before you begin meditating it can be helpful to find your why.
What initially drew you to meditation? What do you want to get out of your practice?
This can change from the day to day. For instance, you might have come to meditation simply to relieve stress, or boost your creativity, but over time, this might become a way for you to feel more spiritually connected.
Track your motivations over time, and keep them in check. There are always a million excuses to not meditate, but your intention and overarching goals can help you stay on track.
You might even give the first few minutes of your meditation to a dedicated contemplation and spend this time letting your mind think on a certain problem, issue, goal, or dream in your life.
Start As Small As Possible
The easiest way to begin meditation is to focus on your breath.
One of the best ways to begin meditating is to start small. As small as possible. You don’t need to automatically jump into the big leagues and set aside a half hour or more every single day.
Time also seems to expand when you sit down to meditate. A simple five minute session can seem to take hours, especially if you’ve never really taken the time to be alone with your thoughts before.
Most people who begin meditating, and actually stick with their practice over time started by setting aside just 3-5 minutes every single day. Every person has at least three minutes of free time every day! When you have a very small commitment, this makes it easier to follow through with every single day. Then, once you’ve built the habit, it’s much easier to expand and slowly grow your practice until you’re meditating up to an hour a day.
The moment your timer goes off and you open your eyes can truly be an incredible experience. For a moment, or perhaps longer, you’ll see the world fresh and new. You might notice that your life flows a little easier and you’re more present in your life throughout the day.
2. Set Your Expectations
It’s easy to expect to immediately relax into feelings of bliss, relaxation, and achieve lasting inner peace the first time you meditate. After all, those are the images that are usually associated with meditation, meditators, and monks.
But, these original intentions don’t paint the picture of the whole truth. Our minds are naturally messy places, especially, when we haven’t been meditating to tidy them up. During your meditation it can be completely natural to feel anxious, frustrated, sad, bored, or even feel pain throughout your legs and body.
If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.” – Pema Chodron
Feelings like these tend to bubble up more frequently in the beginning and they tend to dissipate with time. You also begin to learn how to more easily avoid attachment to your feelings and thoughts and let them pass by without judgement.
The best way to begin meditating is with a clean slate. Take the beginner’s mind approach that’s often talked about in Zen. Throw out your original expectations, thoughts, and beliefs on the subject. They won’t do you any good.
Instead, just focus on watching everything that arises when you meditate. Your job is to watch your thoughts and feelings like a projector on a movie screen. Don’t get caught up worrying whether or not you’re doing it right. If you’re sitting, paying attention to your breath, and bringing yourself back to your object of focus whenever you wander off, then you’re meditating.
Let it go.
3. Choose Your Meditation Posture
The posture you choose when meditating will depend upon your overall flexibility and how long you’ve been meditating. For some people sitting cross-legged won’t pose any issues. But, other people might not be able to sit comfortably for that long and it’ll be nothing more than a mere distraction.
Basic meditation posture is as follows, but if you can’t sustain that position comfortably, then check out the alternatives we’ve listed below.
Basic Meditation Posture
One of the most basic meditation postures will have you sitting cross-legged on the floor. Your spine is straight, yet not so straight that you feel yourself tensing up. A bit of advice from ancient traditions is to imagine your spine is as straight as an arrow, or a stack of coins.
Tuck your chin down, so you feel the back of your neck in alignment with the rest of your spine. It can even be helpful to have your back against a wall when you’re first beginning, until your body is used to sitting in this position.
Your hands will either be resting palms up or palms down on the tops of your knees, with a slight bend in your elbow. There are other variations in this, but this is a great position to start with.
It’s natural to tense your shoulder and neck area, so make sure you bring your attention to these areas and consciously relax them.
Finally, you’ll focus your gaze in front of you. Relax your eyes and even close them, depending on the style of meditation you’re doing.
Keeping your eyes slightly open can help when you’re first starting, as it’ll help focus your mind and you’ll be less likely to wander off.
Chair Meditation Posture
If you can’t sit cross-legged on the ground and have a stable chair available, then you might want to use this posture to start. You assume the same back, neck, shoulder, hand, and eyes postures as above, but instead of having your legs crossed you have your feet firmly planted on the floor.
Make sure that your shins and quads make a 90 degree angle, and your feet are fully planted on the floor. Your goal should be to feel as stable as possible.
Meditation cushions and meditation stools can be used to make your meditation posture more comfortable. Meditation cushions are specially designed for meditation and help to raise your spine six inches to a foot. This helps to take pressure of your legs and can allow you to sit for a longer period of time. If you’re interested in buying a meditation cushion we recommend the Zafu meditation cushion, while for meditation stools we recommend this one.
Meditation stools act in a similar manner. They allow you to assume a kneeling posture, while at the same time raising your spine. For some people, this puts a little too much pressure on their knees, but other people love it.
If you have a hard time sitting regularly, then try out one of these for a better meditation. After all, the more comfortable your body the easier it’ll be to relax your mind.
Rest your hands on top of your knees and breathe into your belly.
If you have back problems and prolonged sitting is a problem for you, then try a standing meditation.
In this pose you’ll have your feet about shoulder width apart with your hands by your sides. It’s important not to force your body and hold yourself rigid. Relax your shoulders and let your feet sink into the ground. Take a few deep breaths to really get all the tension out
It can also be helpful to start by having your eyes open, as we have a tendency to sway when we close our eyes.
If sitting and standing prove to be too difficult you can meditate while lying flat on your back. The only danger of this pose is falling asleep. For this reason it’s recommended to do this style of meditation on the hard floor instead of on your comfortable bed.
Lie with your back flat out on the floor, your hands slightly out to the sides, and your legs straight with a slight separation. Let your entire body relax into the floor and make sure you keep your chin tucked in.
Like the standing posture above it’s recommended to mediate with your eyes open to prevent yourself from falling asleep. Set a timer for the time you decided upon above. And assume the meditation position.
4. Learning to Let the Breath Guide You
You can either keep your eyes partially opened with a soft gaze, or have them closed. For those who are just beginning, it can be easier to have your eyes open and haven’t yet experienced the onslaught of your thoughts. Just make sure there’s nothing distracting in your field of vision.
Once you’ve assumed your preferred meditation posture, connect with your breath and be aware of it’s natural movement. Your breath will be your guide throughout your meditation practice. It’s the one constant you will bring your attention back to when your mind wanders off.
Just sit and observe your breath for a few moments, you aren’t going to intentionally breathe in a specific manner. Just let your breath follow its natural course. However, if you are a shallow breather, meaning you only breathe from the top of your lungs, then you’ll want to purposefully breathe deeply into the bottom of your belly.
These deep and relaxing breaths trigger a relaxation response throughout your entire body, instead of the shallow breathing you might be used to.
Become familiar with your breath and its cycle. Cultivate awareness to how your body breathes without you having to do anything. Become aware of the sensations of the breath entering and exiting your nostrils.
A great tool to help sustain your attention in the beginning stages is to count your breath. You can either count on the in-breath or the out-breath, it doesn’t matter. Once you’ve reached a count of ten, then start again from the beginning. Over time you won’t have the need to count your breaths anymore, and simply paying attention to the breath will be enough.
To sum up:
- Close your eyes, or keep a relaxed gaze
- Take a few deep breathes through your nostrils to relax
- Pay attention to the sensation of the breath
- Count to ten (each breath cycle counts as one)
- Repeat until your timer goes off
- Bring your attention to your breath whenever your mind wanders off
5. Being Free From Judgement
Don’t bring any self-judgement to your practice. Worry that you’re doing it wrong will only induce more clouded thinking. If you’re sitting (or standing) and are focusing on your breath, then you’re doing it right.
Meditation might seem like an incredibly simple thing to do. From the outside you’re doing nothing more than simply sitting. However, those who have started to practice realize just how much work meditation can actually be. But, the longer you stick with your practice the easier it’ll become and the more rewards you’ll start to see. Think of it like any other positive practice you started in your life, whether that was starting to eat healthy, quitting smoking, training for a marathon, or building a regular fitness habit.
You’ll experience resistance anytime you start something new in your life. That’s why it’s important to start small. The secret to building a successful habit is starting small and only expanding with time.
A lot of beginner meditators think that the goal of meditation is to be free of al thoughts. Having this intention can actually be damaging, because you’ll end up thinking you’re meditating wrong, because you can’t turn off the flow of thoughts.
Or, they’ll beat themselves up, because they keep losing their focus, and start to get wrapped up in their thinking. Both of these are completely normal. A better goal to start with is simply getting better at noticing whenever your focus has trailed off.
Becoming aware of your thoughts is one of the first main challenges of meditation. Also, this is one of the first skills you’ll be able to develop that will translate into other areas of your life.
6. Conclude Your Session
It can be helpful to have something that concludes your session. Sure, you might want to hop off the meditation cushion and jump into your day, but it’s important to recognize those first few moments of peace.
When you open your eyes, or your timer goes off, let yourself enjoy those first moments of peace before your thoughts and the stresses of the day come roaring back in. This feeling can be a safe haven and let you start to experience what’ll it’ll be like to maintain a meditative mind more frequently.
Some people prefer to bow their heads, or do something symbolic to close the meditation. Be grateful that you took this time to do something positive for yourself, that you followed through with your commitment, and you’re building your self-trust muscle.
6. Are You Wandering Off? (Tips to Help Focus)
Wandering off is completely normal. Since one of the main goals of meditation is cultivating awareness that you’re lost in thought. You’re attempting to create some space between you and your thoughts.
When you’re first starting to meditate focus is going to be difficult. But, don’t let this discourage you, it’s all part of the process. In the beginning that what and how of meditation doesn’t matter as much as actually doing it and putting in the time. Below we offer a few tips to help you focus more easily:
1. Don’t Worry About Having a “Clear Mind”
Many people think that meditation is all about having a completely empty mind. Sometimes, you might slip into this state, but it shouldn’t be the goal of your meditation. Putting too much focus on having an empty mind can add unnecessary stress to your meditation.
It’s okay for your mind to wander, just notice it, and bring it back to your breath.
2. Always Come Back to Counting
If you’re having a difficult time following your in-breath and out-breath, then resort to regular cycles of counting. Internally saying a number makes it easier to lose your focus.
3. Bodily Comfort Matters
When you’re first starting don’t worry about cultivating the “perfect” space, your couch, floor, or bed will do just fine. Just make sure you’re comfortable. Use one of the postures above and settle into one that feels best for your body.
Being too tight will only add unnecessary stress to your meditation. You can adjust into more difficult postures with time, as your ability to focus expands.
4. Don’t Become Too Rigorous
Try not to be to rigid with your meditation. Positive habits should be fun. By getting too serious about your meditation you take out the flexibility that’s commonly associated with the meditative mind. For instance, if you can’t meditate in your go to spot, then find somewhere new.
5. Follow a Guided Meditation
Guided meditations will outsource your focus in the beginning. If you’re truly struggling to focus and find a moment of peace in your meditation, then this can be a great place to start. There are a variety of guided meditations to choose from, and many for very specific purposes. We’ll have another post up on this soon, but for now we recommend trying out an app like OmWave of Headspace.
6. Get Into Your Body
Most of us spend our entire lives in our heads. We rarely spent time getting into our body. If you’re having a hard time with your mind and stream of thoughts, just shift your attention. Do a body scan starting at the top of your head, and work your way all the way down to your toes, focusing and relaxing every single body part.
When you return to your mind you may notice it’s much easier to focus once your body has settled.
7. Become Curious About the Experience
If you can’t focus and are struggling to control your mind, then let it run wild. But, instead of getting swept up in the thoughts think of it as a time to get curious about who you are and how your mind works.
Follow all of your crazy random thoughts, see what feelings and thoughts you tend to avoid, follow your thoughts down different nooks and crannies. It might seem overwhelming, but letting your flow of thinking guide you might uncover some interesting bits wisdom about yourself.
Meditation is all about self-examination after all.
The 5-Minute Meditation Plan
How to start meditating in the simplest manner possible.
We know there’s a lot of information to digest in this post. To make it easy on you we’ve included this section that takes all of the above information and condenses it into a very simple meditation you can do in 5 minutes.
So, whether you’re in the car before work, are about to make a tough phone call, only have a tiny bit of time in morning, or are looking for a quick way to relieve some stress. This simple meditation can be in your back pocket during times of need. To get started just follow the simple five step process below.
- Choose your position. This can either be sitting, standing, or lying down.
- Set a timer to five minutes. Close your eyes, or take a relaxed gaze.
- Take a deep breath and slowly release any tension throughout your body. Just bring your awareness to the tight places and consciously breathe into them.
- Bring your awareness back to your breath. Follow the breath in and out of your nose. Bring your attention back whenever you find yourself distracted.
- Continue to bring yourself back to your breathe until the timer goes off. That’s it!
The Importance of Building the Meditation Habit
Building great habits can be an incredibly powerful tool to transform your life. Learning how to effectively meditate at home, or another quiet place is all about laying down the foundation for a solid habit.
That way meditation will become a part of your life and you won’t have to force yourself to sit down and meditate every single day.
As you know (if you made it this far in the post) there are a ton of different ways to meditate. However, it’s not that important to find the “perfect” form of meditation for you. Those simply exist as ways to expand and freshen your practice with time, and also as a way to build new skills and traits.
Right now it’s more important to ingrain the habit of meditation into our lives. To build this simple, yet extremely powerful habit, just follow the steps below:
1. Commit to the smallest amount of time possible. I know that all of us have an extra 2 minutes in a day!
2. Choose a trigger that’ll make you meditate. For instance, this could be something like turning on the coffee maker, rolling out of bed, brushing your teeth, walking in the front door from work, packing up your computer bag.
The trigger you choose isn’t that important, just make sure it’s something you do regularly every single day. We’re going to piggyback on this existing action to help make meditation a part of our life.
3. Find a quiet spot in your home where you aren’t going to be disturbed. This could be something as simple s the side of your bed, a park bench, the bathroom. The place isn’t as important as the fact that you won’t be disturbed for the 2 minutes you’re setting aside for yourself.
4. Sit comfortably. Make sure that the tightness of your body isn’t going to be bothering you while you sit down to meditate.
5. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Slowly count to ten. Each inhale and exhale counts as a single number. Once you’ve reached ten simply start over until the timer goes off.
6. Expand very slowly. Add a minute to your time every single week and soon you’ll be easily meditating for 30 minutes or longer. The slow climb might seem like a lot in the beginning, but by sticking to your practice you’ll easily see your sitting time start to increase.
Habit formation is all about starting in the smallest manner possible, then expanding with time. After you’ve built up momentum it’ll be much easier to stick with your habit and you won’t have to exercise any willpower in order to sit down and meditate (it’ll become a natural part of your life).
Once you’ve meditated every day for a week, add a minute to your practice. Slowly lengthen the time of your meditation as you feel comfortable. The goal isn’t to train yourself from the very beginning, but instead to make it easy on yourself to succeed.
How To Expand Your Practice
However, it’s important to not get too hard on yourself, if you can’t commit to a daily practice. One of the most common methods is to consciously incorporate meditation into your daily activities.
The path usually goes like this. You spend a few weeks truly committing to meditating every single day. Over time, instead of lengthening the time you spend sitting, you instead infuse meditation into another activity, such as walking, or even making breakfast. As you’re doing the activity bring your attention to the sensation of your breath and your movement. Every time you notice yourself becoming preoccupied with your thinking, just bring it back to your breath.
However, starting with a simple formal meditation practice will help you build enough familiarly with meditation, so you can extend it to other creative practices, and it will also give you a solid foundation to come back to, if you go through a partially stressful time of your life.
We recommend starting with the simple breath practice above, then casually lengthen the amount of time you spend in meditation. If that’s too difficult, then we recommend that you keep your time the same, but bring that same level of awareness into your daily activities, such as, your morning walk, or when you’re washing the dishes.
The History of Meditation
Meditation has a long and fruitful history.
Meditation dates all the way back to prehistory. Some of the earliest records of meditation come from the Vedas (one of the oldest Hindu texts) from around 1500 B.C.E.. Records of Taoist meditation also began to spring up around the 5th and 6th centuries. There’s still a lot of debate about the origins of Buddhist meditation, but most place the origins of meditation within Buddhism around the 1st century BCE. We’re talking about a seriously old practice!
Japanese Buddhism saw an explosion in the 8th century, which led to an exploration and refinement of existing meditation practices. The first meditation center was opened by a monk named Dosho, during this time as well. The meditative practices came to Japan via China, where they were subject to modification. Dogen, an early buddhist scholar, priest, and poet, wrote the original instructions for Zazen meditation around the year 1227 (which is still practiced to this day).
Other types of religiously-based styles of meditation began to spring up in the Jewish, Christian, and Sufi schools. These entailed the repetition of certain holy words, sacred prayer, and breathing practices.
Coming into modern times Buddhism experienced a resurgence in intellectual circles from prominent philosophers, such as, Voltaire and Schopenhauer. While in the late 1890s Yoga also began to experience steady growth and recognition. Some of these schools of yoga trickled over to the West, such as Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga.
In the 1960 Transcendental meditation began to become popularized, especially with endorsements from the Beatles. These styles of secular meditation (which are most frequently practiced in the West today), are more focused on the benefits of reducing stress, achieving deeper states of relaxation, and improving yourself.
Frequently Asked Beginner Meditation Questions
Naturally, you’re going to have a ton of questions when you’re first beginning. However, one of the best ways to solve a lot of your questions is to simply continue meditating.
What kind of clothing do I need?
You can meditate in jeans and a t-shirt, or a business suit. The clothes you choose truly don’t matter. However, it can be easier to meditate in non-restrictive and comfortable clothing. This will allow you to focus on your breath, instead of the fabric that’s pinching your side.
Do you need a meditation cushion?
No. Meditation literally requires nothing but you, your mind, and your breath. Meditation cushions can be incredibly helpful for maintaining posture and increasing your level of comfort, but they are by no means required.
How often should I meditate?
Ideally. Every single day for the rest of your life 😉 We know this can be a very large commitment, so we recommend having a small daily practice you know you can commit to. Then expanding your meditation into the day, by centering yourself and taking a few conscious breaths.
How long should I meditate?
When you’re first beginning, meditating for as short a time as two minutes will help build the habit. A common number that a lot of meditation experts seem to land upon is 20 minutes.
Why is concentration so difficult?
According to Buddhist tradition our minds are like drunk monkey’s who are locked inside of a cage. We spend most of our lives running away from our thoughts, instead of facing them head on, acknowledging what they’re saying and letting them go.
When you first begin meditating concentration will be difficult. But, over time your concentration “muscle” will build and it’ll become much easier.
What happens if I get frustrated?
Acknowledge your frustration. Ask yourself why you’re frustrated in the first place? Try to find the root of this thought or emotion. Frustration is normal, so is the inability to focus, and getting lost in thought.
There are normal parts of the process. It won’t be this way forever, you have to put faith in this and put in the work, knowing that these feeling too shall pass.
What if I fall asleep?
Then you fall asleep and get some much needed rest 🙂 If you continue to fall asleep during your meditation, then you should choose a different time of the day to meditate, or pick a different position.
Sleep is incredibly important, but it needs to be a separate process from meditation.
How can I tell when I’m actually meditating?
If you’re sitting (or standing), are focused on your breath, and are bringing your attention back whenever you get lost. Then you are meditating.
There are different states you’ll eventually inhabit and experience.
Can I adjust my seating posture? Are their other postures?
When you’re meditating your body will actually try to distract you. Sometimes uncomfortable thoughts will show up as bodily discomfort. If you’re in actual pain, you can adjust your body (you’re not going to ruin your meditation), but investigate the source of tension first, before you change position.
We also highlighted a few postures above for those who can’t comfortably sit while they’re meditating.
Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.” – Alan Watts
As you regularly practice meditation you’ll begin to notice the benefits we highlighted above start to appear in your life. The longer you meditate you might start to wonder how you even managed to get through the day without a few moments of scheduled peace. If you’re worried about making a mistake with your practice, then check out this post.
We hope the sea of words above truly helps you cultivate a beginner meditation practice that truly works for your goals and lifestyle.
Images via: seref yucar, Helena, Doug Robichaud, sapphire_penguin, Public Domain Images, Nickolai Kashirin