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The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

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If you’ve never meditated before, you probably feel it isn’t for you. Maybe you feel you aren’t spiritual, or not spiritual enough for meditation. Some of you may feel that you can’t sit still that long, or maybe even that you don’t have time in your schedule for yet another “healthy habit” or “productivity hack.”

I can relate. Before I started meditating, I believed all of these myths. I thought, “You don’t understand. It’s a freaking wilderness in that mind of mine. It can’t be tamed.” I associated meditation with people who walked barefoot around the city in flowy genie clothing, or those who only subsisted on raw vegetables. It seemed to me that meditation is for a certain type of person, a group of people that I didn’t fit in with.

Well, long story short, that all changed and I am now a diehard convert of meditation. It changed my life. It didn’t change who I am, but it helped me be the peaceful, centered, collected, and capable version of who I have always been.

Based on my own journey from skeptic to believer, I’d like to introduce you to what meditation actually is, beyond the stereotypes and misconceptions.

You’ll learn how:

  • Meditation is not limited to a certain “type of person”, a particular religion, or a specific belief system
  • Meditation is easy, and it’s for everyone. Even children can meditate.
  • Meditation will transform the way you experience your life and relationships of all kinds
  • You don’t need sanskrit mantras, imported special butt cushions, or access to a Buddhist temple to meditate

Before we dive into how to get started, let’s start with the basics. Why get started meditating at all?

Why Meditate?

The barrier to entry to meditation can seem steep. If you’re like most people, you have about a million other things you’re supposed to be doing, like getting enough sleep, drinking water, and exercising. It will basically take pure magic to get you to even consider adding yet another healthy habit to your list.

Fortunately, meditation is magic.

Here are my favorite (though certainly not all) the benefits of meditating regularly:

  • Relieve stress. Few of those items on your daily to-do list actually relieve stress rather than cause more of it. Meditation teaches you how to dissipate and manage and even dissipate stress.
  • Improve focus and concentration. In all the classes you took in your school years, how many of them taught you how to focus on one thing when you always have 1,000 things on your mind? Probably not very many. Meditation is that long-overdue class.
  • Create peace and calm. By far the most valuable benefit in my own meditation practice has been cultivating peace and calm in my life. Now that I meditate, I feel as if I live life with my feet planted firmly on the ground. Before meditating, it was as it I was constantly floating above the ground, second guessing the tasks and projects I was focusing on, and never paying attention to any single thing at once. Basically I lived what Brene Brown calls, “anxiety as a lifestyle.” It was a chaotic mess. Now I know that when I experience anxiety and chaos, it’s time to get re-centered with a few deep breaths.
  • Access yourself. There is a “you” deep down in there. You are not the voice in your head (believe it or not). You are not your job, you are not your role in your family, and you are not even your gender. The essence of who you are, often called your inner power, your soul, your intuition, etc., is most likely buried by your job, your to-do list, your endless cell phone notifications, and all the other crazy things of life. Meditation allows you to get to know who you truly are. This can result in a happier life in so many ways: not taking on work that doesn’t serve you; listening to your intuition instead of what others say is the “right decision.” But mostly, accessing yourself is the object in itself. There is no greater gift.
  • Manage anxiety and depression. Nearly 20% of Americans suffer from anxiety and/or depression. If you are one of them, you are certainly not alone. Researchers from Johns Hopkins performed a study that proved that meditation is one of the easiest and most effective ways of managing anxiety and depression.
  • Manage pain. Physical chronic pain is unfortunately a huge problem around the world and in the US. Meditation is the single best non-medical treatment for chronic pain. One study found that meditation can reduce chronic pain by up to 90%.

This is just the beginning of the benefits of incorporating meditation into your routine. Now that I have (hopefully!) convinced you that meditation can create invaluable benefits in your life, you might be wondering how the heck to get started learning it.

I would love to walk you through it, and prove to you that meditation is far easier and more accessible than you may think. Here’s how I got started, and how you can too in as little as 10 minutes.

How to Meditate for the First Time

If you sat down at a piano for the first time, would you expect to be able to play a concerto? Of course not. So don’t sit down to meditate for the first time and expect that you will be a beacon of calm energy.

You will fumble, and that’s totally ok! Be prepared for that, and be kind to yourself. Make the decision right now that if your first time meditating didn’t go as you expected, you will have a second time. And a third time. And a fourth time. Place in your mind the benefit above that resonates with you the most, and keep that as the reason you keep going. You are going to be awesome! Now let’s get started.

Step 1: Get into a comfortable position.

To begin meditating, get into a comfortable position. Don’t worry about doing something you have seen on TV, like crossing your legs while sitting on the floor. You can sit or lie down however you like that is comfortable for you.

Personally, sitting on the floor, whether on a cushion or not, is really uncomfortable for me. I love lying down on the floor while I meditate as long as it’s not first thing in the morning because I will most likely fall asleep.

Choose a position that is comfortable but that will not cause you to fall asleep.

Step 2: Set a timer for 5 minutes.

When you first begin meditating, start with just a short period of time, around 5 minutes. Once you get acclimated to that amount of time, you can increase to longer periods of time as you get more accustomed to meditation.

Set a timer, like on your phone, for 5 minutes.

Step 3: Use a calming technique.

Meditation is not thinking about nothing. It’s impossible to turn off your thinking at will. Can you turn off your heartbeat at will? Can you turn off your liver functioning at will? How about your kidneys or your digestive system?

That’s what our brains do. They think. That is their job. You don’t have to try to get it to stop doing what it is meant to do. Meditation is instead about learning to be ok with that hum in the background all the time and have peace, productivity, and happiness in spite of it.

So what are you supposed to do during your 5 minutes of meditation? The best thing to do to get started is to use a simple calming technique. Here are 3 to choose from. I recommend picking one and sticking with it throughout your first meditation.  

Count your breaths.

I got this technique from Headspace, a meditation app that I share below. Here’s what you do:

Count your breaths as they pass. The first inhale is “1.” The first exhale is “2.” The second inhale is “3.” The second exhale is “4.” Do this until you get to 10, then start the count over at 1 again.

Watch your thoughts pass.

Another technique from Headspace is to watch your thoughts pass like you would watch the clouds pass in the sky. If you see a thought, don’t get caught up in it. Instead, just say, “Oh look. There’s a thought about what I’ll make for next week’s bake sale.” Then go back watching the blue sky.

Another thought pops up about an event in your past. Instead of getting caught up in it, you say, “Oh, interesting. A thought about that painful experience from my past.” Then you watch it as it floats away like a cloud.

This is essentially the definition of mindfulness. It takes a moment to explain, but a lifetime to master.

Observe the present.

A final common calming technique is to observe or “come back to” the present. As you sit there meditating, take inventory of the present:

What sounds do you hear? The buzzing of the refrigerator, the birds chirping outside? A truck driving by?

What sensations do you feel? Your butt on the chair? Your back touching the ground in some places but not in other places? The flow of air from the heater?

What is in the room with you? A clock? A television? A coffee table? A house plant?

Whenever your mind wanders (and it will), come back to the present. If you feel you have “run out” of things to observe, think again. You can never run out of things to observe, because there are so many things in the present to observe! The weather. The trees outside. The lamp. The doorway. Don’t use this one like a checklist. Use it like a steady steam of life that you are watching like a TV show.

Step 4: Don’t worry about your thoughts.

As you begin meditating, your mind will inevitably wander. Beginning meditators often think they are “doing it wrong” if their mind wanders. After meditating for years, I still struggle with this belief, and my mind still wanders. Your mind will wander, and it’s ok.

You will likely see thoughts about all of these things pop up: all the tasks your forgot to do that day, the ones you want to do tomorrow, financial or relationship worries, and about 1,000 other things. This is completely normal. It’s what pops up for every single person when they meditate, including myself. It doesn’t mean you are bad at meditating. It means you are normal.

The other thing that you will see pop up is your self-scolding. For example:  

  • Why can’t I focus?! It’s not that hard, Anna…
  • Man, I’m really terrible at meditation. I should just give up.
  • Again?! I just had a thought 2 seconds ago and I’m already having another one.

Your thoughts are not bad, and you are not bad.

Don’t scold yourself or judge yourself for any thoughts that come up, no matter what they are. Just observe them like clouds and go back to your calming technique.

Go back to your breath.

Go back to observing the present.

Go back to the blue sky.

You will go back 1,000 times in a single 5-minute meditation. That’s ok.

When the timer goes off, that’s it! You have completed your first meditation. Congratulate yourself, because meditation is no joke. It’s harder than it sounds, but simple at the same time. Very few people ever have the courage to sit with their mind and do absolutely nothing.

It will get easier and more routine as you continue to practice. To receive the full benefits of practicing meditation, practice every day. As little as 5-10 minutes a day is enough to see major shifts in your life.

Fantastic Tools for Meditation

One of the best ways to get started in meditation is to use one of the several great apps that are out there. I have used tons, and still use apps daily in my meditation practice. Here are several tools that I recommend:

  • Headspace. This is how I got started with meditation. It is the greatest place for beginners because it offers a starter meditation series to teach you the basics. The first 10 meditations are free, and after that it costs just $12.99/month or $95/year. Meditation are guided by the awesome teacher, Andy, with no music.
  • Insight Timer. This totally free app is my personal go-to app. It offers tons of guided meditations submitted by meditation teachers, with user ratings so you can learn about the meditation before you select it. It also offers a timer with or without sound (music, nature sounds, etc.) for you to use without a guide. It also has meditation music tracks and just started offering recordings of talks on subjects like mindfulness. This app is totally free, so no reason not to download it right now.
  • Calm. Another paid option similar to Headspace, Calm focuses not so much on techniques and teaching like Headspace but on my favorite benefit of meditation, cultivating calm. The Calm app is $12.99/month or just $59/year. The first few meditations are also free, just like Headspace, so if you’re on the fence, download both, do the free meditations, and go with the one that you like the best.
  • YouTube. Finally, for free guided meditations, a great solution is YouTube. There are tons of guided meditations there and YouTube channels dedicated to different goals such as pain management, anxiety management, different spiritual schools of thought, etc. A couple of channels that I love on YouTube include Rebekah Borucki and Michael Sealey. Rebekah Borucki is especially great for beginners.

 

Remember: it’s called a “practice” for a reason because you will never be perfect. That’s not what it’s for. This is time just for you. We only live once. Make sure that you don’t get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and forget who you are and what life is about in the process.

Meditation helps us remember that we are humans, here on this earth, and we are meant to do more than just “get by.” We are here to live a radiant life.

If you’d like a personal guide to help you have more focus, peace, and happiness in your life, I would love to help. Click here to learn more about working with me.

AnnaThe Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Meditation