Meditation is a practice that has been around for thousands of years but learning how to meditate has become much more common today. It originated as a religious and spiritual practice, but today, it is practiced by millions of people without any religious or spiritual undertones.
I think it’s important to focus on that point. Meditation doesn’t need the “woo woo” or the hyperbole. Approach meditation like you would approach the gym. You go to the gym to strengthen your muscles and keep your body in good shape. After working out for a while, you begin to learn a bit more about your body and its strength. You begin to develop new abilities, flexibility, and skills.
A regular meditation practice is like this. You strengthen your mind and keep it in good shape. You also begin to learn a bit more about yourself through regular self-insight and introspection. You also begin to develop new tools to help you deal with things that happen to you and in your life.
Meditation also doesn’t require you to believe anything or have any expectations. There aren’t any claims or dogma. Everything about meditation requires you to simply test and see for yourself. It’s your opportunity to run an experiment in your mind. All it takes is 10 minutes, seated on a chair or cushion, with your eyes closed, to see the nature of your consciousness.
So now that we ground meditation a bit to reality, why do you want to learn how to meditate?
Meditation today is used by many people to alleviate stress, practice mindfulness, and as a way of self-insight and introspection. Studies have already shown the countless benefits of meditating regularly.
Determining why you want to meditate, can help point you in the right direction in terms of what type of meditation practice is best for you. Some forms of meditation are better for introspection and clearing the mind of thoughts. Other forms of meditation are better for stress and anxiety.
Becoming clear on why you want to learn how to meditate, can help not only decide what kind of meditation to learn, but also make it easier to learn, as part of practicing is setting your focus on your intentions.
The reality is that most of us live constantly in our heads all day. We live in constant momentum, with our minds dwelling on the past or worried about the future. It’s kind of like being awake but dreaming. We’re not actually here.
Meditation is a way to “snap out of it”, in a sense. It’s a way to live more presently, to get out of our heads and in some ways, get out of our own way. It’s a way to finally live in the moment. A lot of our suffering comes from our suffering of suffering. In other words, it’s stress, anxiety, and pain created by the mind. Bad things inevitably happen, but our minds make these things worse. Meditation helps us change our relationship to emotions and the things that happen to us, which can lead to much more fulfilled and happier lives.
Types of meditation
There are many ways and styles of meditation. Here are some of the more popular and easier ways of meditating that are great for newcomers.
One of the more famous and mainstream forms of meditation is known as Transcendental Meditation. In general, this style of meditating is known as mantra meditation. Sometimes you’re asked to meditate on an idea, others ask you to meditate on a phrase or word. The idea is the same: to internalize this idea with regular practice, until it becomes a part of the consciousness.
Visualization meditation is just as it sounds. You’re asked to visualize an object, a place, a setting or even a person. Some people do this to prepare for an event or for their day. Others use this to change their mood or set themselves into a certain state of mind.
Mindfulness meditation is probably the best type of meditation practice for beginners. Of course, there’s many ways of practicing mindfulness meditation, but using the breath to practice it is what we’ll be teaching. In our opinion, it’s the most well-rounded practice. It helps improve attention to the present moment, which can help with stress and anxiety, it helps improve regulation of emotions and thoughts, which can help with depression and rumination.
It’s often the type of meditation taught to newcomers, since it also fulfills the purpose or reason why most people are looking to start meditating.
Ultimately, all these types of meditation are to help getting you to a meditative state. Whether it’s a mantra or focusing on the breath, these are simply vehicles.
It’s important to mention that meditation doesn’t require any special posture, seating arrangement, or connecting your thumb to your index finger like you often might see in movies or popular depictions in media. Meditation posture is actually quite simple.
The truth is, you could meditate standing up and with your eyes open if you really wanted to. However, for beginners, the easiest way to learn to meditate is seated in a comfortable chair, with an upright but relaxed posture.
One of the common things new meditators complain about when trying to learn, is meditation can make them sleepy or fall asleep. This is why we’re going to suggest sitting and not lying down when you’re trying to learn to meditate. Also, you don’t need to sit in any kind of lotus position, again, like you might see depicted in popular media. For a beginner, all that matters is you have some privacy to learn and not become distracted, as well as a comfortable spot.
The best attitude to learn how to meditate
While meditation may not physically require much of you for you to learn how to meditate and get started, there are some things you should consider bringing into your first practice, and consider not bringing. Your mindset and attitude can influence the first impression meditation leaves on you. It’s important to consider your attitude before practicing.
- Drop any expectations: If you bring any expectations of meditation into your first practice, it will influence and shape the practice in a way that shouldn’t be intentional. Meditation is not just some relaxation technique. Meditation doesn’t mean going into a trance. Meditation shouldn’t “feel” a certain way.
- Patience: When you first begin to practice, it’s important to be patient with the practice and patience with yourself. Expecting to “see” something or experience “results” immediately or quickly will make your practice more difficult than it needs to be. Treat the practice as an experiment, and be patient.
- Drop the effort: It’s very common for newcomers to be very eager and excited when sitting for their first practice. With this energy comes effort. They try to meditate. This is the wrong approach. Effort tends to generate or fabricate feelings. It makes it appear as though something is happening when nothing is happening. Instead, meditate effortlessly. Sit and watch.
- Go easy on yourself: If you struggle or you seem to just not be “getting it”, don’t become frustrated. An important thing to keep in mind is that you’re new and learning. Go easy on yourself.
- Accept everything and reject nothing: Whatever arises or happens during your first practice, is part of the practice. There’s no “right” or “correct” things that should be happening in the practice.
Ways to learn how to meditate
There are many different ways to learn how to meditate. We’ll be focusing on one specific way, but let’s go over some of the more common ways people learn to how to meditate.
With a timer
This is a very easy and low maintenance way to learn how to meditate. Simply set a timer or alarm for 5 minutes, close your eyes, and practice.
When you start practicing for 10 or 20 minutes, you might want to set an interval bell, just to give you a notice of how much time you have left, so the practice doesn’t feel so long, and leave you feeling restless. For example, we might set a timer for 20 minutes, to practice meditating for 20 minutes, but set another timer that goes off at 10 minutes to let us know we’re half way through the practice.
Of course, make sure it’s a gentle noise. We’re not looking for an alarm buzzer noise here. Something like a soft bell, chime, or ding is perfect.
Many newcomers try to use music to help them meditate. This is usually used by newcomers who are looking to calm their minds and nerves from stress and anxiety. For the mindfulness meditation we will practice, it doesn’t really make sense to learn mindfulness meditation with music as it might be distracting in the beginning. Still, if you’re learning to meditate by closing your eyes and spending some time to reflect on your day and thoughts, some soft background music can help.
A guided meditation can be done in person or through audio/video online and uses a teacher to provide verbal cues and reminder, so that you know where to focus your attention and when. I think the biggest benefit to using guided meditations as a beginner, is that it provides a reminder throughout the practice to return the mind’s attention back to meditating. New comers will find their minds wandering or becoming lost in thought, which is normal. A guide helps with this by providing gentle reminders to return focus, throughout the guided session.
This is how we recommend learning as well as maintaining your practice. Guided meditation isn’t just a tool for beginners. Many experienced meditators, such as ourselves, continue to use guided meditation.
We have a growing library of guided meditations that’s completely free.
Step by step: your first mindfulness meditation practice
Let’s begin to learn how to meditate. First, the way we recommend learning is through guided meditation. There are a ton of apps and teachers out there that are great for this.
However, we don’t believe you need to pay to get a great guided meditation teacher. That’s why we put together all these free guided meditations on YouTube. We wanted them to match the quality of something you might pay for online, but make it accessible to everyone.
We recommend learning by going through our short, 5 minute, “how to meditate for beginners guided walkthrough“. It’s short, goes through each step in detail, and will teach you the basics of a mindfulness meditation practice.
Like we said earlier, we think mindfulness meditation is the most accessible, well-rounded, and easiest type of meditation for beginners and new comers to learn.
Many people who want to learn how to meditate, are usually looking to relieve their stress, reduce anxiety, and improve their mental health. A regular mindfulness practice can help with this. But it can also do much more than that. It can help us live more fulfilled and happier lives. It can help us get out of our heads more often and live more presently. It’s also a way to better understand ourselves and our consciousness. So let’s go step by step, on how to meditate for the first time.
- First, find a quiet spot or area where you can remain undisturbed for 10 minutes. With time, you’ll learn and be able to meditate virtually anywhere. I think for beginners however, it’s best to find somewhere where you can focus on your practice and not become distracted.
- We recommend setting a timer if you’re not going to use a guided meditation like we suggested earlier. You can use a simple timer or alarm on your phone. Set it for 10 minutes.
- Find a comfortable chair or place a cushion or mat on the floor. We’re going to learn to meditate seated. Ensure you’re seated with your back straight and upright, but relax your posture. Don’t force it. Next, rest your hands in your lap. You can clasp them if you want, or simply rest one hand over the other. Like we mentioned earlier, you don’t need to do the cliched index finger touching the thumb.
- Maintain a soft focus and gaze with your eyes open.
- With your eyes open, take a few deep breaths. In through your nose, and out through your mouth.
- After 5 or 6 deep breaths, close your eyes.
- Bring your attention to the physical points of contact. Notice your legs resting on the chair or on the floor. Notice your arms and hands resting in your lap. Notice your back against the chair.
- Notice the sounds and space around you. Notice the coolness or warmth of the room. Notice any tingling sensations. Focus your attention on the physical for the next few minutes.
- As you do this, your mind may wander. You might find yourself lost in thought, completely forgetting that you were trying to meditate in the first place. This is completely normal. When you catch your mind wandering, gently return your focus to the practice. This is again why we strongly suggest guided meditations for newcomers, since it provides a reminder when the mind wanders.
- Now begin to center your attention on your breathing. Notice the rising and falling sensation is breath produces. Watch each breath in and each breath out as it passes.
- To make it a little easier to maintain your focus on the breath, count the breaths as they pass. Count each breath in, and breath out, until you reach a count of 10. Once you reach a count of 10, start the count again from 1. If you lose focus or your mind wanders, bring the attention back to the breath and start from 1 again. Try doing this for 5 minutes.
- Again, your mind will wander and that’s fine. Whenever you catch yourself lost in thought, gently note your thought as “thinking” and return your attention to the practice. What you’re likely beginning to notice is just how busy our minds are, and how thoughts are constantly surfaced from our subconscious. Our instinct is usually to follow the thought, which leads us to become our thoughts. This can cause us to have anxiety, stress, remorse, grief, and other uncomfortable feelings even though all that’s causing us to feel this way is our thinking. A regular mindfulness meditation practice allows us to practice watching our thoughts and letting them go.
- Gently return your attention back to the body. Again, notice the physical points of contact. Your arms in your lap, your legs or feet on the floor or against the chair.
- Release your focus. Allow your mind to do whatever it wants.
- Gently open your eyes and notice how you feel.
- You’ve just completed your first meditation session!
To get the most out of meditating, make sure you try to keep a regular practice. Start with 5 minutes a day and slowly build up to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and 20 minutes a day. Some days you’ll be more restless. Others you will be more distracted. The great thing about mindfulness meditation is that this is part of the practice. Observe how you feel before you start a session. Observe the feelings that come up. Become aware of the patterns and thoughts that happen when you meditate.
It’s important when you’re learning to make a commitment to practice at least once a day and to stick with it for a few weeks. Again, drop those temptations to attach expectations to your practices. Treat this as an experiment over the next few weeks and see if you begin to develop a deeper understanding of yourself and your mind, and if you start to practice mindfulness outside of your practice.
One of the more clear ways to determine if you’re making “progress” with your practice is if you’re practicing mindfulness outside of your meditation practice, even if it’s only for a few seconds. Once you start doing that, you’re starting to break out of this awakened-dreaming state that so many people live in everyday.