Meditating for Beginners in 10 Practical Steps
It still amazes me how long it took for me to begin a regular meditation practice. Not only was meditation "evil" in my adolescent mind (everything is evil being raised in a religious family), it was also something only monks on mountaintops did. I was completely ignorant of the amazing and life-changing benefits meditation could bring. It wasn't until I started listening to empowerment podcasts and heard influential people talk about how meditation changed their life not only in their mental health and attitude but also in business and motivation that I began looking more into it. What I had found was a powerful tool for boosting mental performance and reducing stress. You also didn't have to practice for spiritual purposes. I was mind blown. Years later, I have tried my hand at many different types and forms and in different settings and positions and have come up with a couple tips to get you started if you have never tried it before to remove any beginner worries.
Now to warn you, I have heard from my younger friends that it is boring to sit and do nothing, but that is 100% your dopamine addicted brain wanting to grab at your phone every other minute talking. Meditation should be boring sometimes, but what it allows you to do is unlock new neural pathways in your brain and gives you the opportunity to focus your mind and explore your own thoughts and emotions like you would never believe. Meditation, contrary to some thought, isn't just turning your mind into a blank space for hours on end or even attempting to do that at all. If anything, you become hyper aware and more deeply focused than before with continual practice. I personally noticed the most benefit when it came to my family. My wife brought to my attention how often it would seem like I wasn't even there. My mind was off and I was always mentally distracted, hardly even hearing when someone was talking to me. After meditating in the mornings for even just a few days, my wife and I noticed that I was way more present and interactive. I realized that I was wasting precious time and moments with my wife and daughter and if I didn't start to be present and focus it would be gone before I realized it. If you are stressed, have trouble concentrating, or, like me, have problems just being present, this will be an amazing tool for you.
Step 1. Be comfortable
Though you can do meditation almost anywhere at any time, for times of routine practice you should be comfortable. Wear easy clothes that don't constrict. Feel free to sit cross legged on a couch or cushion on the floor, but if you find you can't hold those positions long, don't worry if you need to sit in a chair or unfold your legs. You should sit in an easy posture that doesn't strain your joins or spine. Balancing your head above your collar bone should work, and try not to slouch. Find a position that best allows you to just focus on your practice without pain or discomfort. Even lying down works. Just try not to fall asleep.
Step 2. Avoid external distractions
Sometimes we try to meditate on a busy bus before work or surrounded by screaming kids, but if you can try to sit somewhere with as little distraction as possible. This is pretty obvious but with less distraction the better you enable yourself to benefit from the practice. You can even put on some quiet lo-fi if you prefer, but preferably nothing with heavy melody that can pull you out. In a quiet park, in your room, on your porch or patio, it really doesn't matter for now. It is best to not need to test your patience for distractions around you when beginning your meditation journey.
Step 3. Have a regular location
Expanding upon the previous step, having a regular location to meditate has its own benefits. You should pick a place in your room or somewhere with little to no foot traffic. It doesn't have to be big. The reason for this is because when you are setting a regular practice for yourself, you want to charge an area you have designated for just your mindfulness and meditation. This allows the area to take on your positive energy over time and becomes a comfy home for you when you feel anxious or distracted. Coming to your own space for meditating can calm you down and prepare your mind naturally like a muscle memory to more easily flow into your practice.
Step 4. Don't worry about hands or chants
Something you shouldn't try to focus on too early is chanting or hand gestures. Those are called mudras and can be very powerful depending on what meditation practice you are doing, but they are often specific to either Hindu or Buddhist meditation. You can easily just keep your hands to your side, resting on your knees or simply in your lap. Of you want a simple mudra to get started, one of my natural go-to positions for my hands comes from Zen practice and is called the cosmic mudra. It is simply your right hand in your lap, your left hand in your right hand both palms up and your thumbs gently touching at the tips creating almost a circle with your hands. We will explore more mudras in advanced forms of meditation but for being now comfortable is key.
Step 5. Affirm your intentions
In almost everything you do, you should set a goal or intention for why you are doing something. Meditation is no different. Realistic goals like "Today I want to be more present" or "Today I am going to start controlling my anger" are simple intentions to focus why you want to meditate to begin with. Sometimes I will practice compassion or love toward all beings by thinking of those words while I'm meditating and imagine it expanding around the world. Your intention could even be as simple as wanting to try something new and see how it works. It is also acceptable for goals to change day by day. There are no rules preventing you from meditating about different things each time you sit.
Step 6. Just breathe
The easiest form of meditation is counting your breaths. You don't even have to alter your breathing pattern, just mentally count your breath and feel the sensation of air rushing in and out of your nose or the expansion of your lungs. You can take longer breaths for anxiety by counting for 4 seconds on inhale and 5 seconds on exhale for example. Do this for as long as you can keep count and if your mind drifts or you forget, start over. Its okay to be bored, you are practicing a very important skill: patience and a calm mind.
Step 7. Avoid internal distractions
In order to train your mind to focus, you need to avoid internal distractions that we call intrusive thoughts. While you are meditating and focusing on your breath, you may be tempted to think about what you are going to make for dinner later or plans you have with a friend or even anxiety from work that will try to take over. You must not let it dictate your practice. It is not a horrible thing when it happens and even the most experienced practitioners will struggle with this from time to time. The most simple thing you can do is recognize that you have an intrusive thought and without being frustrated or upset, begin counting the breath again. No need to be mad and give up. Just refocus and begin again.
Step 8. Analyze your emotions
Sometimes it helps to observe the thought or emotion objectively like if it were happening to someone else. Coming to terms with what is distracting you and confronting it while meditating is therapeutic and leads to that distraction no longer being effective. Intrusive thoughts don't mean that you are failing at meditation, it just means that it may be time for you to detach from them. After recognizing what the sensation of that thought or emotion was, e.g. anxiety, just say "anxious thought" and let it go. Zen masters will say that meditation is like being at a train stop and our thoughts are the trains. We can see when it arrives and notice when it stops but we don't need to get on it. Just let it keep going.
Step 9. Don't worry about time
Practice for as long or as short as your time and attention allows. You may notice some days you can meditate for half an hour or more and some days it's hard to get in 10 minutes. For a beginner, try for 10 minutes every day at a regular time in the morning or evening. A morning routine really does help dictate your mood throughout the day. Either way, practice for as long as you can stay focused on your breath. You may find sitting for longer easier as you begin making breathing a habit and can concentrate for longer periods without distraction. If you are completely distracted and cannot get into a rhythm, just try your best and come back the next day.
Step 10. Don't get discouraged
Most important of all, do not get discouraged by tough days of practice. Meditation is a life practice and like anything else will have good days and bad days. Being a long time practitioner doesn't mean that you are immune to intrusive thoughts or you have perfect mastery and control over your mind. Some days you might be tired or stressed more than usual or just not interested in sitting. That's all okay. Recognize that you are doing the best you can and continue your practice when you are more present without holding the burden of perfection every time.
That's really all there is to it. Meditation should never be something you worry about or try too hard at, otherwise you aren't going to get the benefit of it. The only thing that really matters is that you are actively present during your practice and continuously trying to be more and more here in the moment. If you are always elsewhere in your mind, work on bringing yourself back. Finding guided meditations that have a set time and theme may even be a way to warm up or cool down for your own personal sessions. I have gained a lot of enjoyment from guided meditation as well as my own personal practice. There are also many forms of meditation that don't require you to just sit or even add some form of movement and I encourage you to explore more as you begin grasping the introductory ideas. The most important thing is that you make this practice your own and do what works for you even from day to day. You can also learn more b y exploring our other lessons and blogs or from discussions in the forums. I will leave you with a quote from spiritual author Elizabeth Lesser: "One does not meditate to become a great meditator. We meditate to wake up and live, to become skilled at the art of living."