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Have you ever tried to meditate, only to give up within a few minutes because your focus started to wander from your breath to everything else going on in your life? Maybe you started to think about what to make for dinner or a conversation you had with a friend.
When our attention starts to drift, it’s easy to think that we’ll never be good at meditation, causing us to not even try. But a beginner always has to start somewhere, so let’s try again. If you want to make meditation a regular practice in your life, this begins with understanding it on a foundational level. A good place to start is by clarifying what it is.
The exact definitions of meditation differ. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health defines it as “a variety of practices that focus on mind and body integration and are used to calm the mind and enhance overall well-being.” (1) The Cleveland Clinic calls it “a practice that involves focusing or clearing your mind using a combination of mental and physical techniques.” (2) Research defines meditation as “a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness.” (3)
The overarching theme of these and similar definitions is that meditation is a practice that focuses the mind through attention and awareness, resulting in enhanced well-being. It often involves doing breath work or taking deep breaths in and out while noticing how the body feels and where tensions may exist.
The health benefits of this practice are numerous. So, no meditation beginner guide would be complete without including them. What benefits might you notice by meditating regularly?
Reduced stress. One of the reasons people meditate is to lower stress. Studies have found that stress actually changes nervous system function. It also changes the structure of the brain. This makes finding ways to reduce stress critical to one’s health. Meditation provides this effect. (4)
Increased mindfulness. Meditation forces you to stay in the present moment. By letting go of all other thoughts and focusing only on the here and now, you learn to be mindful or aware of what is going on around you. The National Institutes of Health reports that mindfulness can help reduce depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and make it easier to cope with pain. (5)
Improved attention and focus. If you live a busy life, creating a meditation practice can improve your ability to focus on the task at hand. It teaches you how to slow down and pay attention to what is right in front of you.
Better body awareness. Some people are incredibly in tune with their bodies. Others, not so much. Meditation teaches you how to recognize a physical sensation that you may have never noticed. You might carry tension in your neck, for example, yet have never noticed how it makes your shoulders raise up and the bottom of your head ache. During meditation, you become aware of these sensations, enabling you to make the connection.
Chronic pain reduction. A 2023 study found that when patients with chronic pain meditated four days a week, they often had more positive health outcomes than patients who meditated less. It’s thought that mindfulness during meditation works by making it easier to accept and deal with the pain. (6)
Greater mental health. Meditation is associated with reductions in depression and anxiety. Many people have a feeling of inner peace after a meditation session.
Some also use meditation to help heal chakra imbalance. For example, the throat chakra is connected with our ability to communicate. If it’s blocked, we may have trouble talking about our thoughts and feelings. If it’s overactive, we might talk too much. Certain meditations can help heal throat chakra issues.
Each person’s meditation journey is different. One reason is that there are so many different types of meditation one can do. If you’re unsure which type you’re interested in, here is a brief overview of some of the most common ones.
Body Scan Meditation: If you’d like to increase your bodily awareness, this meditation can help. It can be used to become more aware of not just how you feel physically, but emotionally too.
Focused Meditation: During focused meditation, you focus your attention using your senses. You might pay attention to certain sounds, for example, or certain images or pictures.
Guided Meditation: This type of meditation is used in online videos and apps. It’s where someone speaks while you meditate, guiding your thoughts and awareness with their voice.
Loving Kindness Meditation: This meditation technique is used if you want to feel more kindness and compassion toward others. That makes it a good option to try if you tend to hold onto anger or other negative emotions.
Mindfulness Meditation: Also referred to as mindful meditation, this type involves increasing awareness of your current thoughts without judging them.
Movement Meditation: You don’t have to sit stationary to meditate. You can also engage in yoga meditation or walking meditation, for instance. Moving while meditating is a good way to improve body awareness.
Spiritual Meditation: This meditation type is focused on developing a stronger connection with a higher power. It helps promote spiritual growth.
Transcendental Meditation: The goal of this meditation is to calm the mind, creating a feeling of peace. Often, when engaged in transcendental meditation, a mantra is used.
Zen Meditation: This meditation is rooted in Buddhism and involves clearing your mind completely so you’re not thinking about anything.
If you’re a beginner, some types of meditation may be harder than others. Focused meditation, for example, can be difficult for those new to this practice. So too is transcendental meditation.
Instead, mindfulness meditation is one of the easier types to get started with. If you want someone to walk you through the practice, guided meditation is a good option.
One of the first questions beginners have is how to meditate. When you’re living in a busy world, it can be difficult to slow your mind down enough to engage in a meditation practice. But, with a few small steps, you can work toward this effect. Over time, you’ll naturally improve your focus and awareness.
To begin, create a dedicated meditation space. This may be a spot on the floor in the corner of a room. Or, if possible, you may even set up a meditation room.
Once you’re ready, get in a comfortable position. While a typical mediation posture involves sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position, this isn’t the only option. You can also meditate while sitting in a chair, standing, or even lying down.
Just as using yoga props can make various poses easier on the body, there are ways to ease physical discomfort during meditation as well. One is a meditation cushion. You can sit on it during your sessions to make it easier on your bottom. You can also sit on a yoga mat or in a cushioned chair, or you can lie on the bed.
Breath techniques are a big part of meditation. Doing a breathing exercise or two can help you prepare. Practice taking a deep breath in followed by a deep breath out. Notice how your body feels as the air enters and exits your lungs.
When your mind starts to wander away from your breath, bring it back. Don’t judge yourself for not being able to focus. Instead, simply notice the other thought and return to your breath awareness.
If you struggle to stay focused, guided meditation can help. Download a meditation app and let someone talk you through the session. Listen to their voice and allow them to guide your thoughts and actions.
One of the biggest struggles for a beginner is wondering whether they’re meditating correctly. Here’s the good news: there’s no wrong way to meditate. Simply let go of your thoughts and let your mind just be.
If you catch your mind wandering, it’s okay. Bring it back to your breath. Do this as many times as you need. In the end, you’re training your mind to increase its awareness, so the practice is good.
Meditating once is great. However, if you want its many health benefits, you need to develop a meditation habit. How do you make it a regular practice?
Put it on your calendar. Set aside time in your day to meditate. Make it the same type of priority as all your other meetings, appointments, and family obligations.
Aim for just five minutes. Some people meditate for 20, 30, or 60 minutes at a time. This can feel overwhelming to a beginner, causing them to quit before it becomes a regular practice. Instead, aim for a five-minute meditation. Get used to it before you ramp your time up.
Meditate first thing in the morning. It’s easy to get distracted by late-day additions to your schedule or to get sidelined with work. To keep this from affecting your meditation sessions, do them first thing in the morning. This gets them out of the way. Plus, a calm and clear mind is a great way to start the day.
Set a reminder. Most smartphones have the ability to send a notification at a specific time each day. Have yours send you a reminder to meditate.
If you’re a beginner, use this guide as an opportunity to better understand how meditation can help you reach your health and wellness goals. Think of how much better you’ll feel mentally and physically by making meditation part of your life.
Also consider how it can affect your relationships. When you feel more at peace, it’s easier to be at peace with those around you. You may notice that you have more patience or that you’re not as quick to get angry. This can help you create stronger, more fulfilling relationships.
Don’t be afraid to try different types of meditation either. Just as there is no one medication that helps people overcome depression or anxiety, there is no one type of meditation that suits each person. Instead, it’s about finding the right type for you.
Once meditation becomes a regular part of your life, you may want to take it one step further. You may want to become a meditation teacher.
Teaching others to meditate can be incredibly rewarding. You get to help others gain all the benefits this practice has to offer. You have a front-row seat to their spiritual, mental, and physical transformation.
You can also help others gain the benefits of meditation as a yoga instructor. Meditation is a large part of a yoga practice. ISSA Yoga & Wellness Academy offers an online Yoga Teacher Training Course that covers meditation. Use it to help you develop your teaching approach.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022). Meditation and mindfulness: What you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-and-mindfulness-what-you-need-to-know
Meditation: What it is, Benefits & Types. Cleveland Clinic. (2022). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17906-meditation
Viveiros, J., Chamberlain, B., O’Hare, A., & Sethares, K. A. (2019). Meditation interventions among heart failure patients: An integrative review. European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 18(8), 720–728. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474515119863181
Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T. P., & Sahebkar, A. (2017). The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI Journal, 16, 1057–1072. https://doi.org/10.17179/excli2017-480
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, July 15). Mindfulness for your health. National Institutes of Health. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2021/06/mindfulness-your-health
Barceló-Soler, A., Morillo-Sarto, H., Fernández-Martínez, S., Monreal-Bartolomé, A., Chambel, M. J., Gardiner, P., López-del-Hoyo, Y., García-Campayo, J., & Pérez-Aranda, A. (2023). A systematic review of the adherence to home-practice meditation exercises in patients with chronic pain. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(5), 4438. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20054438