Slow Your Mind

How to Meditate: A Beginner's Guide

How to Meditate: A Beginner's Guide
Put your awareness on your breathing, and gently bring your mind back whenever you lose focus. Photo: Dean Drobot / Shutterstock

Here's how to meditate:

  1. Find a quiet place where you will not get disturbed.
  2. Sit on a cushion, blanket or chair with your back straight and your hands on your knees.
  3. Put your awareness on your breathing (don't try to control your breathing).
  4. Whenever you lose focus, gently bring your awareness back to your breathing.

Meditate for five to ten minutes every day in the beginning. Increase the session time after some weeks of regular practice. Don't try to do too much too soon -- take it easy.

In recent years, meditation has gained more popularity in the West. One can say that meditation does to your mind what training does to your body. Many people practice meditation to reduce stress, feel calmer and be happier.

This is the definitive guide to meditation. It covers the benefits of meditation, how to sit, how to breathe, how long to meditate, walking meditation, mindfulness, as well as meditation tips when you get stuck.

Table of Contents

What is Meditation and Why Bother?

Meditation is a technique in which the practitioner focuses on an object -- like his breathing, nostril or a word -- and gently puts his awareness back whenever he loses focus. The goal is to see things as they really are and live a happier and more peaceful life.

Meditation is common in many religions. However, for the last decades, researchers have shown interest in the health benefits of regular meditation practice.

There's no secret that meditation reduces stress. For thousands of years, people have been practicing meditation and benefiting from its stress-reducing benefits. A study by researchers at the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine shows that mindfulness meditation programs can improve anxiety, depression and pain1.

Additionally, many practitioners experience better attention and easier emotional regulation by practising meditation daily.

Note: Meditation will not solve all your problems in life. It won't make you sexier, smarter or a better person. If you're looking for a quick fix, meditation is not for you. On the other hand, if you're determined to practice every day, meditation can be a rewarding experience.

The Basics of Meditation

Before you start, find a quiet place, where you will not be disturbed. Wear comfortable clothes.

How to Sit

There are many different ways to sit. In his book,Mindfulness In Plain English, Bhante Gunaratura lists four different sitting postures in ascending order of preference:

  1. Native American style. Place your left foot under your right knee and your right foot under your left knee.
  2. Burmese style. Place your legs flat on the floor with one in front of the other. Your feet and knees should touch the floor.
  3. Half lotus. Place your left foot to the inside of your right thigh. Place your right foot on top of your left calf. Your knees should touch the floor.
  4. Full lotus. Place your left foot on your right thigh and your right foot on your left thigh. Your knees should touch the floorcan i rank.

In these postures, sit on a cushion or a blanket. You don't need to buy an expensive meditation cushion. I often use a blanket which I fold up.

Let the top of your index finger touch the top of your thumb, keep the other fingers straight. Turn your palms upward and place your hands on your knees.

Don't look at anything. Fix your eyes at a point in front of you or keep your eyes closed.

Note: If sitting on the floor is not feasible for you, use a chair instead. Place your feet on the floor and your hands on your knees. Relax your arms.

How to Breathe

Once you sit in the right posture, give your body some time to tune in. Become aware of your surroundings and your whole body.

Then, bring your attention to your breathing. You should not control your breathing, only be mindful of it. Perhaps it's quick? Or perhaps it's hollow? It can be whatever.

Follow your breathing through your nose. How does it feel? When you become aware of your breath, feel how your mind slows down. When your mind slows down, your body becomes relaxed.

Whatever sensation you experience during meditation, note it without judging, and bring your attention back to the present. Feelings are just feelings. Thoughts are just thoughts. When we're not judging, we can see things as they really are.

How Long To Meditate

Many seasoned practitioners recommend beginners to sit for 20 minutes. I believe it is too long for most people. For beginners with no prior experience to meditation, I recommend sitting for five minutes a day. Keep the bar so low you can't fail. It will give you the momentum you need to go deeper.

After a few weeks of regular practice, you can begin to increase the time. If you want to meditate for more than 20 minutes, alternate between sitting and walking meditation.

I don't recommend using a timer. Sit until you know your session has ended.

What To Do When You Lose Focus

When your mind wanders, be aware that it has and gently bring it back to your breathing.

You can also try to count your breaths. Inhale and mentally count "one", exhale and mentally count "two". Continue through ten, then start over again.

Another way to count your breaths is to empty your lungs and mentally count "one". Inhale and exhale. Then, mentally count "two". Continue through ten.

Count your breaths until you have centred your mind on your breathing. When counting your breaths, don't try to control your breathing, just be aware of it.

The biggest mistake I did when I started to meditate was that I got mad at myself every time my mind wandered. "Why can't you even focus on your breathing?" I told myself. It took some time until I realised that meditation is not about never losing focus, but rather about bringing one's mind back whenever one loses focus. With some practice, you will find yourself losing focus less often.

I believe this idea can be applied to other parts of life as well. Whenever we get on the wrong track in life, we have to refocus.

More Meditation Exercises

In this section, I'll explain some more meditation exercises for you to try to go deeper in your practice.

Body Scan

To do a body scan, sit on a chair or lie on the floor.

First, bring your attention to your feet. Be fully aware of every inch of your feet. Try to feel all of your toes. Feel the area between your feet and the floor.

Continue in this manner, feel your legs, back, stomach, chest, arms, hands, shoulders, neck, ears, nose and eyelids.

Now, feel the area between your body and the floor/chair -- not just the body or just the floor/chair, but the space between. Feel the weight of your body.

When your mind wanders, note that it has and gently put it back.

How to Do Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is mindful walking.

To do walking meditation, first, let your body tune in to your surroundings. Become aware of your surroundings.

Then, put your focus on your body. If you find tension in your body, be fully aware of it and let it go. Relax your whole body.

Next, be aware of your breathing.

Slowly walk a few meters, where you are aware of every step you take. Be mindful of the contact between your feet and the ground. Turn around slowly and walk back.

Walk back and forth for about 10-20 minutes. Feel the natural rhythm of your steps and your breathing -- harmonised. You are fully present in the moment and one with yourself and your surroundings. Smile and enjoy every step.

Note: In the beginning, you will probably look like a bit weird, so I suggest you find a private place where you can practise. However, you can practise walking meditation everywhere. The next time you're on your way, be aware of your walking instead of looking at your phone, doing a call or listening to music.

Mindfulness for Beginners

Mindfulness is about being aware of the present moment. It can be practised everywhere, for example:

To be present in every moment, we have to slow down. Only when we slow down, we can see the little things in life. Bring your attention to your breathing. Be aware of your feelings without judging. Watch them pass away. That's the way of life.

You can practice mindfulness in just two minutes with these two-minute mindfulness exercises.

Meditation Tips When You Get Stuck

Many new practitioners feel strange when meditating for the first time. It can feel awkward doing nothing, or your back may hurt.

These feelings are alright. It may take some time to get used to meditation, but when you do, you will want to do more of it.

Here are some tips for when you get stuck:

  1. Do it every day for at least a month. It takes time to form a new habit. Stay committed and practice every day for at least a month. If you do, you'll see why it's worth it.
  2. Make time for meditation. There's a good idea to practice meditation at the same time every day. It's too easy to say "I'll do it later" and then it doesn't get done. Make time for meditation in your day. You're not so busy you don't have enough time to meditate. Make meditation one of your top priorities.
  3. Embrace obstacles. It's nearly impossible to not come across obstacles in one's meditation journey. It can be a stressful period in your life or harmful thoughts in your mind. Let it rise and watch it pass away. The goal should not be not to have any obstacles, but to face every obstacle with compassion and awareness.
  4. Relax. Don't force your mind or body into something. Meditation is not forced concentration -- it's awareness of the present.
  5. Smile. Meditation is not something serious. You should take your practice seriously, but sitting is just sitting. Don't forget to smile!
  6. Don't overthink. You will gain experience with more training, so don't overthink -- just do. Bring a loving attitude to your sessions. Feel gratitude for being able to practice.
  7. Take your time. Meditation is not something you do for only a few weeks or months, and then you're done. It's a daily practice. Try to be present in the here and now instead of focusing on the future.
  8. Find a teacher. If you get stuck, a great teacher can help you. Find a teacher you feel comfortable around.
  9. Practise with others. Form a group with some friends and practise meditation together. Practising meditation with others can be an enjoyable experience.
  10. Restart. Sometimes things happen in life, and we have to restart. That's how it is. Take a short break from meditation and then start over again.

A Note on Special Moments

In the beginning of your meditation journey, you will experience what I call "special moments", that is, overwhelming feelings during meditation.

When you experience it, let it rise. Eventually, it will pass away. Be aware of the feeling. Special moments become rare with more practice.

In my meditation practice, I've experienced some special moments. During one of my first yin yoga and meditation sessions, I started crying at the end. I got overwhelmed with gratitude, and suddenly the tears were streaming down my face. I got an emotional discharge. After the session, it felt like a weight was taken off my shoulders.

Special moments become rare with more practice.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Should Beginners Meditate?

A beginner should practice for 10 minutes every day during the first couple of weeks. After that, increase the time little by little each week.

What Is the Purpose of Meditation?

One can say that the purpose of meditation is to see things as they really are, without human-made attributes.

However, some people meditate for spirituality, others because it make them feel happier. There's no rights or wrongs. Try meditation for yourself to see what purpose it serves in your life.

When Is the Best Time to Meditate?

It's not important what time you meditate, but that you practice every day. That being said, it's recommended to start your day with a morning meditation session. Additionally, you can enjoy an evening meditation session too.

See Also

Here's a list with good resources on meditation and mindfulness:

  1. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357–368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018 

Published by on . Last updated 2020-07-07.