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Sit up straight, legs crossed, eyes open, clear your mind, and breathe. Yes, these are the basic instructions for a successful meditation practice, but when you are just starting out, these things are hard to do! Instead of blindly following all of the standard meditation tips for beginners, I adjusted to what felt right for me. In this post, I will share both “expert” tips and the modifications I made that led me to a consistent meditation practice. If they worked for me, perhaps they will work for you as well.
I’ve been working on my meditation practice off and on for a few years now. Once I decided that the expert guidance really was just that – guidance – I became far more creative in trying to find ways of meditating that worked for me. And the more liberal I got, the more consistent my practice became. Currently, I meditate every day and I can’t imagine ever stopping.
Determining if Meditation is Right for You
Have you been considering giving meditation a try? You’ve heard about the benefits, and it seems like everyone is doing it these days. Could it be for you?
There are many, many proven benefits to meditating, including these five shared by Mindful.org:
1: Understand your pain
2: Lower your stress
3: Connect better
4: Improve focus
5: Reduce brain chatter
Ah, but perhaps meditation seems a little too woo-woo and “out there” and that makes you uncomfortable.
Maybe you’ve got so much on your plate already, and you feel like meditating, while a nice idea, would just be one more item on your lengthy to-do list, and create more stress than it could every relieve.
Maybe just the thought of sitting still makes you a little crazy.
Or maybe you just don’t know how to get started.
The tips I will provide you with come from experts in the field of meditation, with far, far more experience and expertise than I have. But I will also give you the tips that I have used to create my own daily practice. They might not be anything the experts would agree with – but they have made me a regular practitioner, and I think that’s what counts. Ultimately, I encourage you to be open-minded, try some different techniques, and do what works best for you.
Are You Ready? It’s Time to Begin.
Tip #1: Start.
When I say start, I mean just that. Meditation is a practice. You don’t start off knowing what to do, you learn as you go. Don’t worry about having a productive experience right away, or knowing what to do, or how to focus.
Just start. Choose a time of day and commit to meditating at that time every day. Starting today.
Many people find mornings the best time to meditate, but maybe you prefer evenings.
Try to pair your practice with something else you do daily, for example, you will meditate every day after your first cup of coffee. Or before you step in the shower. After exercise. Just pick a time. Personally, I meditate right after my morning walk with the dog, before breakfast.
Start today. Commit to do it again tomorrow. Build a habit.
The more regularly and the more deeply you meditate, the sooner you will find yourself acting always from a center of peace.J. Donald Walters
Tip #2: Keep it Short. Really, Really Short.
Decide how long your beginning practices will last.
Do not start with an hour, half hour, or even fifteen minutes. That’s too long! Try two minutes to start with, at the most. Or one minute. Or 6 deep breaths. Whatever you can sincerely commit to.
Make the time so short, you will actually have no excuse not to fit it in. And even if that time seems laughably short, it is better to have a short consistent practice than to sit for an hour once a week…or month. The strength of your practice is in doing it consistently, not the amount of time spent in each session.
And as you build your practice, you will very naturally slide into longer sessions as you become more comfortable with what you are doing.
So don’t sweat the time. Keep it short for now.
Tip #3: Choose Your Spot. Or Spots.
Common advice is to meditate in the same space every time. That doesn’t work well for me, though. I stop, drop, and meditate when my brain tells me it’s time, wherever I might be. I prefer to mix it up. My favorite spot is outside on the patio, but obviously that can’t always happen, so I go somewhere else. No biggie.
Experts recommend a quiet spot, and this I agree with if it’s an option. Eliminate the noise you can control, such as the tv and phone notifications, but learn to accept the sounds that are out of your control. The traffic outside will not stop because it’s your meditation time.
Also, sometimes noise can be calming and help you focus. Try soft music or the white noise of a fan. Gentle, soothing sound might work better for you than silence.
Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.Ajahn Brahm
Tip #4: Find a Comfortable Position.
The traditional pose everyone seems to associate with meditation is sitting on the floor with your back straight and your legs crossed. If this is comfortable for you, great. It hurts my back, so I don’t sit that way when I meditate.
If you like sitting upright, you can meditate just as well seated in a comfortable chair or on the couch with your back supported and your feet on the floor. Or sit on the floor, but lean your back against a wall.
If I am meditating while sitting upright, I will often hold a warm cup of tea or coffee. I don’t drink it, but find that the warmth on my fingertips gives me an obvious place to bring my focus when my mind starts to wander.
My preference is to lie down on my back when I meditate. Either lie flat on your back with your legs straight and your arms at your sides (savasana pose from yoga) or hands on your belly, fingertips lightly touching. If you need more support for your back, you may want to bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor. In any position, feel free to use pillows or blankets for extra support.
I often go one step further and lie on my back with my legs raised and calves resting on the seat of a chair. This is considered to be a very healing position, and it’s good for digestion, too.
You will want to stretch your body for a minute or two before you begin, or try tensing all of your muscles at once for a few seconds, and then relaxing them. Adjust your positioning as needed. You want to be comfortable.
Most meditation sessions instruct you to start with your eyes open, and then close them when directed. I sometimes start with them closed and keep them closed until the end of the session. It helps me to eliminate visual distractions.
Make sure you are not too warm or cold, and your stomach isn’t too full or empty. Again, the more comfortable you are, the easier you can meditate. Be aware that it is indeed possible to fall asleep, so I do not recommend meditating in bed under the covers, unless sleep is your goal!
Tip #5: Follow a Guide, or Your Breath
A guided meditation program is much easier to use than going it alone, particularly for beginners. Guided meditation is simply having someone walk you through your practice, usually on a recording. I love, love, love the Headspace app. They have oodles of meditations, including a detailed beginner series, and they offer a FREE TRIAL. Another good app is Calm (which also has a free trial), and of course there are also plenty of videos on Youtube to guide you. Experiment with the different styles and voices to see what you respond to best.
If you are not using a guided practice, focus on your breath. You can either take several long, slow, deep breaths OR just breathe normally but be conscious of your breathing without trying to control it in any way.
Counting your breaths helps keep your mind focused.
Take a moment to check in with how you are feeling mentally and physically. Is your mind overly busy? Do you feel anxious? Is your body energized, and are you feeling any aches and pains? There are no right or wrong answers here, you just want to become familiar with the sensations occuring in your body and your mind.
Don’t worry about your mind wandering. It is going to wander. It does that for everyone, and is a normal part of the meditation experience. Don’t think you are “bad” at meditating just because you have a million thoughts in your head. Let them come, let them go, and each time you are aware of your mind wandering, bring your focus back to your breath.
The most important habit I’ve formed in the last 10 years of forming habits is meditation. Hands down, bar none.Leo Babauta
Tip #6: End on a Positive Note
Always end your meditation practice with a stretch and a smile. Think of something you are grateful for, or speak a positive affirmation out loud.
Don’t worry about whether you did it right or wrong. Don’t worry about if you are making progress each day. It is what it is; let that be enough.
Be realistic, change comes slowly.
Remember the benefits of a consistent meditation practice.
Commit to meditating again tomorrow.
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Final Thoughts on Meditation Tips for Beginners
Meditation is a worthwhile activity, due to the many benefits it offers. It can take years to really master it, but an everyday meditiation – even a short one – still is beneficial. In summary, the basic tips for meditating are:
- Keep It Short.
- Choose Your Spot(s).
- Find a Comfortable Position.
- Follow a Guide, or Your Breath.
- End on a Positive Note.
I hope you found this helpful, and that you will give meditation a try!