Do you want to start meditating but aren’t sure how?
Have you already tried once or twice, but can’t get the habit to stick?
You’re not alone. It’s common for beginners to struggle with meditation practice.
Many beginners feel like their meditations aren’t working. Others are put off by the thousands of years of history behind Buddhist meditation— the learning curve can feel steep without guidance.
That’s where I come in. I have years of experience teaching mindfulness. If you don’t know your Dukkha from your Dhamma, then I’m going to help you set up a beginner’s meditation practice that sticks
In this guide I’m going to explain what meditation is, why you should practice it, then I’ll give you a step-by-step walkthrough for your first meditations.
By the end of this article, you’ll have everything you need to begin your meditation journey.
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What Is Meditation?
Imagine sitting in your favourite chair, closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and starting to think.
What thoughts run through your mind?
Daily stresses? Recent regrets? Hopes and dreams? Whatever it is, what you’re doing at this moment is just thinking.
Now imagine you’re sitting across from yourself in your favourite chair, and you can see these thoughts forming in your mind and then floating away.
You’re aware of your thoughts. Noticing them as temporary visitors.
Now, you’re meditating.
But this is just the first step. The purpose of meditation is to turn this awareness of your thoughts into a habit.
With practice, even when you’re not meditating you won’t believe every thought that goes through your mind.
You start moving away from mindlessness, and towards mindfulness.
That’s all you need to know about meditation to get started. If you’d like to know more check out A Succinct Guide to Learning Meditation— Get Results in The Now, where I go into more depth.
Why Should You Learn to Meditate?
Our minds are our most powerful tool. But as with any tool, untrained use can cause more problems than it solves.
Meditation is training for the effective daily use of your mind.
Consider the martial artist in a heated contest or the professional chef finely slicing onions.
They don’t think about every movement, consciously making each tiny decision. They rely on muscle memory, forged from consistent training.
That’s what meditation gives you. It trains your mind to react differently— and better.
A study conducted in 2018 showed that 13 minutes of meditation a day for eight weeks led to measurably more positive moods and decreased anxiety, as well as enhanced attention and memory.
Meditation helps you build a reassuring voice in your head that’s louder than the anxious, insecure voice.
It helps you notice when you’re doom-scrolling, so you can gently revert your attention to where it should be.
And these are just the short-term benefits.
Sticking to meditation practice long-term can lead to physiological changes in your brain.
This 2020 study suggests the brains of meditators develop increased neuroplasticity. Similar to the effect seen in the brains of the multilingual.
If you weren’t already convinced of the benefits of meditation, I hope you are now.
So what do you actually have to do? Here it is:
My step-by-step beginner’s guide to building a meditation practice that sticks.
Step One: Connect With Your Motivation
Give some thought to why you’re meditating.
Do you want to improve your focus and avoid distractions? Reduce stress and anxiety? Encourage more positive moods?
As you practice you’ll reap all these benefits, but exploring what’s most important to you will help you connect with your motivation, and stick to your practice.
Step Two: Design Your System
Designing a system is the key to making any habit stick, and meditation is no different.
Plan out when, where, and for how long you’ll meditate.
Keep it to a short duration for now. Remember; the study we looked at earlier showed that 13 minutes a day is enough to see benefits.
As a beginner, it’s more important for your practice to be consistent than long.
Find a quiet, comfortable space you’ll only use for meditation practice.
Over time you’ll subconsciously begin to connect this location with a meditative state of mind. Your practice will grow easier and more effective.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a space like this. You can begin your practice in bed, in the garden, or even at your desk in the office.
Write out your plan as a single, definitive statement, like these:
I will meditate for 15 minutes, in the garden, every morning before making coffee.
I will eat my lunch and then meditate in the break room for the rest of my break.
Make sure you specify when, where and for how long you’ll meditate.
This will help turn your meditation practice into a habit, as easy as brushing your teeth.
Step Three: Meditate!
I’m breaking this step into micro-steps, which you can use as a guide for your practice.
Set a timer.
Remember, it’s best to keep it short for now. 10 minutes is perfect.
Relax, and open your awareness.
Take a few deep breaths, and with each exhalation, allow your body to relax. Let any tension melt away.
Close your eyes, return your breathing to normal, and open your awareness by noticing your five senses.
What can you smell, hear, and taste? Feel the seat below you, and your feet on the floor.
Notice how your body feels. Notice where your mind strays.
You don’t need to change anything, simply be aware of what’s happening within and around you.
Choose the object of your focus. I advise placing your attention on your breath.
Try to keep your attention on your breathing. Notice if your breaths are deep or shallow. Do you feel your breaths in your nose? Or your lungs?Don’t change your breathing, just relax and be aware of it.
If you’re struggling (it’s very common) you can try counting your breaths. Breathe out and in on “one”, out and in on “two”, and so on all the way up to 10. Then start over at one.
When you realise you’ve gotten distracted, congratulate yourself for noticing— that’s exactly what you’re trying to do!
Let go of the distracting thought, relax your body, and gently return your attention to your object of meditation (your breathing, or your counting).
When your time is up, smile and pat yourself on the back.
Your meditation practice was a success today. Even if you want to carry on, consider not doing so for the first couple of months.
This is important for reinforcing meditation as an enjoyable and effortless daily habit.;
If you want to continue enjoying it, stop doing it while you’re still enjoying it.
Step Four: Be Patient
It’s wonderful that you’re interested in meditation, but if you want this to be a lifelong habit, don’t rush it.
Follow these steps for a couple of months. Do this, and you’ll have built a solid foundation for a lifelong spiritual journey.
And when you feel ready, consider working with an experienced meditation teacher.
No matter your level of experience, working with me will help you connect with calm and clarity, all the time.