Meditation can make you healthier, happier, and even help you live longer. But mastering your thoughts has never been easy and our multitasking, sensory-bombarding world makes it harder than ever. In this meditation “how to” for beginners, we cover everything you need to develop a successful meditation practice — whether you’re a newbie or have been at this for a while.
Meditation doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need special clothes or equipment. You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor, but you can if you want to. You don’t need to carve out a lot of time out of your busy day, as little as two minutes will do!
First, we’ll take a look at why you should meditate. Understanding why you should do something can go a long way to keeping you motivated when the going gets rough. Then we’ll show you how to avoid the most common myths and roadblocks that keep people from sticking to a meditation practice. We’ll teach you the easiest meditations for beginners. Lastly, we’ll direct you to loads of free resources to get you well on your way to meditating successfully.
Benefits Of Meditation
One of the great powers of the human mind is its ability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time. And the ancient practice of meditation is one of the best ways to train your brain to focus and stay in the now. It can quiet your mind, control negative thinking, and reduce stress (1). Meditation can make you happier, smarter, and healthier, and more resilient to whatever life throws your way (2, 3, 4). It can actually decrease your biological age by 12 years! (5) Meditation enhances your ability to learn and improves focus and concentration (6, 7). It actually builds a better brain by building new brain cells and neural connections while increasing brain plasticity.
Meditation has proven beneficial for people dealing with addictions, anxiety, depression, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, heart disease, HIV, insomnia, and even Alzheimer’s (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19).
”We don’t meditate to become better at meditation. We meditate to become better at life…” — Dr. Paula Watkins (20).
Why People Don’t Meditate: Overcoming Myths And Obstacles
Even knowing the benefits of meditation isn’t enough to get most people meditating.
Myth #1: Meditation Is Too Far Out: One common myth that keeps people from meditating is that it’s new age-y or too “far out.” But, in fact, conservative medical institutions such as Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health, Harvard Medical School, and Carnegie Mellon University endorse it for its many health benefits (21, 22, 23, 24). The U.S. Marines and major corporations like Target, Google, Apple, Nike, and HBO encourage their employees to meditate for peak mental performance (25, 26). Some of the most successful people on the planet, like Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson, attribute their success in part to their regular meditation practice. Famous athletes are always looking for anything that will give them an edge. That’s why you’ll find athletes like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and the entire Seattle Seahawks football team doing it (27).
Myth #2: The Goal of Meditation Is to Have No Thoughts: Another huge myth is that the goal of meditation is to completely clear your mind of thoughts. When thoughts creep in, many beginners give up in frustration believing they’ve failed. The point of meditation is to learn to notice and monitor your thoughts, not to completely eliminate them. That rarely happens even for very experienced meditators. No wonder beginners give up in frustration!
Top Obstacles To Meditation
To understand why people don’t stick with meditation, Mindvalley, one of the world’s largest personal development publishers, surveyed 400,000 of their customers. This group was certainly aware of the benefits of meditation. So why didn’t they meditate? What stopped them?
The top reasons survey respondents didn’t stick with meditation were:
- 1. They couldn’t tame their mental chatter.
- 2. They couldn’t focus.
- 3. They felt physically restless.
- 4. It took too long to see results.
Do any of these found familiar? As you’ll see shortly, there are meditation techniques and tips that blow these excuses out of the water.
The Best Meditation Techniques For Beginners
Meditation usually involves sitting quietly, often paying attention to your breath, but it doesn’t have to. There are movement-based practices like yoga and walking meditations as well. There are endless ways of classifying the many different kinds of meditation, so don’t be daunted if you see terms you aren’t familiar with like Kundalini or chakra meditations. I took my first meditation class around 40 years ago. Since then I’ve tried most kinds of meditation.
Mindfulness meditations are the most popular and straightforward types of meditation. They simply involve actively working at quieting the mind, usually by focusing on the breath or on a phrase. Here are four of my favorite mindfulness meditations that are excellent for beginners.
1. Breathing Meditation
Breathing meditation involves sitting quietly while focusing on your breath. This meditation actually trains your brain to stop jumping around and stay focused in the present. When a random thought barges into your head, as they inevitably will, simply label it as “a thought” and bring your attention back to your breath.
One of my all-time favorite meditation tips is this analogy from meditation teacher Jack Kornfield, author of Meditation for Beginners:
Monitoring your thoughts is like training a puppy.
You say ‘stay’ but after a few breaths, the puppy wanders away.
You go back and gently pick it up and bring it back.
The beauty of this tip is to remind yourself to be kind and patient with yourself when your thoughts wander. As they inevitably will.
2. Mantra Meditation
Mantra meditation involves sitting quietly while silently repeating a word or phrase called a mantra to yourself. If you say it out loud, you’ll be doing chanting meditation. A traditional mantra is “so, hum.” Think to yourself “so” as you inhale and “hum” as you exhale. But you can simply say “in, out” to yourself if you’d prefer.
At first, thoughts will keep popping into your head constantly. That’s expected and normal. The important thing is to not get discouraged, but just notice that your mind has drifted and gently bring yourself back to the present.
3. Walking Meditation
Movement meditations are great for those who have trouble sitting still. The simplest moving meditation is a walking meditation, which can be done anywhere, anytime. A walking meditation is not the same thing as taking a walk. The difference is both your attention and intention. Don’t kid yourself that power walking while listening to an audio book or walking while talking on the phone counts. These are exercise but they are not meditations. Consciously putting one foot in front of the other while concentrating on the sounds of nature, the feeling of the ground under your feet, and the sensation of the weather on your skin — that’s a walking meditation.
If you are lucky enough to live or work near a labyrinth, walking the labyrinth is a wonderful way to do your walking meditation. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you can check with this labyrinth locator to see if there’s one near you. As you walk, just as when you sit and meditate, unwanted thoughts will pop into your mind. Gently remove them like that puppy.
Other excellent movement meditations you may want to look into are yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. As long as you are mindful, you can turn any activity into a meditation. Think of the famous “wax on, wax off” scene in the movie Karate Kid, where polishing a car became a moving meditation.
4. The Kundalini Yoga Meditation
Don’t be put off by the mystical sounding name. This meditation is simple and has science to back it up. During this meditation you’ll repeat the sounds “sa, ta, na, ma.” You can say the sounds out loud or to yourself. As you say the sounds, move your fingers in succession like this:
On “sa,” touch the index fingers of each hand to your thumbs.
On “ta,” touch your middle fingers to your thumbs.
On “na,” touch your ring fingers to your thumbs.
On “ma,” touch your little fingers to your thumbs.
The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation found that doing this meditation for 12 minutes per day increased blood flow to two parts of the brain involved in retrieving memories. It can improve memory and has proved useful even in people with Alzheimer’s. You can learn more about this meditation at AlzheimersPrevention.org.
Take A Meditation Shortcut With Binaural Beats And Brainwave Entrainment
If you’ve tried mindful meditations but felt fidgety, frustrated, and unfocused, you aren’t alone. If you’ve read the blockbuster memoir Eat, Pray, Love (or seen the movie), you’ll recall that even when the author was living in an ashram in India, she still found meditation a frustrating struggle. She felt continually pressured that she wasn’t doing it right, which made her feel stressed out and bad about herself. Kind of defeats the point, doesn’t it? If meditating in an ashram is hard, no wonder it’s hard for you to squeeze it into a hectic modern life!
The most common complaints about traditional meditation include feelings of impatience, frustration, and boredom, and not getting the desired results. This understandably leaves many people, even when convinced of the many health benefits, wondering if they are wasting their time. So now we’ve got a different kind of meditation for you to try. One that most beginners find easier and more rewarding.
In recent years, sound technologies have been created that induce the same brainwave state of consciousness as traditional meditation. Binaural beats meditation programs are a widely used technology. The major advantages of this high-tech approach over traditional meditation are that it is super easy and results are achieved fast. All you need to do is listen to the sound files on headphones to bring about a meditative brainwave state.
How to Stick with Meditation Once You’ve Started
Unfortunately, many meditation newbies fail to stick with it. The main reason people don’t continue is that they fail to develop a daily meditation habit. Research shows that beginners who meditate daily for 11 days were 90 percent likely to continue (28). Initially, how long you meditate doesn’t matter nearly as much as doing something every day.
Zen Habits blogger, Leo Babauta, suggests committing to just two minutes per day. This way, you’re setting yourself up for success. Taking baby steps is a proven way to rewire your brain to form healthy new habits. And once you’ve developed a habit, no matter how small, you no longer have to rely on dwindling supplies of willpower and motivation to stick with it.
Free Meditation Help
Meditation is simple but not often easy. Learning to monitor your thoughts may be one best things you’ll ever do. It may also be one of the hardest. Here are some ways to learn more about how to meditate. Most of them are perfect for beginners and won’t cost a thing.
Meditation Classes: If you would like take meditation classes or practice meditating with others, just google “meditation” preceded by your town or city. You may be surprised at the variety of places meditation classes are offered. Besides meditation-specific organizations, classes are sometimes held at libraries, hospitals, YMCAs, community colleges, health spas, and churches of all denominations. Also, Meetup.com is a great resource for finding meditation groups in your area no matter where in the world you live.
Get Free Meditations Online: There are many websites that offer free meditations you can either download or listen to online. YouTube, of course, has plenty of meditations you can watch and listen to. Chopra.com offers free guided meditations on specific topics such as gratitude or healing meditations. UCLA has a selection of meditations that includes breathing and sleep meditations. Udemy, the world’s largest marketplace for online courses, has over 50 meditation courses. Most are under $50 and a few are free.
You can find meditation music on the music streaming service Spotify. I recommend the 21-Day Mantra Meditation Journey with Deva Premal & Miten. She sings, he plays the flute. Together they make heavenly meditation music. Some commercial meditation programs offer free downloads. Here are two I listen to regularly.
- Zen 12 — 12 minutes of your choice of relaxing music or a guided meditation.
- OmHarmonics — 10 minutes of lush, relaxing music,
Meditation For Beginners: The Bottom Line
Deciding whether you should meditate is definitely a no brainer. It’s been proven to make you happier, healthier, and more productive. There’s a variety of beginner meditation techniques to choose from — one is bound to be right for you.
And while you should expect to spend at least 10 minutes per day meditating, you can start with as little as 2 minutes until you form a regular meditation habit. Remember, the goal is not to empty your mind of all thoughts but to gently bring your mind back to the present when it wanders. It’s not always easy, but it is that simple!