How to Sit When Learning Meditation

woman meditating in bedroom

Sofie Delauw / Cultura / Getty Images

Beyond making the commitment to a daily practice, learning how to sit when meditating is the first step in learning how to meditate.

Give the meditation steps and basic skills outlined below a try for one week. Consider it a one-week meditation experiment. Make a commitment to follow these simple steps every day of the week.

What You’ll Do

Sitting is the best position for beginning meditation. If you lie down, especially in the beginning, you risk losing awareness and falling asleep. Sitting in an alert position keeps you awake and focused, but frees your mind from having to process information (like where to put your feet). While you are sitting, you will practice focusing on something. It could be an image, a word, or your breath.

How It Works

Meditation is about making the mind still while keeping the body awake, but relaxed. In order for mental stillness to happen, you must first make your body still. To do that, you will sit. While you are sitting, your mind will want to roam everywhere from your to-do lists to your worries or event to where you want to go on vacation.

To help make the mind still, you will focus on a single thing. This gives your mind and attention on a single focal point. You can do this by repeating a word or counting your breaths, either silently or out loud. Many mantras are in Sanskrit, which gives your mind a meaningless thought and in turn, doesn't generate new thoughts.

Get Motivated for Week 1

Meditation is not about making your brain stop thinking — that is impossible. Your brain doesn't stop generating thoughts even when you're asleep. Meditation is really about not nurturing the thoughts that come. By developing your skill of “letting go” of thoughts, feelings, and ideas that spontaneously occur, you’ll be able to experience the calming benefits of meditation, which include: relaxation, stress reduction, more accurate perspective on your problems, enhanced creativity, and increased energy. But it all starts with learning how to sit for meditation.

The Steps: Schedule, Sit, and Focus

  1. Schedule: You are going to need to schedule five minutes each day this week to simply meditate. To build a sustainable routine, these five minutes should be the same time every day. Make sure that you will not be interrupted by anything during this time; turn your phone off and eliminate any background noise that you have control over.
  2. Sit: Learning how to sit while meditating is one of the first challenges for most beginner meditators. First, sit comfortably in an alert position. You can sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor or on a cushion placed on the floor with legs crossed—any seated position is fine as long as you're comfortable. Sit up tall with your back as straight as possible relaxing your shoulders down and back, broadening your chest. Keep your head level, and look slightly downward. Pick something to focus on such as a word, your breath, or something in your eye line. Your intention is only to sit and be still—so, no looking around the room. If you are not using a visual focal point, you may also close your eyes to avoid distractions. Keep your hands anywhere that is still and comfortable; they can be in your lap or with palms face up or down on your knees or thighs.
  3. Focus: Choose one of the following to focus on:
  • Pick a word that has some meaning to you like “peace,” “quiet,” or “calm.” Repeat that word or short mantra softly aloud or in your mind as you sit.
  • Count your breaths. Every time you exhale, count to four. Then count to four against on your inhale. This will bring your attention to your breath while also encouraging deeper, controlled breathing.

Your Meditation Commitment This Week: "I will sit and focus for at least five minutes every day this week."

Tips to Help You Along the Way

  • If you are repeating a word or counting and lose track, don’t worry. Just go back to what you are doing. You can expect to lose track sometimes during meditation. It is normal. What matters is that you don't dwell on it but instead return your focus.
  • Pick a time of day when you can easily remember to meditate like right after you get dressed for the day or right after you eat breakfast. If you have trouble finding a time or place to meditate, consider meditating in your car (while parked). You can meditate before starting your car in the morning or when you arrive at the parking lot at work.

When meditating in your car, you are guaranteed time to yourself and freedom from most interruptions.

  • Focus on your posture. Try to sit up straight through the whole meditation session. It may be difficult at first as you build muscle strength.
  • Use a timer. A timer (preferably one with a soft, gentle alarm) can help prevent you from wondering how long you have been meditating. Just set the timer and forget about it.
  • Don’t worry about meditation poses, hand positions, or anything else you may have read or seen about meditation. You can explore more positions after you have established a habit of daily meditation.
  • Keep in mind that the most important thing is sitting and focusing every day. You are building a meditation habit. Don’t worry about “not doing it right” or whether or not it is “working.” Just sit and focus. The rest will come with time and practice.

Ready for More Meditation?

If you are feeling ambitious, add a second practice session to your day. A session in the morning and one at the end of the day can be very interesting. Notice how your mind behaves differently at different times of the day. Perhaps in the morning, it is easier to sit calmly, or perhaps you are revved up and thinking about the day ahead. By experimenting at different times of day, you’ll be strengthening your meditation habit.