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How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners

10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation

What is Meditation?

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How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners

It’s often said that meditation may be simple, but it isn’t easy. And this makes sense. It’s not part of our normal routine to sit quietly, without any distraction, and just… breathe.

It can feel pretty uncomfortable—at first.

You’ll want to fidget. You’ll want to shift around in your seat. You’ll notice weird twinges and feel itchy in the strangest of places. You’ll be bored and wonder how much time is left until you can stop. You’ll daydream. You’ll think about all the other things you need to attend to.

And you’ll bring your attention back, again and again and again.

That’s it. That’s meditation.

Soon enough you’ll be wondering why you didn’t try it sooner.

But we won’t lie: You may not fall in love with meditation immediately. What you will experience, however, is pretty great.

  • You’ll be more relaxed.
  • You’ll go back into your day a bit more focused and clear.
  • You’ll feel less reactive.
  • You’ll be more accepting toward other people (even the really annoying ones), and maybe more OK with yourself.

Not bad for a few minutes of sitting in silence, right? And it just gets better from here. Read on to learn more about meditation and how to start meditating yourself.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is the practice of lightly holding your attention on an anchor, such as your breath, and gently bringing it back there when it wanders.

Meditation is:

  • Something anyone can do
  • Allowing thoughts and emotions to arise, and observing them in a curious and friendly way
  • Befriending yourself as you would someone you cared for
  • Spacious
  • A journey of reconnection

Meditation isn’t:

  • Stopping all thoughts
  • Inherently spiritual
  • Only for some people
  • Always feeling happy
  • Suppressing your emotions

Why Should You Start Meditating?

The benefits of meditation go beyond feeling more calm. Meditation has been found to support our health and also to improve our overall outlook. Maybe more importantly, meditation is a way to enter into a kinder, more generous relationship with yourself and others.

Here are some of the ways that meditation helps, backed by research:

How to Meditate: Getting Started

Meditation is the best tool we have for increasing mindfulness. It’s also a powerful way to bring a greater sense of calm focus and equanimity to our day-to-day lives.

Learning to meditate is pretty straightforward, but it takes practice.

Follow these steps to start meditating right away:

  1. Find a comfortable seated position. Sit so you feel supported and alert and in a way that you can stay comfortably for a while. It can help to have your knees slightly lower than your hips, to allow your spine to maintain its natural slight curve. This can be accomplished by sitting on the edge of a chair or another seat, or by sitting on the floor with a support like a meditation cushion under your hips.
  2. Rest your hands in your lap.
  3. Soften your gaze and lower your eyes, not focused on anything in particular. You may also close your eyes, if that’s more comfortable.
  4. Begin by taking one or two full, deep breaths, feeling your entire body release on the exhalation. Then gently close your lips and begin breathing at a natural pace through your nose.
  5. Bring your attention to the sensation of air moving into and out of your body. On the inhale, notice it traveling into your nose, your throat, down into your lungs. Notice the rise in your chest and belly. On the exhale, notice how the air leaves your body.
  6. Continue like this for two minutes. Noticing the breath moving into your body on the inhale, and leaving your body on the exhale.
  7. When your mind wanders, gently guide it back to your breath. No judgment, no big deal. Just bring it back to the breath.
  8. When you’re done, calmly expand your attention back to your surroundings.

That’s it! That’s meditation.

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10 Types of Meditation to Try

1. Mindfulness Meditation

This basic meditation technique uses an anchor, such as the breath or a sound, to help steady our attention and allow our awareness to come more fully into the present moment.

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2. Loving-Kindness Meditation

This technique invokes feelings of love, caring, and kindness, which you then “send” to others, even to the entire world, in the form of a wish.

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Metta Loving Kindness Meditation

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3. Guided Meditation

Listening to a teacher, either live or through a recording, you are guided through a meditation practice that may involve imagery, sensory awareness, or another technique.

Cory Muscara

Settling Your Nerves

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4. Body Scan Meditation

In this meditation, you bring your awareness to different parts of your body, commonly starting at your feet and traveling to the top of your head.

Vidyamala Burch

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5. Self-Compassion Meditation

Like Loving-Kindness Meditation, this technique involves invoking feelings of compassion and kindness toward yourself, and specifically for difficult situations or feelings.

Rhonda Magee

The Joy of Self-Compassion

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6. Mantra meditation

A mantra, or a word or phrase that you repeat to yourself silently, can be used as an anchor for your awareness during meditation. In some practices, a mantra is given to you by a teacher. You can also use your own.

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7. Moving meditation

Moving meditation is done by bring present-moment awareness to a gentle physical activity, such as walking, yoga, tai chi or chi kung.

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Walking

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8. Open Monitoring Meditation

Expanding your awareness during meditation to notice anything in your experience, inner or outer, and simply noticing what’s there without holding it in your focus.

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9. Mountain Meditation

A visualization meditation that harnesses the image of a mountain to guide us into awareness of our own steady, still nature beyond the thinking mind.

Shamash Alidina

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10. Gratitude Practice

A science-backed practice of nurturing positive feelings and resilience, we bring our awareness to all the good, nourishing and fulfilling elements of our life, big and small.

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10 Meditation Tips for Beginners

1. There is no “bad” meditation.

Every time you sit down to practice, you’ve succeeded.

2. Breathe naturally through your nose

You want your breathing to be relaxed, not forced in any way. It may help to take a few deep, clearing breaths before you start, and then allow your breathing to settle into a natural rhythm.

3. Find the best position for your body.

If sitting on the floor is uncomfortable for you, by all means, take a chair or another seat. Just make sure that you are comfortable, relaxed but alert, and can stay in that position for a while.

4. Give it 2 minutes.

You’ll be surprised how fast it goes by. Add a minute or two with each successive session until you find the ideal duration for your daily practice.

5. You can’t stop your thoughts.

While you often hear about “clearing your mind” through meditation, the truth is you can’t really clear or empty your mind. Thinking is what these big ol’ brains of ours do! And stopping thinking isn’t the goal of meditation, anyway—not getting caught up in those thoughts is. Now, as you get more comfortable meditating, you may find yourself sometimes experiencing moments of spaciousness that feels like no thoughts are happening. If that occurs, cool! Enjoy the sensation. But thoughts happen. Becoming less attached to them is one of the main reasons why we meditate.

6. Let in some air.

If you find yourself getting sleepy during meditation practice, open a window to let in some fresh air, or try meditating outside.

7. Be OK with being a beginner.

No one begins a meditation practice and can sit like a monk for hours right away. And even if they could, that’s not the goal. The entire reason for meditation is learning to work with your mind in your normal life. And practice is how we do it.

8. Use your body.

The body is a wonderful touchstone for meditation. Use it to help guide your attention inward and to train it to notice what’s right happening in the moment.

9. Be kind toward yourself.

A stern or punitive attitude doesn’t work with meditation (does it with anything, though?). In other words: You can’t will yourself into being a “good” meditator. That’s just a lot of wasted energy. And for what? Meditation is about befriending yourself. Treat thoughts and other distractions with a friendly curiosity, as you might a passerby in the neighborhood. Maybe give ‘em a wave as they walk by, and then get back to your practice.

10. Try naming.

A helpful trick for dealing with thoughts and other distractions in meditation is to name them as they arise. It’s just like it sounds: When a thought comes into your mind, silently say “thought.” When a bit of emotion starts to stir, simply name it— “sadness,” for example. If you find yourself ruminating about something that happened, tell yourself: “remembering.” You can come up with your own labels, but the point is to simply acknowledge what’s coming up, give it a nod, and then let it go without engaging any further.

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How to Make Meditation a Daily Habit

Any amount of meditation is better than no meditation at all. But the benefits of meditation are compounded when you do it regularly. And daily? Even better. A daily meditation practice will yield benefits that will reverberate into every area of your life.

Try these tips to make meditating every day a no-brainer.

  • Set up a meditation space so it’s readily available.
  • Make your space welcoming and appealing so you want to go there.
  • Aim to practice at the same time each day.
  • Incorporate meditation into other areas of your life: Try it on the bus or train on your way to and from work; take 5-10 minutes at the end of your lunch break to meditate; take 10 minutes to meditate before turning off the lights to go to sleep.
  • Set a timer on your phone to remind you to meditate, or subscribe to a meditation app that sends you notifications.
  • Pair meditation with another daily activity, such as a 1-minute meditation as you wait for your morning coffee or tea to cool, or as you sit in the carpool lane.
The benefits of meditation are compounded when you do it regularly.

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