Updated: May 13, 2020
Step-by-step guide on how to start a meditation practice for the absolute beginner. Learn different meditation styles, how to meditate, and where to meditate.
Meditation comes in many forms. Seated. Lying down. Standing. Walking. Short. Long. Guided. Silent. The variables go on and on. The one thing that all types of meditation have in common is the overall intention and result.
I say “overall” because, of course, each person is drawn to meditation for personal reasons and has their own personal intention and result. On top of this personal experience, it’s safe to say that all practitioners of meditation are looking for some sort of mental clarity, sense of calm, and leave the experience feeling more at ease with the world around them.
What Meditation is NOT…
Stop Trying to Stop Thinking
Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not “clearing your mind”. That may be the end-end-end-end-end result, but is achieved by few.
Let’s be real - our brains are thought factories and halting production feels nearly impossible.
Our brain’s JOB is to think. So don’t beat yourself up if your brain is running, jogging, or sprinting during meditation. Instead of stopping the thought factory, attempt to put it on mute. Just like yoga, meditation is a practice. The more you practice, the quieter your thoughts will become.
In fact, there are some types of meditation (guided and metta...we’ll get to these in a minute) where you are asked to conjure up images and emotions in your mind. You’re not stopping your thoughts, or thinking of nothing, but instead focusing your thoughts to reach a specific outcome.
What Meditation IS…
A Tool to Quiet the Mind
We touched on this above, but let’s dive a bit deeper. While meditating, you are not becoming void of all thoughts. Instead, you learn to recognize that your stray thoughts are just that and nothing more. Something that you can see, acknowledge, and then let go. When we let our thoughts consume us, that is when fear, anxiety, and stress set in.
Learning to view our thoughts from afar and disconnect from them can be instrumental to keeping anxious and fearful emotions at bay.
A Tool to Find Calm & Clarity
It’s no secret that we live in a stressful society. Pressures in the workplace, home, and even during our commute can trigger mental and physical stress which increases the stress hormone, cortisol. Increased cortisol levels can lead to sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure.
Adding mindfulness meditation to your routine can lower levels of cortisol in the body which can reduce stress-related symptoms. Less stress = more calm feelings. Without stress, your mind is no longer clouded, and you can tackle decisions with clarity.
A Tool to Reconnect With Yourself
If you’re feeling lost, lonely, or disconnected from yourself, MEDITATE. Meditation can help you to recognize and understand thoughts and feelings that cloud your perspective, or thoughts that may be doing self-harm. By recognizing these thoughts and emotions, you increase your self-awareness which can lead to constructive mental patterns, healthier choices, and increased self-esteem. Takeaway: the answers you seek are within you. Meditate to find them.
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Types of Meditation
Did you know there are several types of meditation? If not, I’m about to blow your mind.
You can pick the practice that works best for you, or use different meditation styles to achieve different goals.
In this type of meditation, you will have little to no guidance from a teacher, and will often bring your awareness to your breath. This is the type of meditation most people think of - a yogi sitting still and “thinking of nothing”. Again, remember the key is not to clear your mind, but to acknowledge your thoughts, and attempt to quiet them down.
Hot tip: to stay focused on your breath, it can be helpful to count during the inhales and exhales. If you find your mind wandering, inhale for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4.
Guided meditation or visualization meditation is extremely popular in yoga studios and online. You can find guided meditation scripts and recordings all over YouTube. The key here is to listen to the instructor’s voice, and follow their instructions. Usually they will paint a picture for you, or list words or feelings to activate your senses.
Hot tip: It’s normal to drift away from the meditation and come into your own thoughts. If you notice this happening, acknowledge the thoughts, and bring yourself back to the instructor’s voice.
During a mantra meditation, you can choose chants, sounds, or phrases to repeat to yourself. Mala beads come in handy during mantra meditations to keep you focused on your intention. The Chopra Center has a fabulous post on sound healing and chanting during meditation. https://chopra.com/articles/how-to-use-sound-to-heal-yourself
Did you think you had to stay still to meditate? Most people do. Walking meditation is a popular method of practicing mindfulness. With each step you take, focus on the sensations in your body, your breath, and the feeling of the ground beneath your feet. Feel the air on your face, hear the sounds in nature, and practice being fully present on your walk.
Hot tip: Take your walking meditation outside for some bonus Vitamin D.
In this type of meditation, you wish happiness and ahimsa (or non-violence) to yourself and to others. Loving-kindess meditation is an example of metta meditations.
In a loving-kindess meditation, you increase your compassion towards yourself, loved ones, acquaintances, those you are at odds with, and all living things.
Metta meditation is an excellent tool for healing past wounds created by yourself or others.
How to Meditate…
We talked about walking while meditating, so what other positions can the body take on? Are you ready for it? You can meditate in literally ANY POSITION. Any time, anywhere. Convenient, no?
It’s best to sit with the spine long and the pelvis tilted forward. I recommend sitting on a cushion (whether it’s intended for meditation or if it’s a pillow off your couch...it’ll do), or a yoga block. You can sit in:
Sukhasana (easy seat) - criss-cross-applesauce
Virasana (hero’s pose) - on your shins with your feet by your butt
Against a wall in sukhasana or legs extended straight in front of you
As long as you think you will stay awake, lying down is a great option as you know the spine is straight.
Savasana (corpse pose) - flat on your back
Astronaut - flat on your back with the legs lifted
Reclined Supta Baddha Konasana (queen’s chair) - mix between sitting and lying. Create an incline with a bolster and two blocks, and lean back on the bolster.
Setting & Ambiance
You can meditate anywhere - a serene temple on a hill, or a busy factory. That’s the beauty of meditation. It can be done anywhere, anytime, in any position. If you’re looking to create a soothing meditation spot in or near your home, here are some options.
Nature is the best. Sit on your deck or yard, or go to a nearby park and just sit.
Create a calming ambiance by dimming the lights, lighting candles or incense, using essential oils and/or a diffuser, and turning on sounds or music. Get creative and do what’s best for you! You might find that music is distracting. In that case, meditate in silence. The most important thing is to find a spot in your home where you will not be disturbed. Maybe you have a room dedicated to yoga and meditation - aren’t you lucky! If that’s not your situation (it’s not mine...sigh) you might have to lock yourself in a closet or bathroom just to get away from your kids or pets. I know real people who do this. Find a quiet spot where you can be alone and free from distraction for your meditation.
And remember - you don’t have to meditate for hours on end! You can sit for 5 minutes and it still counts!
What are you waiting for? Find your quiet spot, and get your zen on!