If you’re feeling hesitant about trying meditation, this beginner’s guide demystifies the practice to help you get started.
Meditation is the practice of using your body and the space around you to become aware of the present moment.
This ancient practice is about acknowledging your thoughts to help you become grounded and more at ease. By getting more in tune with your feelings, it may eventually become easier to move past them.
As a form of mindfulness, meditation builds self-awareness to help you evaluate your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which may help to create meaningful change in your life.
“Meditation, as the word implies, is the medium and middle ground by which your conscious and subconscious mind will help you become self-aware,” says Mary Joye, LHMC, a solution-focused therapist and experienced meditator in Winter Haven, Florida.
There’s no shortage of the benefits of regular meditation practice. Possible health benefits include:
- reduced stress
- lower blood pressure
- reduced heart rate
- improvement in chronic pain symptoms
- improved sleep quality
What the research shows
A large and growing body of evidence shows that meditation can improve well-being.
Benefits of consistent practice
As the saying goes, practice makes permanent. The more you practice meditation, the more benefits you may experience over the long term.
Since there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to meditation, it’s important to find a technique that works best for you. When practiced consistently, meditation may have the potential to improve:
- sense of purpose
Prolonged stress can have a negative impact on your health, both mentally and physically. Yet research from 2018 shows that practicing meditation may help reduce stress-related feelings of anxiety and emotional fatigue.
When it comes to mental health, meditation may also help to:
- improve clarity of thinking
- aid in depression symptoms
- help with symptoms of bipolar disorder
- reduce obsessive-compulsive thoughts
- settle intrusive thoughts
- relieve anxiety
Healing from trauma
But some aspects of meditation, such as observing your thoughts and focusing on your breath, are not always suitable for those who’ve endured traumatic experiences.
“Trauma and mental health crises should be aided with the guidance of a professional,” says Jillian Amodio, a yoga and meditation teacher in Annapolis, Maryland.
Trauma-informed mindfulness can help make meditation more accessible, especially for trauma survivors. Grounding techniques are used to help individuals feel safer in the experiences they’re having in their bodies.
There are many styles of meditation, so determining which one suits you best may feel daunting. Types of meditation include:
- mindfulness meditation
- breathwork (pranayama)
- loving-kindness (metta meditation)
- mantra meditation
- transcendental (TM)
- body scan
- progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
- sensory deprivation
- mindful eating
- journaling prompts
Remember there’s not really a wrong way to meditate. You might try a few different techniques until you determine what works best for you. Here’s a look at some of the most common types of meditation.
Loving-kindness meditations bring your thoughts and focus to others in your life.
This may range from friends, loved ones, family members, or even strangers — all while holding space for them in your mind and offering thoughts of peace and positivity. Here’s how to get started:
- Start by sitting in a comfortable position with your back straight.
- Close your eyes, if it’s comfortable for you, or soften your gaze if you’d rather keep your eyes open.
- Take a few breaths deep into your belly. To ensure that you’re belly breathing, place your hand on your stomach — when you exhale you should feel your belly expand.
- After a few full breaths, recite a loving-kindness mantra. (i.e., “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.”)
- Optional: Place your hand over your heart.
Take as much time as you’d like with these words, being intentional with each one.
When you’re ready to progress, bring the image of a loved one to your mind’s eye.
“This helps cultivate our sense of empathy and bring our awareness to those we share the world with, deepening our connection to humanity,” Amodio says.
To offer loving-kindness to your loved one, shift the word “I” to “you” and speak directly to them. (i.e., “May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.”)
Sitting still for minutes at a time isn’t always accessible for some people, and that’s OK.
A 2019 review of 25 studies shows the benefits of moving mindfulness training in outdoor settings.
Being in nature activates your senses, allowing you to connect with what’s around you while also offering relief from stress.
Mantra-based meditation involves focusing on a specific statement or affirmation, often referred to as a mantra.
Amodio says reciting a mantra during meditation allows the messaging to resonate as you invite the concept or idea into your life.
Mantras may help promote focus and positivity and can be whatever you want them to be. Examples include:
- “I have everything that I need; I am enough.”
- “I am not perfect, but I am good.”
- “Inhale positivity, exhale negativity.”
A body scan is a technique that allows you to scan the entirety of your body, noticing places that may be causing stress or tension.
“As you call your awareness to each area of the body, you make a conscious effort to relax the muscles,” Amodio says.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie flat on the floor. Depending on what’s most comfortable for you, you can place a pillow underneath your head, lower back, or feet.
- Starting at either your head or feet, slowly move up or down your body by bringing your awareness to different parts of the body.
- As you scan each part of your body, take a breath in, imagining that you’re breathing that air into those places.
- Take note of the areas that bring up any particular thoughts or feelings.
- Be patient with yourself and spend a little more time in areas that you know hold tension.
If you’re new to meditation, here are a few things to consider.
Let your mind wander
When you’re trying meditation for the first time, try to remember that it’s normal for your mind to wander.
In fact, if you become aware of your wandering thoughts then that means you’re meditating!
Meditation is the practice of paying attention to ourselves in the present moment, which may include observing our thoughts as they come and go.
Focus on your breath
Whenever you feel like you’re becoming distracted or losing focus, consider bringing your attention to your breath.
“This exercise is helpful in lowering anxiety in that it trains the mind to be curious about the anxious thoughts, but with some distance, so your distress level stays low and you don’t end up in an anxiety spiral,” says Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, a therapist in North Texas.
And while the breath is integral to most meditation practices, other techniques may include physical touch or sensation to promote grounding. Again, you might try different techniques to find out what suits you best.
Try a class or app
It’s possible to teach yourself to meditate, but if you’re a beginner, there’s value in trying an online or studio class, if one is accessible to you.
If you’re concerned that you don’t have time to commit to a class, there are tons of great meditation apps available. That way, you can learn the practice at your own pace in a way that works for your schedule.
Choose a time that works for you (and try to stick with it)
Many experts recommend practicing in the morning. This can make for a positive and grounded start to your day.
Of course, everyone has varied schedules and responsibilities. You might try sneaking in a few minutes wherever you can — be it sitting in the car waiting to pick your kids up, during your morning jog, or just before bed.
But if you can swing it, meditating around the same time of day each day may help to make it part of your regular routine.
Start short and sweet
You don’t necessarily have to meditate for 15 to 20 minutes a day to receive the benefits.
Many people may find they feel more relaxed and rested after just a few short minutes of mindful breathing. Still, consistency is key.
McBain suggests starting with just 2 minutes a day. Once it starts to feel easier and becomes a daily habit, you can add another minute, with a goal of reaching 5 to 10 minutes per day.
Consider guided meditations
Many beginner meditators find that guided meditations can be an ideal place to start. Again, you can start with shorter meditations and gradually build your time from there.
Here, Joye shares a 7-minute guided meditation for regaining a sense of your ideal self.
Regardless of the style or technique, you’ll reap the benefits of meditation when you practice consistently.
Whether you start with 1 minute or 10, the practice may help you become more grounded in the present moment to find more peace and contentment throughout your day.
The key is to start by looking within and figuring out what works best for you — and to stick with it as best as you can.
“There are plenty of ways to go about building your own meditation practice and none of them are right or wrong, as this is a personal journey,” Amodio says.