Posted October 29th, 2022

How to Meditate: A Beginner's Guide to Meditation

Meditating has profound and long-lasting effects on our lives: it reduces stress, helps us understand our pain, strengthens our connections, sharpens our focus, and makes us more compassionate toward ourselves.

A man meditating in the middle of a pathway

What is meditation?

How does one learn to meditate? In mindfulness meditation, we are taught to focus on the breath as it comes in and goes out and to be aware of when the mind strays from this activity. The muscles of mindfulness and attention are strengthened by the repetition of coming back to the breath.

When we focus on our breathing, we are developing the ability to come back to the present moment and stay there on purpose and without judgment.

Why learn to meditate?

Even though it’s not a miracle cure, meditation can give your life some much-needed breathing room. Sometimes, that is all we require to make better decisions for our families, communities, and ourselves. The most crucial supplies you can include in your meditation practice are a little bit of tolerance, some self-kindness, and a comfortable place to sit.

We bring profound and enduring benefits into our lives when we meditate. Additionally, you don’t need any additional equipment or a pricey membership.

Five reasons to meditate

  1. Recognizing your pain
  2. Lessen stress
  3. Better connections to your environment
  4. Improve your focus
  5. Ease your mind; reduce brain chatter

How to meditate

It’s easier (and harder) to meditate than most people realize. Read the following instructions, make sure you’re in a comfortable setting, set a timer, and try it:

  1. Find a spot to sit down.

    Find a quiet, peaceful area where you can sit.

  2. Set a deadline.

    If you’re just starting out, picking a brief period of time—like five or 10 minutes—can be helpful.

  3. Observe your body.

    All acceptable seating positions include kneeling, crossing your legs loosely, and sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor. Ensure that you are secure and in a position that you can maintain for some time.

  4. Take a deep breath.

    Pay attention to how your breath feels as it enters and leaves your body.

  5. Recognize when your thoughts have strayed.

    Your focus will eventually stray from the breath and go to other things. Simply bring your focus back to the breath when you eventually realize that your mind has wandered—in a few seconds, a minute, or five minutes.

  6. Be patient with your idling mind.

    Don’t criticize or worry excessively about the ideas you get caught up in when you’re lost in them. Just return.

  7. Close with kindness.

    Lift your gaze when you’re ready (if your eyes are closed, open them). Consider listening to any sounds that are present for a moment. Observe how your body is currently feeling. Keep an eye on your feelings and thoughts.

That’s it! That’s the practice. You focus your attention, your mind wanders, you bring it back, and you try to do it as kindly as possible (as many times as you need to).

How often should I meditate?

Nothing about meditation is more difficult than what has already been mentioned. It is both that easy and that difficult. It is also effective and worthwhile. The key is to make a daily commitment to sit down, even if it’s only for five minutes. You are telling yourself that you believe in change and that you believe in taking care of yourself at that precise moment, and you are making it true. You are actually putting a value—like mindfulness or compassion, for example—into practice.

Techniques and Tips for Mediation

There are other mindfulness practices that use focal points other than the breath to anchor our attention. These include external objects like a sound in the room or something more general like noticing spontaneous things that come into your awareness during an aimless wandering practice. We’ve discussed the fundamental breath meditation so far. But there is one thing that unites all of these techniques: We become aware of how frequently our minds ARE in charge. It is real. In most cases, we think before acting.

How to make mindfulness a habit

According to estimates, 95% of our behavior is automatic. That’s because all of our habits are underpinned by neural networks, which condense the millions of sensory inputs we receive every second into usable shortcuts that allow us to survive in this crazy world. Because these automatic brain signals are so effective, we frequently fall back into old habits before we remember what we intended to do instead.

The complete opposite of these automatic processes is mindfulness. It allows for deliberate actions, willpower, and decisions instead of operating on autopilot. But getting there takes work. The intentional brain grows more powerful the more we use it. Every time we intentionally try something new, we activate our grey matter, which is full of recently sprouted neurons that have not yet been trained for “autopilot” brain, stimulating neuroplasticity.

But the issue is as follows. Despite the fact that our intentional brain knows what is best for us, our autopilot brain leads us to take short cuts in life. Then, how do we prompt ourselves to be mindful when we most need it? This is where “behavior design” enters the picture. It enables you to take control of the situation using your intentional brain. There are two ways to accomplish this: first, by placing obstacles in the path of the autopilot brain to slow it down; and second, by removing those same obstacles to allow the intentional brain to take control.

However, it takes some effort to change the balance so that your intentional brain has more power. Here are a few ideas for getting going:

  1. Place reminders to meditate all around you. Put your yoga mat or meditation cushion in the middle of your floor if you plan to practice yoga or meditate so that you won’t walk by and miss it.

  2. Regularly update your reminders. Let’s say you choose to use sticky notes to remind yourself of a fresh goal. That may work for about a week before your old habits and autopilot brain take over once more. Try composing new notes to yourself; be creative or humorous. They’ll stay with you longer if you do that.

  3. Make fresh patterns. If you want to make it simple to remember to switch into your intentional brain, try sending yourself a series of “If this, then that” messages. As an example, you might think of the phrase, “If office door, then deep breath,” as a way to transition into mindfulness as your workday is about to begin. Alternately, “If the phone rings, take a deep breath before answering.” Your intentional brain will become stronger with each deliberate effort to change into mindfulness.

A simple meditation for beginners

To be clear, our goal is mindfulness, not some process that will magically clear your mind of the countless and endless thoughts that constantly erupt and ping in our brains. We’re just getting used to practicing bringing our focus back to the breath when we notice it has strayed.

  1. Prepare to sit still for a few minutes by getting comfortable. You will only need to concentrate on your own natural breathing once you have finished reading this.
  2. Observe your breathing. Where do you most notice your breath? In your stomach? in the nostrils? Try to maintain focus on your inhalation and exhalation.
  3. Spend two minutes focusing on your breathing. Take a deep breath in, letting your belly expand. Then, slowly exhale, letting your belly contract as you lengthen the out-breath.

Hello again. What took place? How long did it take for your thoughts to leave your breathing behind? Did you notice how active your mind was even when you weren’t consciously telling it what to think about? Before returning to reading this, did you notice that your mind was wandering? We frequently have unintentional little stories running in our heads, such as, “Why does my boss want to meet with me tomorrow?” I ought to have visited the gym yesterday. “I’ve got some bills to pay,” or the traditional “I don’t have time to sit still, I’ve got stuff to do,” are both excuses.

We all experience these kinds of distractions, so if you have, you’ve learned something crucial: that is not mindfulness. It occurs when we are essentially not present in the moment because we are living in our heads, operating on autopilot, allowing our thoughts to wander, exploring, for example, the past or the future. But if we’re being completely honest, that’s where most of us spend the majority of our time—and it’s not exactly comfortable. However, things don’t have to be that way.

We “practice” mindfulness to develop the ability to spot when our minds are engaging in their typical daily gymnastics and to perhaps temporarily stop them so that we can choose what to focus on. To put it simply, meditation fosters a much better relationship with ourselves (and, by extension, with others).