How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners
10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation
What is Meditation?
How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners
10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation
What is Meditation?
Benefits of Mindfulness: Mindful Living Can Change Your Life
Mindfulness 101: A Beginner's Guide
What is meditation? Here we explore what meditation is (and isn’t), various styles, its many benefits, and how you can get started today.
And like physical skills — drawing, guitar playing, computer programming, rock climbing — meditation is a mental skill that becomes more natural and rewarding the more you do it.
Let’s clear up some of the biggest misconceptions about meditation right away.
While you might have a preferred location or type of clothing, the truth is you can meditate anywhere, anytime, and these techniques can be used by those with or without any spiritual affiliation and still have transformative effects.
Even just 10-15 (imperfect!) minutes a day using the simplest meditation techniques can start making a difference in your everyday life.
Rather than trying to force or deny any of these things, meditation shows us how to acknowledge and observe our experiences in a non-judgmental way that creates a whole new perspective and new possibilities for responding.
Mindfulness is a way of living that involves offering focused attention to whatever is happening in the present moment — this meal, this conversation, this feeling, this walk — without judging it or trying to change it.
Meditation is a form of mindfulness practice that uses different techniques to train attention and awareness, calm the brain, and create the space that allows for more mental clarity and emotional stability.
Meditation can be seen as one of many seeds that, when nurtured daily, can lead to mindful living.
It can be easy to think of meditation as some esoteric practice reserved for mountaintop-dwelling monks, something that doesn’t apply to the “normal-people” messiness of daily living.
But as more researchers have been asking, What is meditation? And how does it work? — it’s becoming clear that this practice has everything to do with our everyday lives.
Thanks to a growing interest in the science of meditation in recent years, we now have a much clearer idea of how meditation works. In other words, we know more about what meditation does to the brain.
In a nutshell, meditation calms the parts of our brains that can get overactive as a result of the nonstop stimuli and stress that surround us. These all ramp up the alert centers of our brains and put us into “fight or flight” mode.
This is what makes us agitated, anxious, and fearful. It’s what causes us to overreact (sometimes without even thinking) to things like annoying traffic, a bad day at work, or a clickbait headline.
When we meditate, the neural pathways of overactivity in the fear-centers of our brain actually get re-wired. Over time, our ability to calmly assess a situation before we respond increases. We don’t take everything personally. The connections in parts of the brain linked to empathy and awareness of others get stronger, too.
Here’s a simple way to complete your own basic meditation session. Remember: it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. Just you, showing up, is the perfect start.
This can be a chair, a cushion, or the floor — whatever is the most quiet and comfortable for you, in a position you can stay in that feels relaxed.
Go for non-constricting, comfy, and easy.
It’s easier to make a habit of meditating when you do it at roughly the same time each day.
If you’re trying meditation for the first time, 5-10 minutes is more than enough. You can add time as you do it more.
You can keep your eyes open (with a soft gaze on one spot), or you can close your eyes. When you’re ready, just turn your attention gently to your body. Notice how it feels to be where you are, the sensation of your bum in the chair, or your feet planted on the floor. Notice your breath going in and out.
There’s no need to try and control your breathing or do extra long inhales or exhales. Just breathe in a way that feels natural.
It’s totally normal for your mind to go other places, maybe even dozens of times in a session. This isn’t something to “fix” — it’s just something to notice. And when you notice, gently guide your attention back to your breathing.
We’re so used to trying to maximize, conquer, accomplish — and then judging ourselves by how well we do something. Meditation is occurring outside this framework of external achievement, which can be a totally new experience.
And for many of us, silence is uncomfortable. Our daily lives are LOUD, and sometimes we sort of hide out in that noise. Quieting ourselves in a quiet room can take some getting used to.
So when your mind wanders, don’t chastise yourself. When unexpected thoughts or feelings arise, don’t try to stop them or control them. There is no “should.” Simply notice and return your attention to your breath.
Open your eyes slowly, or lift your gaze. Tune into your environment again: the sounds outside your window, the fan blowing, the refrigerator hum. Notice how your body feels. Notice how you feel.
You might feel amazing. Or annoyed. Or uncertain. Your foot might have gone numb. Notice it all, and then, before you leave your spot, say one kind thing to yourself.
That’s it. It doesn’t have to ever be more complicated than that.
(If you want to read more, or find more meditation tips and ideas, you can check out our How To Meditate page.)
In this meditation, we'll train our brain to focus like a camera, zooming in when we want more detail, and zooming out when we want more space and perspective.
While there are dozens of ways to approach meditation, there are a few types that are well-known and great for beginners.
A mindfulness meditation practice is very similar to what we just walked through above. It focuses on noticing the present moment, your body, your breath — and observing all things without judgment.
Some people like to have a sound, word, or phrase to focus on during their daily meditation practice.
Some mantras have a specific meaning, others are sounds that resonate in the body. Like breathing techniques, mantras can provide an anchor point that helps keep the mind focused.
Loving-Kindness meditation (also known as Metta) brings intentional awareness to radiating compassion, forgiveness, safety, and wellness — towards ourselves, our loved ones, strangers, and eventually even those we struggle to love.
As we’ve said above (and will go into more detail below), a specific set of spiritual or religious beliefs is not required to meditate. But for those who do find value in their religious beliefs, there are contemplative, devotional, and prayer-based meditation techniques that can add richness and depth to any spiritual framework.
It can be helpful for beginners to meditate (in person or virtually) with an experienced teacher who gently moves the listener through a complete meditation session.
Beyond just relaxation, meditation shifts how we see and respond to the moments of our lives. In addition, its effects can also be measured in our bodies, making it a great companion for integrative health treatments. And with daily practice, the positive effects have staying power.
Here are just 10 of many documented benefits of regular meditation:
Meditation in psychology is the science-backed use of meditation to help mental health practitioners improve their clients’ mental and emotional wellbeing.
Two of the most well-known applications of meditation in psychology are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).
MBSR uses mindfulness and meditation to help people dealing with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. The 8-week program was developed in the 1970s by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn. It has become influential in bringing science-based, secular MBSR practices into schools, hospitals, businesses, and even governmental agencies.
MBCT combines the clinical treatment protocols of Cognitive Therapy with specific meditative and mindfulness practices for those who deal with chronic depression and long-term unhappiness. Here meditation helps people to see and understand how the mind is working within their mood disorders — and offers practical tools to help them stop negative mood spirals that can lead to recurring bouts of depression.
Lots of people who are curious about the benefits of meditation also want to know about its connection to religion. It’s common for people to have the assumption that meditation is an inherently religious practice, or that it is designed to somehow make people more spiritual.
While meditation is an ancient practice and has its roots in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the specific techniques and mechanisms at work are not in and of themselves religious.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the developer of MBSR mentioned above, has been intentional about separating (while not disparaging) the religious context of meditation from its non-religious essence. As he puts it, “[T]o insist that … meditation is Buddhist is like saying gravity is English because it was identified by Sir Isaac Newton.”
For many people who are devout in their particular religious tradition, a daily meditation practice greatly enhances their experience and wellbeing. Agnostics and atheists also report experiencing a sense of calm, inner peace, compassion, and equanimity towards others.
No matter where you’re coming from or starting from, there’s a meditative approach that can be a great fit for you and your personal goals. Whatever style or meditation technique you choose, you can begin transforming your relationship to yourself, others, and your world today.
In this interview, Melli talks to Jack about how to integrate spiritual life with everyday life and what it means to be ‘on the path’ of mindfulness.
Enjoy these articles, stories, and guided practices for incorporating mindfulness into every day.
Mindful Meditation Program For Beginners
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