Want to take up meditation but don’t know how or where to start? Does meditation sound intimidating and are you afraid of doing it wrong? Meditation has numerous benefits but it can be unnecessarily daunting to those new to the practice.
Maybe you’ve heard you’re supposed to sit a certain way, breathe a certain way, use pricey cushions, or chant mantras until all thought ceases. There is a great deal of confusion. Don’t worry! Contrary to what you might have heard, it’s actually pretty easy to start. Here are 10 tips for beginners – whether you’re just looking to de-stress a little bit or seeking enlightenment.
Tip #1 – Just Sit
Meditation begins with sitting so just sit. You can sit on the floor, in a chair, on the couch. You can use a cushion or pillow to be more comfortable but it’s not necessary. If sitting is difficult due to health or pain, you can lie down on the floor or a bed. There’s even walking meditation. Pretty much you can do meditation anywhere and at any time.
Start by sitting if you’re physically able. That’s all it takes.
Tip #2 – Sit Comfortably
You can sit for hours watching TV so take the same approach to meditation. In the beginning, technique is less important than the actual doing. Sit comfortably but not so comfortably you want to take a nap. Don’t slouch. Traditionally people sit cross-legged. You don’t need to turn yourself into a pretzel or be in pain. Be comfortable. You should feel relaxed, not stiff and achy. If you experience pins and needles or your foot falls asleep, you can shift position. There’s no law against moving to a more comfortable position contrary to what you may have heard.
Tip #3 – Make It Manageable
How long are you supposed to sit?
You don’t need to sit for long periods to have a good meditation session. 5 minutes is enough to start reaping rewards in terms of stress reduction and relaxation. Anytime you sit and touch base with yourself will take you out of your usual busy routine and start you reconnecting with the home inside you – and making it stronger just by sitting with yourself.
Start with 5 to 10 minutes. Use a timer or phone alarm if you like. Once you can regularly sit for 5 to 10 minutes, move up to 15 to 20 minutes. 30 minutes makes for a great daily or semi-daily practice but it’s like training for a race – build up to the longer distances by being able to run the small ones. It’s called a meditation “practice” for a reason. Practice smaller amounts to train yourself deeper into the meditation habit.
Tip #4 – Start With Your Breath
A beginner can get lost in the variety of meditation exercises. There are guided meditations, breath and body meditations, mantras, contemplation exercises and more.
In the beginning you are trying to learn discipline for sitting and how to tune into the moment, your thoughts and yourself. Almost all meditation work begins with breath exercises to bring you out of your head and its busy, distracting ways. Breath exercises create an anchor inside you, a touching point within that connects you to the here and now. Few other exercises will do so good a job.
So sit and breathe. First pay attention to your in breath, then pay attention to your out breath. You can simply monitor them or note if they are long or short, deep or shallow. Just watch them. You’re not trying to create those kinds of breath. You’re touching base with you, dropping out of busy thoughts and emotions for a few minutes to connect with now. If it helps with staying focused, count your breaths to 10 and repeat.
Tip #5 – No Thought
People think you shouldn’t think during meditation. Go ahead and try. If you set that as a goal during meditation it is like saying “don’t think of pink elephants”. You most certainly will have thoughts the more you obsess about trying not to have them.
Sit and breathe. That is the point of early work. Sit. Let the thoughts come and go. Refocus on your breath. Your mind is used to talking to you all the time. Just because you are sitting and want some peace and quiet, maybe some silence, doesn’t mean it understands that. It’s been on autopilot a long time. In the beginning, it will want to tell you about your problems, plan for various situations in your life, remember things, gripe about sitting, tell you how this is stupid or impossible. Your mind has many things to say, especially now that you’re focusing on your breath and letting go of focusing on other things.
Your mind will talk, nag at you like a little child wanting attention. You don’t have to yell at it or be mean to yourself – that is just more thinking. Instead, you treat it as you would a child – recognize it, say later we will play, gently set him or her back in their crib, and refocus on your breath. This is how you train a child to sleep or play by themselves. This is also one way of training yourself to let go of endless and unbeneficial thinking, planning and so forth and concentrate on the here and now.
Breathe in and out, let thoughts come. Recognize them and gently let them go, refocus on the breath. In and out. Acknowledge and let go. Breathe.
Tip #6 – You Are Doing It Right
Beginners have a number of hang ups about meditation. That is understandable. We want to do things correctly so that we’re not wasting our time and can get the most out of the experience. We’re very keen to have the “right” posture, the ”right” meditation method, the “right” inner experiences while practicing.
In the beginning and for a long time, the answer to all this is to simply sit and breathe. That is the “right” thing to do. We don’t need to make it more complicated than that. Adding more will usually put more barriers and hurdles before you. In meditation you let go of needing to be right or do things perfectly. You are touching base with yourself and your breath.
If you are sitting, breathing in and out and trying to monitor your breath, successfully or not so successfully, you are doing it right. Relax and take the win!
Tip #7 – Throw Away Preconceptions
Relatedly, we often come to a new meditation practice with a number of beliefs and ideas about what meditation is or isn’t, what it will or won’t give us, and so much more. These preconceptions can greatly impede our practice. They are like the musings of someone who has never flown before. All their ideas and questions can tie them into knots. Only by going to the airport, taking their seat on the plane and going through take off, flight, and landing do they find the answers that no amount of explaining beforehand will impart. Some flights are smooth, others turbulent, there are quick flights, long flights, interesting flights, pretty scenery and uninteresting scenery.
Meditation is the same way. There are easy sessions, difficult and boring sessions, ones where you feel like you are soaked in light and bliss, those where you are antsy and bored and hating every moment. Each session is different, even for practiced meditators. Yours will run the spectrum as well. Breathe. Watch. Be present for them. Expect nothing because each moment is unique and no one can predict or control the future.
Tip #8 – Tune In To Your Show
Similarly, through meditation you are in essence learning how to tune into the present moment and yourself – your senses, emotions, feelings, thoughts and awareness.
Most of us tune into other shows. Adults spend over 11 hours a day on media, nearly 6 hours daily on video content alone. We have our jobs, hobbies, families and friends. If we are tuning into everything outside us, how can we tune into ourselves and create a strong island refuge within? We can’t.
Meditation teaches us to go inward, to watch our own show. It’s always playing but we haven’t been paying attention or if we have, we mistake the autopilot drama for our true self. Once we start paying attention, a rich new land unfolds and we come home to ourselves for often the first time. It can shock, disturb and fascinate us.
Once we tune in we can begin to untangle the knots of emotions, thoughts, beliefs, ideas and other behavior that have been our default patterns. We start to take back control moment by moment, learning how to set the child in the crib and have peace and freedom in the here and now.
Watch your inner show. Don’t get mesmerized by it like you would a narcissist looking in the mirror. These are your patterns. Some are thorny knots that need to be carefully undone or reconciled. Seeing yourself, you start to calm the inner madness. Just look. That will start the process of healing, strength, peace, tranquility and more.
Tip #9 – It’s Practice, Not Perfection
It’s called a meditation practice for a reason. Meditation isn’t perfection, though it can lead to many benefits like enhanced concentration, peace and happiness. Perfection though is a quagmire. Try to define it and you’ll just spin endlessly in a tangle of thoughts, expectations and ideas. You won’t be in the here and now. You’ll just be lost in the machinations of your mind.
We practice meditation to get off autopilot and take back our minds to a greater or lesser extent. We have long neglected training our minds to get out of our way and have become prisoner to our thoughts, emotions, ideas and beliefs. Meditation is the road to freedom. But it must be walked. There is no sitting on the side of the road expecting results to fall on you from an outside source. Remember, it’s a practice. Like with exercise, the first few times you do it, you might not see much to celebrate. Overtime, the changes become more apparent.
Tip #10 – Helpful Instruction
You may feel like you need instruction or help during your practice. There are a number of resources out there. Most communities have free meditation or mindfulness groups. You might have a sangha somewhere or dharma teachers in the Buddhist tradition that offer guided meditation and instruction. Local churches often host meditation sessions under their own auspices or offering a room as a community space. Yoga centers and other community organizations often have meditation classes you can sign up for. For in person instruction these are all great resources for developing your meditation practice.
If you can’t find a local meditation group or want to practice alone, the internet is a wonderful resource. Videos and websites abound. Just type in “how to meditate” and you’ll receive endless information.
Personally, I suggest finding an in person teacher that can help you with posture and techniques, answer your questions and help you deepen your practice. A meditation coach is a true gem!
You Want Some Peace & Quiet Right?
Why do you want to meditate? Often the answer stems from our busy lives. We are crunched for time, feel hemmed in and trapped. We just want some peace and quiet. We want our personal freedom back. We want to be free of stress and anxiety. We want peace and happiness. These are all very good reasons to meditate. A solid practice opens the doorway to all these things.
Just sit. None of the results will come by themselves. You may think it’s boring but what does peace and quiet look like but stepping free of a crazy, chaotic world and stopping our hectic thoughts for a few minutes? That means taking a break and sitting. The “doing nothing” is quite peaceful and relaxing. You’ve been running around, doing and thinking, planning or remembering nonstop, at everyone’s beck and call and it has worn you out! Sit. This is freedom from all that. This is what peace looks like. Sit and for those few or long amount of minutes, breathe. This is a great gift to yourself, this letting everything drop and touching base with your true self.
Use these tips to enjoy meditation. You’ll find it is a wonderful practice!
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I use the meditation app Calm