The purpose of meditation is to help you cultivate greater awareness of yourself and your surroundings. It’s a practice that allows you to connect with an inner part of yourself that gradually promotes inner-peace and a positive outlook on life. It’s possible to practice meditation anywhere without any constraints, only a few conscious breaths can yield a greater understanding of how the breath influences your life experience.
You can meditate while you’re sitting, walking, standing, lying down in bed, waiting in line at the store, or while riding your bicycle. Meditation is a way of experiencing life, many say that the end-goal of meditation is enlightenment, but really it’s the ability to be mindfully aware of life as it keeps passing through you, without the need to judge or react to things, but instead allowing them to flow in their natural order.
I began meditating in 2012 and have never looked back. It was a profound calling that drew me to meditation, and since then I have learned a great deal about myself, human emotions, and why it’s so easy to find life difficult — even when only a few mindful moments each day could bring about life-transforming changes.
In this guide on how to meditate you will find answers to the following questions:
- How to prepare for meditation?
- How long should you meditate for?
- Can meditation help you with stress?
- What are some basic meditation techniques for beginners?
And amongst the answers to these questions you will also learn about the insights and tips on how to make your meditation habit effective for your needs at this time.
How to prepare for meditation?
Meditation is the act of winding down, so ideally you should try to meditate in an environment that you know is safe, peaceful, and without too many external disturbances. When you’re just learning to meditate, outside distractions can provide an unnecessary layer of challenge and you might feel that meditation isn’t working for you.
- Find a quiet space in your own house or somewhere outside, make a mental note to yourself that you’re going to practice meditation and begin to shift the focus inwards. Playing music while meditating is okay as long as you’re not blasting it so that the whole neighborhood can hear you; choose soothing and relaxing music to aid in your first steps in meditation.
- Complete silence is rare — unless you live in a forest — so having some external sounds like cars driving by or kids playing in the playground might actually be helpful to develop your sense of hearing and observation. Try to avoid meditating next to someone chopping down trees with a chainsaw.
- Wear clothing that you know is comfortable and won’t make your body stiff for the period of meditation that you’ve chosen. Loose sports clothing is great as it allows you to feel lighter and more relaxed at the same time.
- You may also want to wind down any tension in your body and muscles by doing preliminary stretches. Focus on stretching out your head and neck muscles, but also legs as you will be putting some amount of pressure on them while sitting cross-legged.
What’s the best meditation posture?
Meditating isn’t just about breath alone, to have a successful meditation practice it’s important to understand the correct alignment for a meditation posture.
The biggest obstacle for sitting in an uneven posture is that you get tired more quickly, and you can actually hurt your back and neck muscles. When your posture is aligned properly — comfortably with a straight spine — you can enjoy more freely flowing breathing patterns, reduce the risk of injuring your neck, and have a deeper sense of calm and tranquility.
My personal preference for meditation is to sit upright with a straight spine in burmese position. I like to use a cushion or a pillow whenever I can, and my hands are usually put comfortably in my lap. I will sometimes put my palms over my knees for a better chest opening whenever I feel there’s tension in my upper-body.
Try to follow these simple steps for a solid meditation posture:
- Align your back — as you’re sitting down, check the length of your back, neck and head alignment. Are you sitting fully straight? Is your stomach falling out in front of you? Good way to align yourself is by imagining that you’re sitting against a straight wall, feel your body in a fully upright position; it feels good!
- Relax your body — sitting quiet for extended periods of time doesn’t come easy to everyone, so be gentle with your body and check back with your neck and back muscles to make sure they’re relaxed, do the same for your legs; massage them if you find that helpful, and use a meditation cushion for increased back support.
- Find stillness in yourself — there’s a certain feeling of serenity when one is sitting in an upright, correctly aligned posture. But you also have to put in some effort to become effortlessly still; while relaxed and mindful of your center of balance. You can try moving around a little bit to see where your point of balance is, when you’ve found that you’ll be ready to begin your meditation.
You will eventually find the best meditation posture for you, don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel tired or your legs go numb after 5 minutes — it happens to all of us, and it can only serve as a learning experience for your own perfect alignment.
How long should you meditate for?
There’s no such thing as the perfect amount of time to meditate for. You can meditate for as little as 2 minutes or as long as 1 hour. It all depends on your comfort levels at this point in your practice, and if you’re only starting to practice meditation now then it’s best that you start with slow and incremental sessions of 3-5 minutes a day.
Here’s a great story from the Zen meditation tradition, it illustrates the process of learning and growing and why discipline and conscious effort are the two most important things for a rewarding practice, courtesy of Thought Catalog.
A martial arts student went to a teacher and declared he wanted to learn the system, he was devoted and ready. How long would it take? The teacher replied: “Ten years.”
The student, a bit impatient and not satisfied with the answer went ahead and said: But I want to master it faster than that, I will work every hard, practice 10 or more hours a day if necessary. How long would it THEN take? The teacher replied: “Twenty years.”
It’s not how much you do something, but the effort that you put into doing something. Meditation yields the best results when it’s being approached as a means of self-growth, the practice of studying your own Self and how it unfolds in your life experience.
Can meditation help you with stress?
Meditation helps you to reduce stress, improve well-being, decrease your anxiety and helps to overcome negative thoughts. As little as 5 minutes of meditation per day can help you manage your emotions, change your brain structure, and promote a positive outlook on life.
All of the above points have been scientifically proven in the recent years through rigorous studies and scientific research. Below you can find some of the most recent studies and what they have to report on the effects of meditation:
- How Meditation Changes the Brain and Body
- Meditation Reduces Emotional Pain by 44%: Study
- Mindfulness meditation helps to control emotions, says study
- How Meditation Increases Happiness
You can also use Google Scholar to search through any available research on the subject of meditation.
What are some basic meditation techniques for beginners?
You have made it this far, great! You’re about to learn practical and simple-to-utilize meditation techniques that are beginner-friendly. These techniques will become your tools for mastering your own Self.
You will begin to arrive at conclusions, epiphanies and insights about your own life and how you have lived your life until the moment you started practicing meditation. The reason for having a varied selection of meditation techniques is simple, you need to find something that feels most comfortable to you.
Some can jump into meditation and have full control over their breath from day one, for others it might be more appropriate to use a meditation technique such as counting, or observing the surroundings of oneself.
My last piece of advice to you… practice meditation daily! If you want to reap the benefits that meditation is known for, you will need to become determined to make your meditation habit stick — it’s very common for people to “fall in love” with meditation because it actually does promote well-being and a deeper sense of peace within yourself.
Note: Information is Beautiful recently compiled an extremely informative infographic on what is meditation, and what is mindfulness. It covers a variety of meditation techniques that you way want to learn more about individually.
#1: Counting Meditation
How hard can it be, to count from one to ten, several times in a row? It should be pretty easy, right?
Well, it can get quite difficult when you close your eyes, and shift your focus from thinking thoughts to counting numbers. In fact, it can get pretty frustrating when you realize just how much your thoughts are stopping you from doing a simple task, such as counting from one to ten.
I began my meditation practice — back in 2012 — with the counting technique. It was a real eye-opener to see how distracted my mind was, and how forceful it was to engage in the given surroundings rather than the things that were residing within me. I would make it to five, maybe seven – and then disappear in the endless loop of thoughts, and I would find it difficult to return back to counting my numbers.
The mind has immense power over us, and if we don’t do anything about regaining that power, we become weak and vulnerable.
The first couple of times are a real challenge, but it’s also a great way to gain experience and understanding the process of meditation better! :)
How to do counting meditation?
- As per the guidelines you read above, find a comfortable place to sit in your preferred meditation posture, and begin to relax.
- You want to spend some time feeling your body, and just getting ready for the meditative state.
- Remember, you have all the time in the World. Don’t jump straight to counting, but notice the moment when you transition into a meditative state.
- At this point, it gets really simple, and really difficult at the same time. Just kidding, meditation is only as hard as you make it on yourself!
- Begin to count from one to ten. Watch your breathing, and with each inhale count one number, and then with your exhale count the same number again. Keep moving up until you reach the number ten, then return back to one and do it all over again. Do this for the whole duration of the meditation session.
- Try to notice the subtle flow of energy that happens when you inhale and count a number, and how it continues to build up until you reach the number ten.
How does that sound for a simple meditation?
It might prove challenging, but remember that the most difficult period is only at the very beginning — gradually your meditation sessions will deepen and you will begin to understand what everyone is talking about when they say meditating is life changing!
#2: Breathing Meditation
The next meditation that you can try is breathing meditation. You can alternate between the two to find what really works for you as a point of focus; counting or breath.
I never liked breathing meditation much, and always did my best to steer away from it. I think part of the reason was that it felt so frustrating at times to just focus on my breath, but gradually I learned that this focus on breath is a great tool for taming the mind.
The breathing meditation was also the one that taught me that you should inhale and exhale through the nose only. And so it goes… how hard can it be to focus only on your breathing? Try for yourself to find out!
Some would say that the most challenging part is bringing that focus of breath into your day to day life.
How to do breathing meditation?
- Sit in your comfortable meditation posture and relax. Ground yourself by focusing on your bodily sensations. Get into the meditative state, don’t rush things.
- The way this meditation works is extremely simple. You let go of thoughts by breathing into them.
- Your point of focus should be the sensations of inhaling air deep within your lungs, and the sensations of exhaling air through your nostrils.
- The first few times you really want to experience the air coming in and going out. Be mindful of the movement of air that comes and goes with each inhale and exhale.
- Once you have, find the rhythm that you’re most comfortable with, and try to maintain that rhythm for the length of meditation. Start with short sessions and gradually build up your tolerance.
- Remember, nobody became a master at this meditation on the first try. You will fail many times, but that is what’s going to motivate you to try harder.
Let me know how this explanation style works for you, if there are improvements I can make, please let me know in the comments. I’m just starting to share these insights and experiences, and I hope to find a way that will resonate with everyone on the basic level.
#3: Mindfulness Meditation
If you practice the first two meditations for an extended period of time — say 4 to 8 weeks — you will develop a certain awareness that will show you the way thoughts are arising in your mind, either by themselves or based on external triggers. This kind of mental preparation will be beneficial if you want to go deeper in your meditation and explore the life changing effects that mindfulness meditation has to offer.
Note: I wrote a separate guide on mindfulness meditation and you can read it here. It provides examples and insights as to how mindfulness meditation really works in your life, but if you’re just starting out the following meditation technique will be just as beneficial.
Mindfulness is all about learning to let go. Whether it’s your emotions or thoughts, if you can learn to let go and detach, you will experience a profound shift within yourself that will help you to connect with your true Self. As you begin to experience life more mindfully, you become more open to letting go of things like negativity, expectations, attachments, fear, everything – all at once.
How to do mindfulness meditation?
- Mindfulness can be applied to every aspect of your life, so you can do this meditation while sitting, standing, walking, running, etc,. Anywhere! For this example, it’s prefered that you sit in your meditation posture.
- Begin by establishing a mindful connection with your body. Before settling into the meditative state, inspect your bodily functions and feel them as deeply as possible. Acknowledge each of the individual parts of your body, it will aid you in your meditation.
- Continue to relax into yourself, allow yourself to just be. Mindfulness is all about awareness, so try to be as aware as possible, but in a peaceful way. Every thought is eventually going to pass, so let it pass as soon as it comes.
- It’s extremely common to get “carried away” when practicing mindfulness, all of a sudden you find yourself having followed a single thought and by now you have developed a full-blown story: thank the thought, and let it go. Simple, and elegant.
- Bring your focused awareness into your daily life experience and watch change happen before your own eyes. Feel yourself experiencing life, be mindful of your surroundings and recognize that the present moment is always here.
For me, mindfulness is more than just sitting and meditating. It’s the reflection of my own life, and what is happening within it. The thoughts that arise are the thoughts that either bother me, or are calling for my attention. There is a reason why they arise.
In this state of mindfulness I can see more clearly what are the things that I feel good about, and the things that are provoking certain emotions within me. If you practice for long enough, you will see how mindfulness is starting to integrate itself into every aspect of your life, helping you to make the decisions that resonate with your true Self.
Did you learn how to meditate?
I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of changes that meditation brought into my own life, it has been an awe-inspiring journey so far, and there’s so much more to learn and understand about the nature of the mind, body, and spirit.
Meditation is all about routine, to make your habit stick you need to put in some mindful effort towards it. It’s easy to fall for traps when it comes to meditation. Train your mind to be alert and vigilant.
There are so many wonderful rewards to reap during the process of learning meditation, take it one step at a time.
I have been incredibly blessed with my life experience so far, and my only intention is to help you find something meaningful in your own life, so if you have any questions or you’re experiencing difficulties with making your meditation practice work for you — type your comments and feedback in the comment section below.
Meditation: Frequently Asked Questions
This last segment is intended for those who feel that some questions have been left unanswered — it’s a compilation of the most common questions that newcomers have when they’re first starting to learn about meditation.
Can you meditate while lying down?
Absolutely! You can practice meditation shortly after waking up, or right before going to sleep in the comfort of your own bed. Your focus should remain on your breath with an awareness of your body so as not to fall asleep by accident. It’s okay if you drift off to sleep eventually, but to make the most of your meditation while lying down you need to keep yourself alert by being aware of the breath.
Can you meditate while listening to music?
If you want you can put on some soothing background music in your room as you’re meditating. I would advise against using earplugs during meditation as it can prove to be more of an obstacle than a beneficial thing. In traditions like Buddhism it’s common to see monks meditating to sounds created by the collective group.
What is the best time for meditation?
Morning time is the best for mediation because of a clear mind that arises from having had a good night’s rest.
Can you meditate if you're religious?
Religion should not be an obstacle to meditation. Many religious traditions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and others are known for implementing meditation techniques into the core of their teachings. So to answer the question, yes you can meditate if you’re religious.
Is meditation good for stress, anxiety, and depression?
Yes! Your meditation practice can help you overcome short-term and long-term developments of depression, stress and anxiety. Meditation practice promotes organic wellness that expands in all areas of your life. I have seen meditation shift my own depressive behaviors to more positive ones countless times, and it’s still happening today.
What is Vipassana meditation?
Vipassana is an ancient technique of insight meditation. It originates from Buddhist roots and is most commonly learned through an intensive 10-day silent retreat. Check your local listings to see if there’s a Vipassana center near you.
Do you need to chant a mantra when meditating?
You don’t. Mantras are sacred sounds developed by ancient yogis and mystics in order to promote higher levels of consciousness, it’s advised that you experiment with mantras only to see if they resonate with the current phase in your journey. Don’t force yourself to do something that doesn’t provide any tangible benefit through your meditation practice.
What is Transcendental Meditation?
Transcendental Meditation, commonly known as TM, is a technique for detaching oneself from anxiety and promoting harmony and self-realization by meditation, repetition of a mantra, and other yogic practices, promulgated by an international organization founded by the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. At this time we cannot provide more information on this technique, and recommend reading the official website or the Wikipedia page.