These days, we see meditation being prescribed as the remedy to stress, anxiety, depression, or any other health-related concerns. We see this practice spread out from yoga studios into offices, corporations, as well as military and police enforcement divisions.
It has become a practice modality serving people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels, which puts you in the perfect position as a beginner.
This guide will provide you with some basic steps to starting your meditation practice. But before you learn to meditate, you should first know what meditation is.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a practice in mindfulness. It teaches you how to sit with the thoughts that run through your mind, or with the feelings or body sensations that you may feel while seated. Meditation allows these experiences to exist without reacting to them.
Meditation is not about stopping the flow of our thinking mind, which is impossible. Rather, it is about acknowledging that we are thinking, feeling human beings who have the choice and power of how we react to those thoughts and feelings. We do this through meditation.
Meditation is all about stillness. The world bombards us with information every day. Meditation comes in as the practice to pull us away from these external noises, so that we may give ourselves a mental break. This break allows us to freshen our perspective by training our mind in awareness.((Headspace: What is Meditation?))
Meditation has been also shown to reduce stress, control anxiety, help with memory loss and information retention, as well as improve our sleep, relationships, and general attitude toward life.((Healthline: 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation))
1. Set Up Your Space
Before you can learn to meditate, you will want to create a space for yourself first. Humans are natural nesters; we crave comfort and space in which we can feel at home.
Our meditation space is not any different; it serves as a home for your spiritual practice. This space can be anywhere in your home, office, or somewhere where you feel at ease, or spend a lot of your time. You do not have to make this space super fancy or spend a lot of money decorating it. Just choose a corner of peace where you know you will not be disturbed.
2. Find Your Seat
This is probably the most important step in your practice. Finding the right seat for your meditation is paramount.
Because if you are physically uncomfortable while you are seated, you are going to hate meditating. Your body is going to be in pain, and you are not going to be able to focus on anything or find any relaxation.
With that in mind, here are a few pointers to get you started with finding the right seat:
- If you want to sit on the floor, on cushions or a yoga mat, sit cross-legged or with one ankle in front of the other. If you notice that your knees are higher than your hips, you will want to elevate yourself on something higher, like a bolster or some extra cushions.
- This is important because once your knees are higher than the hips, your back eventually begins to round as you sit. This rounding is pretty uncomfortable, as you try to sit up tall and maintain a tall spine through your meditation. So, lift yourself higher so that your knees can descend, allowing your spine to remain erect without much effort on your part.
- If you want to sit in a chair, feel free to do so. There is no rule in meditation against sitting on a chair or the floor. Again, comfort is key. Just make sure that your feet touch down to the floor so that they are not hanging while you sit.
- Lastly, if you do want to sit on the floor but feel the need for some extra support, sit up against a wall. This way, your back will still be supported.
3. Find Your Breath
Once you are comfortable and seated, rest your hands anywhere you would like (in your lap or on your knees) and close your eyes.
The first step for you to learn to meditate is to find your breath. As you sit, tune into the following breath exercise:
- Take a full breath into the nose, filling the belly and the lungs
- Take a full breath out through the nose, exhaling fully the belly and the lungs
- Repeat this while you’re normally breathing in and out, and as you do so, begin to relax the physical body
- Relax the shoulder blades, the arms, the hands, the legs, and the feet
- Let the belly be soft as you breathe: you don’t need to pull it in or “contract the core” in any way
- Notice if you can slightly drop the chin so that the back of the neck is longer; this will prevent your neck and head from hurting, as you maintain this long spine hold
- Lastly, relax the muscles of your face: your jaw, your eyes, and your brow
As the body begins to relax, maintain your breath. Now, add on some visualization to help with the mind. Visualize the breath coming in through the nose, into the throat, down into the lungs and belly, and then visualize it coming right back out the same way.
Give it a color (maybe white or silver), if that helps. Just visualize it coming into your body, and leaving your body. Then, begin to sense how the breath feels: is it cool as it comes into your nose? How does it feel when it enters the lungs? And then is it warm as it exists through the nose? Is it full or shallow?
How does your body react to the breath: is it soothing or jittery? Can you fully inhale and exhale, or does the breath get caught up somewhere?
None of the answers are right or wrong. They are simply how you are going to build awareness of your body and breath.
4. Distract the Mind
The biggest challenge in meditation is keeping the mind busy while the body is relaxed.
Think of your mind like a toddler: it gets distracted by shiny objects and random things. It is your job as the practitioner to metaphorically take that toddler by the hand, and guide it back to your center. In this case, that center is your breath. It is your anchor.
Do not get discouraged if you trail off. It is a normal part of the process. It is said that we have anywhere between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts per day.((Success Consciousness: How Many Thoughts Does Your Mind Think In One Hour?))
We cannot just turn those off. So, if you do get distracted, notice that you have drifted away, and then come back to that breath. After all, this coming and going of awareness is truly what meditation is all about.
Another way to distract the mind is to give it something tangible to do. In meditation, one of the easiest tools to do this is by counting.
As you breathe in, give yourself a count of 4. As you breathe out, give yourself another count of 4. Once this time becomes too short, bump it up to 6, 8, or 10.
Essentially, you are breathing to a count of whatever you choose and then exhaling for that same count. Once you reach a full count, you start all over again.
This simple exercise gives your mind a logical task. Yes, you will probably still get random thoughts that will grab your attention, but as mentioned, this is part of the process. Notice when you get distracted, and come back to your breath and your counting.
5. Option to Utilize Affirmations
For some people, counting is too dry. Similarly, you may be having the type of day where you just need some motivation and inspiration. In these cases, affirmations are a great tool in your meditation practice.
Affirmations are words or phrases that you repeat to yourself while you meditate. They serve as anchors, just as breath and counting do. When you get mentally distracted, you can come back to your affirmation. You can speak your affirmation out loud or to yourself, depending on where you are practicing.
Some examples of affirmations are:
- I breathe in fully; I breathe out fully.
- I am enough.
- I am love and I am loved.
- I am whole.
You can also make use of Sanskrit affirmations or mantras. These are said to carry a higher vibrational frequency because they are stated in the sacred Sanskrit language.((Yoga Journal: 13 Major Yoga Mantras to Memorize)).
Some examples are:
- So Ham – which translates to “I am.” This is often practiced with inhaling as you state So, and exhaling as you state Ham.
- Sat Nam – which translates to “True Identity.” It is a seed mantra that activates the 7 main chakra systems in the body.
- Om – which is the universal sound and one most people are familiar with in yoga classes. It is usually practiced by drawing out the O and closing the lips on the M to create a buzzing vibration in the mouth and body.
6. Option to Utilize Guided Meditations
You may feel like you need someone to guide you through meditation if it becomes difficult to do it on your own. There are thankfully a plethora of online videos via Youtube and meditation apps on your phone that are widely accessible. Some are free, while some have a subscription option.
Some examples are:
- Insight Timer
- Deepak Chopra’s website for his 21-Day Meditation Challenge
There are different meditation styles that you can choose from on these websites and apps. Feel free to follow them and find what works for you.
7. Keep It Simple
Meditation is not always going to be easy. Some days, you are going to be busy, tired, apathetic, or unavailable, and that is okay.
Meditation is a practice that will always be there. As humans, we are constantly striving to perfect some routine or regimen. While it is good to remain disciplined with your meditation, do not let it become a chore or a task to cross off your to-do list. Allow it to simply be a reprieve for you; a kind of mental vacation for sacred self-reflection.
This is truly where this practice thrives and gives back tenfold.
If you want yo learn to meditate, these 7 tips will help you chart out a plan to begin. They are simple and perfect for beginners, making this meditation practice ever so accessible to everyone.
Meditation is beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety, but it is most beneficial in building your inner awareness. With this, you will be able to notice your inner and outer worlds without a knee-jerk reaction but with more compassion, pause, and reflection.