How to Start a Meditation Practice

7 Tips for Beginners

Woman Meditating at Home

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As contemporary life is more and more reliant on non-stop streams of information from our mobile devices, and constant stimulation becomes the norm, people crave a way to unplug and give their minds a rest. Meditation offers one way to do this.

This article covers what meditation is, how to start a meditation practice, potential challenges you'll face when meditating (and how to overcome them) as well as the many benefits that meditation offers.

What Is Meditation?

For our purposes, let's define meditation as being attentive to the fluctuations of your mind. Most of the time, we completely identify with our own thoughts, meaning there is no separation between the thoughts and the thinker. Meditation begins to break down this relationship. 

There are many different methods of meditation, but three basic ones are:

  • Focusing on breath: This technique is based in Buddhist tradition. By focusing on your breath, you're turning your attention away from fixating on any one particular thought. Some people find it helpful to count each inhale and exhale.
  • Observing thoughts: A common misconception about meditation is that you're supposed to clear your mind of thoughts. In reality, you'll still have thoughts arise, but this technique allows you to distance yourself from them. Say you think about a huge project due at work while meditating. Instead of holding onto this thought, and following it up with others like, "I'm worried I won't submit it on time," you notice the thought, label it, and let it pass without becoming reactive.
  • Body scanning: Body scanning is a method of shifting your focus from your thoughts to your body. You place all of your focus on one specific part of your body, and usually shift your attention to different parts of the body. For instance, you might start at the top of your head and slowly work your way down to your face, neck, shoulders, and so on, until you reach the tips of your toes.

Being kind to yourself and having patience as you meditate is an important part of the practice.

How to Start a Meditation Practice

You don't need much to get started with meditation—as long as you set aside some time during your day and have a willingness to learn, you're well on your way to creating your own unique practice.

1. Designate a Time

Many people like to meditate first thing in the morning, but if some other time of day is better for you, go with that. It's ideal to devote the same time each day to your practice; however, be forgiving if you're not able to meditate at the same time each day. Meditating at any time is still an act of self-care.

Your meditation practice (especially when you're just starting out) doesn't have to be lengthy. Ten or fifteen minutes is a good place to start.

If you have a regular yoga routine at home, you can try doing your meditation at the end.

If it's hard for you to stay attentive to the breath for ten minutes, start with five minutes instead. Work on those five minutes before increasing the duration. When you are ready, begin to add one minute to your sitting time. Slowly work your way up.

You'll need a timer that will sound at the end of your meditation session so that you're not constantly checking the clock to see how much time is left. Silence your phone so that you're not tempted to cut your meditation short if it rings.

If you are using meditation apps, you won't have to worry about setting a timer as most apps will count you in and out of the practice.

2. Create the Space

In addition to choosing a time, you also need to find a place for your practice. It doesn't have to be big or have any kind of special decor, but it should be away from household distractions. A corner of your bedroom or living room is perfect. If you want to play meditation music (there are plenty of free playlists online), you can begin to play that now.

3. Warm Up

You may want to do a little warm-up yoga sequence before sitting, especially if you are going to meditate first thing in the morning. If you find you don't need to warm up, that's fine, too.

4. Find a Comfortable Position

If you can sit on the floor, have blankets or a cushion to sit on. You might choose to invest in a meditation cushion, called a zafu, but it's not necessary. Try a cross-legged position like sukasana. While you might see others meditation in the lotus position, it may not be a comfortable or safe position to stay in for long periods of time.

Remember, it doesn't matter what you look like when you're meditating—as long as you're comfortable, you can practice successfully.

If you can't sit on the floor, that's fine, too. Find a chair where you can sit up straight with both your feet resting flat on the floor.

5. Position Your Hands

You may have seen pictures of people meditating with their hands in various positions called mudras. You can try any position you have seen, but you can also just place your hands in your lap. Another option is to place the hands on your knees with the palms up or down. Find a position that is comfortable for you.

6. Focus On Your Breath

Assume your seat and close your eyes. Begin to observe your breath without changing it. There is a tendency to want to deepen your breathing as soon as you notice it. Resist this urge.

Focus all your attention on your inhales and exhales, maybe zeroing in on the sensation of air moving in and out of your nostrils. You can count the breaths if that helps you stay focused on them. When your thoughts intrude, try picturing them floating away before returning your attention to your breathing.

When your mind starts to wander, as it inevitably will, notice your thoughts and then release them.

7. End Your Practice

When your timer sounds, open your eyes. Take just a few moments to notice how you feel after your practice. If you are stiff after sitting, slowly move to your hands and knees. A little stretch (a downward-facing dog, for instance) can help you loosen up.

Potential Pitfalls

There are some common challenges people experience when they're meditating. It's important to remember that everyone, regardless of how long they've been meditating, experiences difficulty with the practice from time to time. It's part of the process. Below are some challenges you might face and ways to address them.

Restlessness

You're not alone if you feel restless when you sit down to meditate. You might think, This is a waste of time, and imagine all the other "productive" things you could be doing instead. This is a common feeling during meditation.

Restlessness comes from resisting the present moment. Try to let yourself feel restless and simply notice it. Does the feeling go away after a few minutes? Or does it last longer? What about the next time you meditate? For some people, practicing more often helps. Many of us are in a constant state of doing, so it takes time to learn to be in the present moment.

Sleepiness

Sleep and meditation have similar effects on the brain, so it's not uncommon to want to drift off during a meditation practice—but there are ways to prevent sleep from coming on. Try to avoid meditating in your bedroom, and don't meditate lying down if it's too tempting to fall asleep in that position.

You're likely to feel more tired after eating a meal, so try to avoid meditating during that time. You can try meditation music, moving meditation, and/or meditating with your eyes open to stay awake.

Doubt

When meditating, you might be wondering, Am I doing this right? or Is it even working? Research shows that doubting the effectiveness of meditation keeps a lot of people from practicing.

One analysis of 30 studies on meditation found that it can take as little as eight weeks for meditation to have physical effects on the brain. These physical changes to specific areas of the brain promote greater emotional regulation and better focus.

But if you're feeling doubtful, remember that it might take some time before you feel the effects of meditation.

Benefits of Meditation

There are many potential benefits of meditation. Meditation can:

A Word From Verywell

If you're new to meditation, you might feel uncomfortable when you first start practicing. However, try sticking with your practice for at least a few weeks. You can even keep a meditation journal to record any subtle, positive changes you start to notice—this can help motivate you to keep going on your meditation journey.

Remember, there are tons of resources available—like classes, books, podcasts, and articles—that can help you find what type of meditation practice works best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How often should I meditate?

    Research suggests that meditating at least 10 minutes a day is beneficial. However, especially if you're just starting out, it's OK to commit to less time until you become more accustomed to the practice.

  • How do I start transcendental meditation?

    To learn what's considered the proper technique of transcendental meditation (TM), people take courses at the Maharishi Foundation (named after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of TM). An instructor will give you a unique mantra you repeat in your head for 20 minutes, two times per day. However, you may practice TM on your own and create a mantra for yourself.

  • Can I listen to music while meditating?

    Yes, music can be a helpful tool for relaxing during meditation, especially for those who find it difficult to sit in silence. There are plenty of meditation music playlists online and on music streaming apps.

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8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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