With a little practice and some simple tips, anyone can learn to meditate.
What do you picture when you think of meditation? If you’re like most people, you probably imagine someone sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat with a mind free of all thoughts.
But meditation is so much more than this stereotype, and it’s a lot easier to do than you might think. In fact, learning how to meditate is as easy as taking a deep breath.
Everyone can benefit from meditation, says Michelle Smith, director of Geisinger’s House of Care in Danville and a certified yoga instructor and yoga therapist.
“Just like you might lift weights to train your body, meditation is a form of exercise to train your mind,” explains Ms. Smith. “The difference with meditation is you don’t have to be physically fit or have prior experience to get started.”
Training your brain to focus on the present moment through meditation not only promotes relaxation – it can also benefit your mental, emotional and physical health.
“Meditation is part of a whole-body approach to wellness,” says Ms. Smith. “When used alongside traditional medical care, it can help lessen anxiety, lower blood pressure and even boost your immune system.”
How to meditate
There’s no right or wrong way to meditate, but Ms. Smith suggests the following meditation for beginners:
- While sitting or lying down, close your eyes and focus on one specific thing like the sensation of your breath in your nose, chest or belly.
- Continue breathing in and out at whatever pace feels most natural to you.
- Acknowledge any thoughts or feelings without judgment and gently redirect your awareness back to your breath.
- Continue these steps for as long as feels comfortable.
That’s all there is to it. But, while it might sound simple, it can be challenging when you first get started.
Here are eight of Ms. Smith’s meditation tips for beginners:
- Set a goal
- Try a guided meditation at first
- Choose a comfortable spot free from distractions
- Try different settings
- Know that distractions will happen, and your thoughts will wander
- Pick the right time of day
- Set a timer and keep it short
- Use the buddy system
Before you start meditating, ask yourself what your goals are. Are you trying to reduce stress in your daily life? Are you using meditation to fall asleep faster?
“Your goals can change from session to session but focusing on your reason for meditating can help keep you motivated,” suggests Ms. Smith. “Consider writing your goals on a sticky note and having it visible wherever you choose to practice.”
When you’re first getting started, listening to an instructor in a guided meditation can help provide structure and make it less awkward.
Ms. Smith suggests exploring the wide range of free apps, YouTube tutorials or joining a local group class. If you have a voice assistant at home, they also often have free guided meditations for you to try.
There’s nothing worse than sitting down to meditate and being distracted by your squeaky chair or itchy wool sweater.
“Make it easy to focus by wearing comfy clothes and picking a spot free of distractions,” suggests Ms. Smith.
And while you might think meditation requires you to sit on a floor pillow or yoga mat, if that’s not comfortable or authentic for you, don’t do it. You can practice while sitting at your kitchen table, reclining in an armchair or lying down.
While it’s best to stick to one time and place when first starting your routine, don’t be afraid to try your new skill in different settings or while doing daily chores.
“The next time you go for a walk or are folding laundry, try focusing on the sensation of your breath rather than getting carried away by your thoughts,” suggests Ms. Smith. “Incorporating meditation into your day-to-day activities is an easy way to practice even when you feel crunched for time.”
It’s virtually impossible to stop thinking or avoid distractions altogether. Rather than beating yourself up or worrying that you’re doing it wrong, Ms. Smith says to embrace and accept your feelings as they are.
"It's perfectly normal to get distracted while meditating,” explains Ms. Smith. “The key is to recognize what’s happening without judgment and gently bring your awareness back to one specific thing like your breath, a mantra or a visualization.”
If you know mornings aren’t your thing, trying to force a sunrise meditation into your routine probably isn’t going to stick. Instead, look for times that naturally work with your schedule.
And unless your goal is to use meditation to fall asleep, try not to pick a time and location where you might be tempted to drift off to slumberland.
When you first begin, don’t try to do too much at once. Start small — even as little as five minutes a day — and gradually increase the duration as it gets easier.
If you try to meditate too long too fast, you might get frustrated and lose your motivation. “It’s like running. You wouldn’t immediately go out and run a marathon if you’ve never completed a lap on the track,” says Ms. Smith.
It’s easier to form a habit when you have a friend holding you accountable.
“While your meditation techniques don’t have to be the same, having a partner you can trade encouragement with can help keep you going,” suggests Ms. Smith.
Having trouble meditating?
At first, meditation might not come naturally, but that’s no reason to be discouraged.
“Meditation is a skill, so it usually gets easier the more you practice,” explains Ms. Smith. “If you’re finding it difficult, try making a few small adjustments like changing your position, picking a different time or shortening the length of your session.”
Above all, Ms. Smith says it’s important to be kind to yourself.
“It’s so easy to critique ourselves and think, ‘I’m just not good at meditating,’” says Ms. Smith. “But once we let go of expectations and focus on how meditation makes us feel, we can begin to reap the many benefits that come with it.”
Remember, meditation is a great supplement to a healthy lifestyle. Always consult with your doctor if stress is negatively affecting your daily life.