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How to Start Meditating: Practical Tips for Beginners

a person in lotus pose meditating

This comprehensive mindful guide offers everything you need to know about the life-changing practice of meditation and mindfulness, from understanding what meditation is, to listing its many benefits, offering guidance into how to meditate, and what types of meditations are there.

Here you will also find insight into what is the role of meditation in mind wandering, how to build a daily meditation habit, and what to do when you don’t have the time to meditate.

Whether you are not sure how to start meditating, or you haven’t figured out how to build a consistent, daily mindful routine, or you simply want to deepen your knowledge and daily meditation practice, you are at the right place.

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What is meditation?

Just as there are many different techniques that fall under the umbrella of meditation, there can be found numerous definitions trying to answer what meditation is.

Now before I get all philosophical and tell you that there is no one right definition, because meditation is to be felt and practiced, not explained in words, I will write and explain phrase by phrase my favorite definition of meditation. I have learned about this definition during my meditation teacher training, and it goes something like this is (defined by Shapiro):

Meditation refers to a family of techniques which have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a non-analytical way, and an attempt not to dwell on discursive, ruminating thought.

Okay, so what does it mean? Let’s break it down:

  • conscious attempt to focus attention – We are consciously directing our attention to a point of focus (e.g. the breath).
  • in a non-analytical way – We are simply observing that which we are focusing on; we are not trying to analyze or plan anything. We are not thinking about the present experience, but rather experiencing it directly.
  • an attempt not to dwell on discursive, ruminating thought – Notice how this definition is not saying you aren’t supposed to have discursive, ruminating thoughts. Instead, it is saying that you should not dwell on them – in other words, at some point during your meditation you could encounter them, and when you do (and you will), simply allow that experience to exist as well.

Now that we have a general idea of what meditation is, would you like to find out WHY you should learn how to meditate?

Meditation benefits

Since you are reading this, you probably already have some idea about what could be the benefits of meditation.

An important thing to note here is that most of these benefits are a result of a regular, steady practice. I mention this here so you know not to expect sudden and extreme improvements in all areas of your life after one session. While even one meditation is great for the mind, long lasting benefits come from – you can guess – a long lasting routine. Below is in short a list of benefits (I will create another post dedicated to this topic alone and there I will add more detail, sources and articles).

Health benefits associated with meditation

  • Helps reduce stress and anxiety
  • Improves concentration and lengthens attention span
  • Improvements in clarity of thinking which lead to improvements in memory
  • Better sleep
  • Positive impact on cardiovascular system
  • Greater ability to cope with pain
  • Subjective reports of inner peace and higher levels of energy and excitement
  • Higher self-awareness and improved emotional health

Such a simple yet powerful practice, isn’t it?

Check out my post on how meditation can help you sleep better for more details about meditation benefits for sleep.

How to meditate?

There are various ways to meditate. You could listen to a guided meditation or meditate on your own. That, combined with the fact that there are many different meditation techniques, giving a how to answer for meditation is tricky.

So I will simplify it in order for you to get the general idea. Once you start meditating, you will see how even though the approaches may vary, the essence is really the same.

Let’s take breathing meditation as an example for our how to. For this type of meditation, the point of focus which you are repeatedly coming back to is the breath. Note here that in the following step-by-step guide you could simply replace the breath with any point of focus (for mantra meditation that is a mantra, for body scan the sensations in the body, etc.).

If you are meditating on your own, I would suggest setting a timer, so you won’t be distracted by wondering how long it has been.

Step-by-step basics: How to meditate

  1. Find a comfortable position. This can be the famous lotus pose (sitting on the floor or the mat with your legs crossed), or you can simply sit on a chair or even lay down. It is important to find a position that will feel wakeful (this is why you’ll hear most guided meditations telling you to keep your back straight, and why laying down is usually avoided) and relaxed at the same time. You can close your eyes or have a soft gaze at something neutral, like the wall or the floor.
  2. Slowly arrive to the present moment by following your breath. You can observe where you feel the breath the most (belly, chest, nose), or you can follow each inhale and exhale by noting to yourself in and out. It is essential to understand here that your mind is going to wander off. Probably much sooner and more often than you’d anticipate. Every time the mind wanders somewhere else, once you notice it, you gently and without judgment bring it back to the breath. Over and over again.
  3. When you are at the end of the practice, expand your awareness to your surroundings. You can gently stretch or move your body in any way that is intuitive. Once you are ready, you can slowly open your eyes and voilà – you have successfully meditated!

Types of meditation

I love how Dan Harris in his book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics explained that referring to meditation is something like referring to sports – there are numerous very different techniques and approaches to meditation that fall under the same mindfulness umbrella.

And in my opinion, that is another great thing about meditation – there is really something for everyone. If you tried meditation once and didn’t like it, it’s probably not that meditation is not for you, but rather that you haven’t found the one you enjoy. If you keep reading, you will see under the section How to build a regular meditation routine that when you are creating a daily practice, I suggest you first explore a little and find a technique that works best for you. This is different for everyone.

In my case, my go-to practice changes from time to time. Usually it is mindfulness meditation, but some days call for metta meditation (also known as loving kindness). Then there are those days where my mind feels extra foggy and I look for help from mantra or controlled breathing meditations. See how I adopted different styles according to what my needs are? Before meditation I didn’t even know what my needs were, let alone which meditation to use. Anyway, I digressed a bit, so let’s get back on track!

Common meditation techniques for you to try out when you are exploring meditation and looking for the ones that will work for you

  • Breathing meditation – This technique belongs to a family of techniques referred to as focused meditations. At the core of these techniques is a point of focus used as an anchor to the present moment. For breathing meditations this is, *surprise surprise*, the breath.
  • Mindfulness meditation – Unlike focused meditations, in mindfulness meditation you don’t have one point of focus. Instead, your awareness is focused on any external and internal experiences happening at the moment. You are not thinking about the experiences or analyzing them, you are experiencing them as raw data; just as they are happening. 
  • Body scan – One of the focused meditations where you are welcomed to lay down. You are scanning through your body and your point of focus are the sensations happening in it.
  • Loving kindness (metta) meditation – a beautiful practice dedicated to developing loving and compassionate feelings toward others and yourself. Point of focus is the loving emotions you are experiencing.
  • Mantra meditation – Point of focus is a mantra you keep repeating, either out loud or silently. Some mantras are designed to create certain vibrations in the body, while some are uttered as a form of encouragement.
  • Movement meditation – Unlike the previous techniques, this one is practiced in movement, and it is a great practice for those struggling to sit still, especially in the beginning. Different subtypes of movement meditation are walking meditation, yoga, tai chi, and so on.
  • Visualization meditation – a method of picturing positive, calming images and desired situations. This can be a relaxing, guided visualization method designed to help you relax or one you create to motivate yourself that contains images of desired outcomes in your life (also used in manifestations).

(Note: I will create another post dedicated to this topic alone and there I will extend the list, add more detail, how to steps, guided meditations from YouTube, etc.)

What if my mind keeps wandering off? How do I know if I am doing it right?

This is the very essence and the most common misconception in meditation: the goal is not to “empty” the mind and make it not wander off, the goal is to bring it back every time it does wander off. See the difference? Every time you bring it back to the breath, you are training your mental “muscle”. You are learning how to break the automatic thought behavior. When you notice your mind wandering and you bring it back to the breath, you are not failing – you are successfully meditating.

What if I don’t have the time to meditate daily?

There is a great Zen saying that goes something like this…

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day – unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.

Or to put in other terms, when you feel like you are too busy to meditate, that is when you need it the most. And I will explain in a moment why this makes sense.

First of all, your practice, especially in the beginning, does not have to be 20 minutes, or one hour. If you feel like you don’t have time in the day to fit your mindful practice, you can literally start with 5 minutes a day. I am fairly sure this is doable for everyone. This way you will not overwhelm yourself or your schedule.

My coaching approach is this: always go slow and build from there. You can always build up your practice. I even sometimes suggest starting with 1 minute daily meditative breaks, building up to 5, then 10, 20 minutes. You are in it for the long run and there is no need to overwhelm yourself to “get there” faster, because there is no “there”. There is just now (see what I did there?).

What is important is the daily act of showing up for yourself and doing the practice. Every day. Even for a minute.

When you don’t have 5 minutes in your day to meditate, that is when you need them the most

And if you feel like you can’t find 5 minutes in your day because your schedule is crazy busy, then those 5 minutes are even more needed. Why? They will offer you a step back, a moment to just breathe and re-adjust yourself. A moment to notice the chatter and the sensations inside. Five minutes for calming down the chatter and listening to your needs will offer you MORE time in your day. How? Because you will stop to think, re-adjust and re-frame. You will be less likely to just rush through your to-do list, and more likely to be more focused, and come up with creative solutions.

Just think about it this way: you are at your messy desk filled with papers, notes, pens, whatnot. You wouldn’t just start working all over it (or you would, but it would be distracting and slow you down). You would probably first tidy up your workplace, to create space for you to work uninterrupted. Meditation is exactly this, but for your mind. It is reducing the unnecessary chatter and creating space for your mental work so you can actually be more efficient and productive.

How to build a regular meditation habit?

If you want to turn your occasional meditations into a daily habit, but somehow always seem to struggle with it and never really commit to a daily practice, you are not alone.

With any new habit building, we will find resistance within, and this is completely normal. This is your subconscious reacting to something new it cannot predict or assess and therefore does not like. When we realize that our subconscious really likes familiarity because it needs it to keep us safe (and it keeps us safe by predicting the future and keeping us out of the unknown), it is easier to find compassion for ourselves and understanding for the resistance we encounter within ourselves. 

Add that to the fact that meditation practice is a lot more subtle than maybe some other habit. It takes time and regular practice to start building up small invisible improvements (that with time will sum up to transformational work). And this doesn’t bode well with our fast-paced society used to instant gratification and at your door delivery.

So keep all that in mind as you approach your practice. This insight is not meant to discourage you – on the contrary, it is meant to offer you reassurance that after this initial discomfort and struggle, things WILL get better. And once they get better, they become great.

Now you are probably wondering: okay that is all great, but how do I get to that stage where my daily practice becomes an automatic, effortless routine I enjoy doing?

Within my mindfulness coaching program I created how to steps for helping my clients create a daily meditation practice that will seem effortless, enjoyable, and an essential part of their hygiene, just like brushing the teeth, except this one is for the mind. We go over it step by step, figuring out together the best way to approach each obstacle. Here is briefly what I teach them.

How to develop a daily meditation routine

  1. Find a source of information you can learn from and explore the practice for a while.

Try out different times of day and different practices, and get familiar with the background of each one. Most of us start out with wrong perceptions of what meditation is or how it should feel. First of all, educate yourself – like reading this post, a book, finding guidance on YouTube, or with a meditation teacher (like the sessions I am offering). Secondly, explore. There is no right or wrong in meditation, and there is no one-fit-for-all practice here. There are so many approaches to meditation, and not all will feel right. But some will feel like they were made for you. When you find those, it will be a lot easier to stick to it daily.

  1. Once you find what works for you, create a ritual around it.

This can be done in A LOT of ways. Maybe you’ll work it around some of the existing habits, building onto something you already do daily (habit “stacking” can help you automatize the behavior tremendously). Maybe you will create a special space in your home just for your meditation practice, or maybe you’ll play with some essential oils.

  1. Find a mindful community.

In this day and age, this task has become incredibly easy. When I started meditating, nobody I knew ever even tried meditation. I felt lost and had no one to share my experience. Finding an online meditation community offered me support and accountability – it wasn’t just me I was showing up for every day, but my community as well.

If you don’t know where to start – there are so many great instagram accounts that gather mindful folk around (self-promotion alert! – like my account for example). There is also the option of joining group meditation sessions, like the ones I offer completely free on Insight Timer, where you can join a live class with others and interact with your meditation teacher.

  1. There is one rule everyone has to follow and that is: always be gentle with yourself.

Approach your meditation practice with self compassion. Cultivate love and appreciation for yourself during your practice. There are meditation techniques I mentioned above focused on this exactly – use them especially when you feel low on self love. When we start beating ourselves up because we weren’t that focused or “enlightened” during a practice, we are losing the whole point of meditation. There is no meditation without self compassion.

Now bear in mind, even if you follow ALL of these steps, you will still encounter some resistance. Accept it and move along with it, not against it. Let it be, and you will slowly see it fade away – just as your mind becomes more and more familiar with this new habit you are learning to practice daily.

Now what?

There are many ways to start a meditation practice. You can:

  • Try out recorded guided meditations on YouTube or Insight Timer. There are so many wonderful and free meditations available online, so this is something definitely worth trying. Here you can find my guided meditations on Insight Timer.
  • There are a lot of meditation apps available, you can check them out on a browser or on your phone.
  • Join a group session with a real teacher – these are live and can be either in person or online. Things to take into account here are whether you have any meditation studios nearby and whether you prefer to meditate from home. The group sessions I offer on Insight Timer are live and online, so wherever you are, you are more than welcome to join them. Oh, and they are completely free (donation based – you decide if and how much you want to pay).
  • Get 1:1 guidance from a meditation teacher. This will definitely offer you deepest insight into all the tips and tricks of the practice and valuable guidance into finding what is best for YOU. Check out available dates and book my private classes – they are packed with value and unique insight.

Hope you found this article helpful! If you have any questions or want to offer feedback, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me directly.

Interested in starting journaling? Check out my journaling tips for beginners and my favorite daily journal prompts.

 

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With love,

Vanessa

3 thoughts on “How to start meditating: Practical tips for beginners”

  1. Pingback: How to meditate before bed: Meditation for better sleep – Mindfulnessa

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