Meditation Guide for Beginners: How to Meditate
In the past years, meditation has been gaining increasing popularity and attention. You’ve likely heard celebrities and successful entrepreneurs swear by it. And if you’re into yoga, then I’m certain that you’ve had at least some experience with meditation.
Since COVID-19 overturned the way we do things, some aspects of our lives have temporarily or even permanently changed. So, you may be looking into adding meditation into your life as a means of reducing stress and anxiety.
However, you may find sitting still extremely challenging or have zero idea where to begin. You’re not alone. Meditation practice has been around for several thousand years. However, we’ve shifted into a hyper-productive time where we rarely do nothing and frequently neglect our health and wellbeing.
Therefore, I’ve compiled a beginner’s guide to meditation so that you can bring this extremely beneficial practice into your life and establish a lasting habit.
But first off…
What the Heck is Meditation?
Meditation is a mindfulness practice that involves relaxation, awareness, and focus. During meditation, we focus our attention on a thought, object, or activity and aim to train our attention and awareness to achieve a calm and stable state of mind.
It’s not about not having any thoughts or feelings, but rather about learning to observe them with immediate response or judgment as well as being able to control what we focus our attention on.
What to Expect?
Meditation is a practice, and you may not see a huge difference right away. Just like any other skill, it takes time to get comfortable with. You’ll have to make time for it, sit down, and practice.
On some days, you may feel completely refreshed; on other days, you may feel like you can’t be still for a few seconds. However, if you stick with it, over time, the times when you feel refreshed and at ease will become more frequent and seep into other areas of your life.
After some time, you’ll notice that your overall mental state will have changed, and the way you do certain things or react to events or your emotions will have changed too.
During meditation, you’ll be sitting straight and still, focusing your attention on your breath, an affirmation, a recording of a guided meditation or your teacher, an action that you are performing. It will involve observing your thoughts, letting go, coming back to the present moment over and over again.
Meditation won’t always be comfortable, especially if you are a beginner. Nowadays, we’re not taught to focus inwards, but rather outwards. So, if you’ve spent all or most of your life focusing on things around you and ignoring your thoughts and feelings, it’s normal for meditation to be challenging.
Meditation Types and Techniques
In Buddhism, meditation is more of an umbrella term, similarly to how sports is in the Western world. Swimming, running, weightlifting, and soccer are all sports. So, in meditation, there also are different techniques. We can sum them up into categories.
This involves concentrating your attention on a single point.
This could be your breath, and there are different ways in which you can do it. You can simply focus on your breathing. Or, you can also count as you breathe, or think of different words as you breathe in and breathe out.
You can also focus on a specific mantra or an affirmation.
You can also focus on an object. A popular meditation technique is staring (or imagining staring) at a candle flame. Alternatively, you can focus your attention on the repetitive sound of a gong or use mala beads. You can count the beads or repeat a word, a mantra, or an affirmation as you pass beads with your thumb.
Mindfulness meditation involves having the practitioner observe their thoughts as they pass through their mind.
Imagine sitting near a road and observing cars, bikes, and people as they pass by. You are not attached to any of the objects, or in the case of meditation, thoughts, but are simply observing them as they appear and pass without attaching yourself to them.
Combining Concentration and Meditation
Other types of meditation involve combining the two. This can be loving kindness meditation where you concentrate on developing kindness toward yourself and those around you, body scan where you are actively relaxing your body, walking meditation when you are concentrating your attention on the action of being present as you walk, and much more.
Yoga can also be a form of movement meditation. Especially if you become more comfortable with it and move by yourself along with your breath doing what feels good at any given moment.
So, even if sitting still is not your thing, there are other forms of meditation that you can try.
Benefits of Meditation
Even if you are a beginner and meditation seems a little too out there, there are numerous benefits to making it a daily habit. And the best part about it is that they are backed by science.
Here’s a quick recap of the science-based benefits of meditation:
- Reduced stress
- Less anxiety
- Improved emotional and mental health
- Longer attention span
- Improved ability to concentrate
- Improved memory
- Better heart health
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immunity
- More positive mindset
- Improved sleep
- More resilience dealing with pain
- Greater self-control and ability to resist addictions
- More compassion and improved relationships
In addition to the above, research has concluded that regular meditation can actually alter the structure of our brains.
Eight weeks of meditation practice increased regions in the brain responsible for learning, memory, and emotion regulation and decreased area in the brain responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress.
How to Meditate?
1. Find a Quiet and Peaceful Environment
It’s best to practice meditation in a quiet and peaceful environment with as few distractions as possible. This is especially true if you are new to meditation. Choose a place where you can be still and uninterrupted for as long as you plan to meditate.
The place where you meditate does not need to be large. You can also do it indoors and outdoors, as long as it’s peaceful and you are comfortable.
Turn off or mute any devices that may distract you, such as the TV, computer, or phone. You can also use a timer on your phone, though it can be helpful to put it into airplane mode so that you do not get distracted by calls or notifications.
The place does not need to be completely quiet. If there are sounds outside such as distant traffic or a barking dog, that shouldn’t be a reason not to meditate. In fact, the goal of meditation practice is to be able to be aware of such noises without letting them distract you.
As you meditate, you can also play some music. It may drown outside noise and help you concentrate. Choose repetitive instrumental music, ambient music, nature sounds, or white noise. Avoid music with lyrics as you may end up focusing on the music, which can defeat the purpose of meditation.
As per the time, I advise meditating in the morning as that can help set a tone to your day
2. Sit Comfortably with Your Back Straight
When you meditate, you can sit on the floor, chair, or anywhere else where it feels comfortable. Regardless of where you sit, ensure that your back and hips are positioned in a reversed letter “T.” Keep your back straight and your hips level.
If you’re sitting on a chair, place your feet flat on the floor. Feel free to take off your shoes if that’s more comfortable, and uncross your legs. Sit on the edge of the chair as it’ll help you keep your back straight.
For many of us, sitting with a straight back is challenging. It requires flexibility and core strength. So, elevate your hips on a cushion, yoga bolster, or a folded blanket.
Placing your hips higher than the knees will help you keep your back straight, maintain an anterior tilt in your lower back, and prevent you from getting cramps, pins, and needles, or other discomfort.
Stack your shoulders and the crown of your head above the hips forming a straight line. Rest your hands on your knees or in your lap. There are various mudras that you can practice. However, they are not a must to meditate. You can hold whatever hand position feels comfortable.
3. Draw Your Senses Inward
Known in yoga philosophy as pratyahara, sense withdrawal helps you keep your attention inwards rather than on external factors.
Therefore, close your eyes and turn off or dim the lights if the light is too distracting. Some meditation techniques involve having your eyes open. If so, avoid focusing on anything in particular, but rather keep your gaze soft. Unless, of course, the technique involves focusing on an object.
Ambient or instrumental music can help drown outside noise, too. You can also practice pranayama or breathing exercises, which can help you tune your senses inward as well.
There are numerous techniques you can follow. Regardless of which you choose to follow, make sure to keep breathing slowly and deeply.
Try not forcing anything and let your breath flow naturally. Your first breaths may be shallower when you begin, but they’ll gradually lengthen as you progress.
5. Focus on Your Thoughts
As mentioned above, meditation isn’t about stopping your thoughts, but rather being comfortable with silence and focusing on your thoughts without judgment.
Observe your breathing and how your body moves along with it. As you notice your thoughts drift off, simply bring your attention back to your breath.
If you are struggling with maintaining your attention by yourself, you can try guided meditation instead to build a habit. Gradually maintaining your attention will become easier.
Meditation Tips and Tricks for Beginners (and Beyond)
1. Practice Early in the Morning
Doing so can be beneficial due to several reasons. First of all, it can help you set the tone of your day. It can also ensure that you meditate. If you leave it for a later time, you may get caught into doing something and forget to meditate.
Moreover, if you tend to wake up early, you may find yourself to be in a quieter setting than later during the day. However, if mornings do not work for you and another time works best for you, do that if that’ll help you maintain a meditation habit.
2. Meditate at the Same Time Every Day
To become consistent, schedule the time when you will meditate each day. That’ll help you establish a habit, and it’ll be easier to not give in to excuses.
3. Commit to 21 Days of Meditation
To successfully establish a habit, you need time. So, challenge yourself to meditate consistently for 21 days. Doing so will also allow you to assess the benefits that meditation brings. So, you may not want to stop after these 21 days are over.
4. Start Small
Trying to commit to 20 minutes of meditation daily may not work out if you’ve never done meditation before. Therefore, set yourself up for success and start small, gradually building up. Even a minute a day is better than nothing at all.
5. Wear Comfortable Clothing
Make sure that there are a few distractions as possible. So, choose clothing that is not distracting by being too tight or otherwise uncomfortable.
6. Try Different Meditation Techniques
Just like not all types of sports or all types of yoga are for everyone, different meditation techniques will be more suitable for different people. It’s also possible that different techniques will feel better during different stages of your life.
So, feel free to experiment and be open to new experiences. Try different meditation techniques and see how it goes.
7. Practice Meditation after Yoga
If yoga is a part of your daily routine, try meditating after yoga. Since yoga is a mindfulness practice, it can help you still your mind and prepare for meditation. You’ll also move and build strength and flexibility, which can make sitting straight easier and more comfortable.
8. View Meditation as a Journey
Focus on mediation as a process and experience rather than a goal or means of achieving a certain goal. You’ll encounter ups and downs as you go along the way, but the view will get better with time if you don’t bring expectations or attachments along.
Do you practice meditation? Which is your favorite technique, and why? Any tips that you’d like to share?