How to Meditate for Beginners

Meditation is a simple but life-transforming skill that can help you to relax, enhance understanding about yourself and develop your inherent potential. 

The meditation posts I have written in the past focused mainly on the applications of different meditation techniques. But if you have little knowledge about meditation, you may find it challenging to apply them without first learning the basics of meditation. 

So in this article, I have laid down some basic instructions on how to meditate for beginners as well as address the common concerns most beginners may have.

  1. Choose a conducive environment. Find a nice, quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for fifteen minutes or longer. Sit down, relax and rest your hands on your lap. You can sit on the floor cross-legged with the support of a meditation cushion, or on any chair with your feet resting on the ground. It is not necessary to force yourself into a lotus position if you are not used to it.

    Regardless of how you sit, it is important to maintain the natural curve of your back. That means no slouching. People with chronic back problems who cannot sit for a prolonged period of time can explore other meditation positions.

  2. Breathe slowly and deeply. Close your eyes softly. Direct your soft, unfocused gaze downwards. Begin by taking a few slow and deep breaths — inhaling with your nose and exhaling from your mouth. Don’t force your breathing; let it come naturally. The first few intakes of air are likely to be shallow, but as you allow more air to fill your lungs each time, your breaths will gradually become deeper and fuller. Take as long as you need to breathe slowly and deeply.

  3. Be aware. When you are breathing deeply, you will begin to feel calmer and more relaxed. That is a good sign. Now, focus your attention on your breathing. Be aware of each breath that you take in through your nose. Be mindful of each breath that you exhale with your mouth. Continue focusing on your breaths for as long as you like.

    If you find your attention straying away from your breaths, just gently bring it back. It may happen many times. Don’t be disheartened. What’s important is to realize that you have wandered and bring your attention back to where it should be. As you develop greater focus power, you will find it easier to concentrate.

  4. Ending the session. When you are ready to end the session, open your eyes and stand up slowly. Stretch yourself and extend your increased awareness to your next activities. Well done! You have done it!

Meditation Tips for Beginners

  • Guided meditation MP3s or CDs as meditation tools. For beginners, audio guided meditations provide step-by-step instructions that help to introduce meditation in an easy and non-intimidating way.

    Experienced meditators may also benefit from guided meditation programs as they can reveal different perspectives and approaches that might have escaped one’s awareness.

    As there are many types of guided meditation available, it is important to be clear of what you are looking for. For instance, The Healing Waterfall series is great for deep relaxation, while Chill Out is useful for calming anxious nerves. No matter what your objectives are, you are likely to find a guided meditation that suits your needs.

  • Aim to have the length of your exhalations as long, if not longer, than your inhalations. By expelling more used air, you make more room for fresh air to fill your lungs. If your out-breaths are much shorter than the in-breaths, you can help to expel more air by gently contracting your abdominal muscles.

  • If the weather is chilly, keep yourself warm with a blanket or shawl during meditation.

  • Meditating with an empty or full stomach may be distracting or even uncomfortable. Make sure there is something in your tummy, but not so much that you feel distracted while sitting.

  • Some people find it easier to meditate with light music or other relaxing sounds in the background, while others prefer total silence. If you belong to the first group, choose an appropriate music that helps you to calm down and yet won’t distract you from your practice. Some examples are sounds of nature (such as rain and ocean waves), traditional music (like native American flute music) as well as contemporary meditation music (Music for Healingby Steven Halpern comes to mind). The choice of music, or lack of, is entirely a matter of personal preference. So feel free to experiment and see what works best for you.

  • Use a meditation timer or any countdown timer. It tells you your time is up without you having to think about it constantly. You can use the timer that is built into your mobile phone or digital watch. Alternatively, you can also use this free online meditation timer that comes with a few soothing alarm sounds for you to choose from. Regardless of which timer you use, just make sure the alarm is not so jarring that you’d get a rude shock each time it beeps.

  • Once you have mastered breathing meditation, you can choose to continue with it or try other meditation techniques. There are many types of meditation techniques that can help you to develop inner qualities which you never knew existed. Feel free to explore other forms of meditation listed in the meditation resources.

Frequently Asked Questions about Meditation

  1. How often should I meditate?

    Once a day, or more if you wish. Some people meditate in the morning before breakfast and have another session just before they sleep.

    Meditation may seem like a chore at first, but learn to enjoy it and look forward to it everyday. See it as an opportunity, rather than an item on your to-do list, to spend some intimate moments with yourself.

    Cultivate meditation as a habit that you’d do naturally every day, like brushing of your teeth.

  2. How long do I need to meditate each time?

    Aim for at least fifteen minutes for each session. For most people, it will normally take ten minutes or more for the mind to settle down. So if your meditation is too short, you would find the session has ended before you even have a chance to get into it.

  3. Why do I find it so hard to concentrate or sit still during meditation?

    Many people, including long-time meditators, have experienced occasions when they find their concentration is not as focused as they want it to be. So, it is important to be patient and compassionate with yourself, especially if you are a beginner.

    Meditation requires your mind to be quiet. Therefore, anything that stimulates your mind just before your sitting is not going to be very helpful, such as a heated argument with your partner, an exciting computer game, a dramatic movie or a thought-provoking book. If you find yourself often having a hard time sitting still during meditation, try to avoid engaging in any of these activities prior to your session.

    Some people also find a relaxation exercise or a gentle stretch before meditation helps them to get into a tranquil state faster.

    Alternatively, you can try walking meditation if you face difficulty with the sitting version, or work on improving your concentration.

  4. When I meditate, I feel like I’m betraying my religious beliefs. Why is that?

    Meditation is often associated with Eastern cultures and religions, like Buddhism, because it probably originated from there, or at least became popular first in that region. That is why many people have mistakenly equated meditation with a particular religion when in essence, it is not. This is a common myth.

    As you can see from the steps illustrated above, meditation does not require you to believe in any deity or God, neither does it require you to give up your existing religious beliefs.

    On the other hand, some forms of meditation do involve the visualization of popular religious icons or recitation of mantras from religious texts. But labeling meditation as religious just because of its diverse use is as good as saying all knives are weapons of destruction and hence should be avoided.

  5. My mind keeps wandering off during meditation. I feel so frustrated and disappointed with myself. Am I wasting my time?

    I shall let St. Francis de Sales, French saint and Bishop of Geneva, answer this question:

    “If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently…And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.”

    Though it may not be apparent to you, there is a gentle yet profound transformation taking place within you every time you meditate. It is like a fruit ripening on a tree. The ripening process is slow, but no doubt it is happening. So rest assured that every minute that you put into stilling your body, mind and soul is never wasted.

  6. I tend to fall asleep during meditation. What should I do?

    Allowing more light to enter the eyes is a good way to stay awake. Lifting your eyelids higher, while keeping your gaze soft and unfocused, will help to keep the brain stimulated and alert. Your physical and mental states also play a key role. When you are lethargic or dull, it is much harder to concentrate, which means you will need to put in more effort to stay awake. In meditation, we are always trying to strike a balance between being too distracted and too relaxed and drowsy. It is perfectly normal. Just keep trying. 

  7. How do I know I’m meditating?

    In short, when you are focused on your breathing, yet fully aware of the random thoughts in your mind and not distracted by them. You can find an in-depth discussion about this question here.

  8. I feel very uncomfortable in a sitting position due to mental and physical issues. Is sitting the only way to meditate? Can I lie down?

    Thankfully, sitting is not the only way to meditate. You can also meditate while lying down. But it can be a ‘dangerous’ position. No, not physical danger of course. You are in danger of falling asleep halfway through your meditation. A lying position, especially one on the bed, is so comfortable that many people find it a challenge to complete their meditation. That is why you don’t find it mentioned often. However, if you can overcome that, then by all means do it. Personally, I do 15-minute ‘sleeping’ meditation a few times a day in addition to my morning sitting meditation. This is how I do it: I lie down on my bed, close my eyes and focus on deep breathing. I inhale with my nostrils and exhale through my mouth slowly as I would in a sitting position. I always wake up feeling energized after that. This is my version of power nap. But I must admit that there were a few times when I became so comfortable that I actually dozed off. So be warned. :) Besides lying down, you can also explore these other meditation poses.

  9. Who are not suitable to learn meditation on their own?

    People suffering from moderate to severe mental or learning disabilities should learn meditation under the guidance and supervision of a qualified trainer.

  10. What is the best meditation technique for beginners?

    If you are new to meditation, I would recommend that you start with a meditation that strengthens your concentration power, such as the breathing meditation described in this article and the breath counting meditation. If you are interested to know why, you can read more about it in this article, The Best Meditation for Beginners.

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Keenan Orfalea