You’re here because:
(a) you have lots of questions about meditation.
(b) you’re hoping that meditation is going to help your life in some way. Maybe it’s to become less stressed, reduce negative thinking or to become happier.
Well I have some good news for you…
(a) This post will answer your questions.
(b) Meditation will definitely help you become less stressed, reduce negative thoughts and become happier. Plus a whole host of other benefits.
Yup. It really is that awesome! Hands down, meditation is the most important habit I’ve formed in the last 10+ years.
Why? Because it’s helped change my life in numerous ways.
I’ve become calmer, more focused and happier.
I embrace problems rather than run away from them.
But it hasn’t made me perfect or stopped problems occurring in my life. It’s just made me better at handling life’s challenges because I’m more aware of what’s happening inside my head.
Before I started meditating, I never noticed what was going on in there. But now because I meditate, I understand my mind much better, which has led to me making more positive choices in my life.
That’s why meditation is the number 1 tool in my toolbox for navigating life.
Is it easy? No.
Is it worth doing? Fuck yes!
And that’s why I created this beginners meditation guide, so you can start to learn how to meditate.
But be warned…this post is long coming in at close to 5000 words.
So if you don’t want to read it right now and would prefer to save it for later, then by all means drop me your email address and I’ll send you the beginners meditation guide (Meditation 101) as an eBook.
Sign up is at the bottom of this post and includes a free 5 day mini-course so you can start to learn how to meditate.
But before you make a decision to read on and join the course, check out the table of contents below to get a heads up of all the awesomeness you’ll find in this guide.
MEDITATION 1O1: THE BEGINNERS MEDITATION GUIDE
So let’s kick things off in this beginners meditation guide by answering some basic questions you probably have:
- What is meditation?
- What can I expect when I first meditate?
- Why meditate?
- How to meditate?
1. What is Meditation?
You’ve probably heard the terms meditation and mindfulness.
And it can be confusing because the words meditation and mindfulness are often used interchangeably.
So let me explain the difference between meditation and mindfulness…
What is meditation?
Meditation is a practice we do. It’s a process where we sit quietly and place our attention on the breath, while becoming aware of the thoughts playing out in our mind.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the experience of being in the present moment.
When we focus on the breath we are being mindful of the breath. So when we meditate, we are essentially training ourselves in mindfulness, which is why the term ‘mindfulness meditation’ is often used.
So when we meditate, we cultivate mindfulness which results in us becoming more present not only in our practice, but in our daily life.
From brushing our teeth, to completing a task at work, as well as all the interactions we have with other people.
2. What Can I Expect When I First Meditate?
The process of meditating is really straightforward and easy: you just close your eyes, focus on your breathing and simply observe the breath flowing in and out of the body without trying to control it in any way.
Where the challenge comes is that your mind doesn’t want to stay still and just focus on the breath.
So when you close your eyes and try your first guided meditation, expect your mind to be busy, easily distracted and restless.
It will feel like it’s doing this more than usual, but that’s because your mind is no longer occupied with the tasks and processes of everyday life.
In daily life your mind is used to thinking about stuff. It’s what it does all the time.
Thinking about the things you have to do.
Thinking about the things you would like to do.
Thinking about conversations you’ve had or need to have.
It brings up memories from the past
It worries about problems you have going right now or might face in the future.
As a result, when you first start meditating, it can feel overwhelming listening to all the thoughts flying around in your head.
And it can come as a bit of a shock to find out how busy your mind is.
So it might be just a few breaths before your mind wanders off into thoughts which is when thoughts like this might start to crop up:
‘I’m not going to be any good at this’
‘My mind is way too busy to meditate’.
But don’t worry, this is very common and you’re not alone.
My mind was like this when I first started.
And my mind can be super busy from time to time. Just because I meditate, it doesn’t make me immune to the stresses of life. I’ve just got better at managing them due to years of practice.
And over time, once you get comfortable with the practice, your mind will become calmer and you’ll improve your ability to focus and let go of your thoughts.
You’ll also start to learn more about yourself and how your mind operates.
3. Why Meditate?
Meditation will train your mind to stay present rather than being lost in thought, because most of the time our minds are wandering — we’re thinking about the future, dwelling on the past, worrying, planning or daydreaming.
But it’s important to know that meditation isn’t about emptying the mind or stopping thoughts. And it’s not just about learning to sit still and calm the mind.
It’s a practice that creates relaxation, focus and awareness that will strengthen your ability to cope with all the ups and downs of life.
A powerful tool that can help you manage and overcome all sorts of problems.
From depression, anxiety and stress, to lack of focus and negative thoughts.
It will help you to become kinder to yourself and others.
It can help you to become happier, to make better decisions and build self-confidence and self-discipline.
And ultimately, it will help you get to know yourself so you understand yourself better and create the life you want.
4. How to Meditate
When we focus our attention on the breath, we’re training our mind to stay present, because the breath acts as an anchor to the present moment as it’s always happening now.
And when we notice our mind is lost in thought we’re building awareness, because we’ve become aware that the mind has wandered and is no longer focused on the breath.
So in meditation we’re training our mind to pay attention to the breath as it naturally flows in and out. And then to become aware of when our mind wanders off into thought.
How to meditate:
- Sit comfortably with a straight back
- Close your eyes
- Take a few deep breaths to relax the body, then allow the breath to take on it’s natural rhythm
- Focus your attention on the breath (either in the belly, chest or nostrils)
- When the mind gets distracted, notice it and bring the mind back to focusing on the breath
- Then keep repeating steps 4 and 5 for the duration of the practice
That’s it! That’s how you meditate.
So as you can see it’s a simple technique.
Here’s a short 2-minute beginners meditation for you to give it a go…
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MEDITATION?
Meditation isn’t going to stop problems from happening or prevent difficult emotions like anger or sadness being experienced.
Life with all its ups and downs will still happen.
What meditation can do, however, is change the way we relate to the challenges and emotions that occur.
It can help us become calm amidst chaos.
So we have the ability to choose how we respond to life, rather than just react to it.
And in time, with consistent practice, it has the capacity to transform many areas of your life.
Now that’s a bold statement, but I can whole-heartedly say it’s true.
Because I’ve personally experienced its transformative effects.
But the changes won’t all come at once.
Some will come during or after practice.
Some will take weeks.
Some will take months.
And some will take years.
Bu with a consistent practice approached with the right attitude and a willingness to learn and investigate your mind, meditation will gradually create changes in you than can be profound.
Changing both the way you feel about yourself and others.
And the way you see the world.
So what can it do for you?
The benefits listed below aren’t based on scientific research or studies.
But instead I felt it would be better to share a list of benefits based on my own personal experience from over a decade of regular practice and numerous silent retreats.
Because I’ve battled depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
Suffered with low self-esteem and self-confidence.
Had to deal with negative thoughts and emotions.
And cope with a highly stressful career and an overactive mind.
So, from my personal experience meditation can:
- make you calmer and more relaxed, so you can reduce the impact of stress
- improve your focus, decision-making and ability to work under pressure
- help you manage your emotional states to overcome fears, negative thoughts and limiting beliefs
- improve your self-esteem, self-confidence and self-discipline
- improve your mental strength, resilience and emotional intelligence to get you through tough phases in your life
- improve your psychological well-being and help you develop positive states of mind
- increase compassion and improve your relationships
- change your mindset and perspective on life
- help you accept yourself and your circumstances in life
- reduce the impact of depression and anxiety
- improve and develop self-awareness
- improve your health, your sleep and increase your energy levels
- increase creativity
- help you grow and awaken spiritually
HOW TO CREATE A DAILY MEDITATION HABIT
1. Setting up
Trying to decide where and when to meditate can waste time and energy which can quickly wear out your motivation to practice, but it doesn’t need to be like that.
Choosing to practice in the same place, at the same time each day will make it much easier for meditation to become part of your daily routine. Make the decision once and you won’t have to think about it anymore. You can set and forget.
I’d strongly suggest the morning because you’ll be less likely to come up with an excuse to put it off if you do it first thing, plus it reduces the chance of you forgetting to practice!
Wake up. Meditate. Done.
Then you can get on with the rest of your day.
I always meditate first thing in the morning. I wake up, brush my teeth, have some water and then meditate which leaves me feeling ready to tackle the day.
By setting up your practice around other habits – like brushing your teeth – it can make it more likely for you to incorporate it into your daily routine.
But if the morning doesn’t work for you, no worries! Really, the best time to meditate is whenever you can prioritise it. Just choose what works for you and your schedule, then commit to sticking to it.
All you need is somewhere that’s quiet and comfortable with minimal distractions. A little bit of background noise is fine.
So find a place that feels calm and quiet. It could be sitting on the sofa in your living room or on a cushion in your spare room.
Perhaps a chair in the kitchen or dining room, or even sitting on your bed.
Again, whatever works best for you.
Just remember that using the same place each time means you don’t need to think about where to practice. Plus the familiarity can help you settle into your practice more quickly.
It’s not necessary to fold your legs or sit on the floor. For most people that position can be uncomfortable and distracting.
What’s important is to find the position that’s most comfortable for you (and if that just so happens to be sitting cross-legged on the floor then do it).
Just make sure you can sit upright with a straight back, with your hands resting loosely on your lap or on the knees. You might find sitting in a chair or on the sofa with your feet flat on the floor helps you with this.
The reason we sit upright is because it helps us remain focused and awake during meditation.
If you can’t sit upright because it’s painful or uncomfortable it’s totally fine to lie down. If you do, try placing a thin pillow under your head and bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. It’ll help protect your lower back.
But be warned…if you lie down you may fall asleep! So I suggest only lying down if you need to.
Have a play and see what feels best for you.
5. Meditation Tools
- Timer: I’d recommend a timer app called Insight Timer but you can just use the countdown timer on your watch or phone if you like. (Note: You’ll only need this when you aren’t doing a guided meditation).
- Cushion/Towel: A cushion/towel to support your back or to sit on (optional)
- Blanket: If you want something to wrap up in and feel snug and warm (optional)
- Kneeling stool: A good option if you can’t sit cross-legged or don’t want to sit with feet flat on the floor
TIPS FOR BEGINNERS TO HELP YOUR MEDITATION PRACTICE
1. Don’t Give Up
Sometimes feeling the effects of meditation can be very subtle. It won’t take years but it may take a few weeks before you start to notice some changes.
Most of us give up before we actually get to see the amazing benefits that meditation can bring.
But the more regular your practice (i.e. daily) and the longer you practice for (i.e. months and years) the more benefit you will get.
Meditation is a long-term solution to help you thrive.
So don’t give up.
2. Do Something
I’ve experienced times in my life when I don’t have the energy, motivation or enthusiasm to meditate.
And honestly, sometimes I’m just being lazy.
When I feel like this I say to myself, ‘do something’.
So if you do have a day when you feel like this, see if you can do at least 1 minute.
Maybe you finish after 1 minute.
Or maybe you change your mind and end up doing longer.
Just see if you can do something.
3. Be Open To Change
Yes, it’s recommended that you practice at the same time, in the same place every time you meditate.
But sometimes that simply isn’t possible.
The great thing about meditation is that it can be practiced anywhere — at home, at work, on public transport or even when you’re waiting to see the dentist.
It doesn’t matter where it happens or at what time, as long as you can find a place to sit and be still for a few minutes while you close your eyes and focus on your breath.
So if your usual time and place isn’t going to work, be open to changing your spot.
4. Don’t Compare
You might hear other meditators talk about all the great benefits they’re getting out of their practice.
Not having the same experience doesn’t mean your practice is less valuable than theirs.
So don’t feel upset if you’re not having those same experiences.
Everyone has their own unique journey in meditation.
So try your best to not compare.
5. Right Attitude
We often enter meditation with an idea of how the experience should be or judge ourselves for not doing it right.
If your mind wanders, it wanders. Just try your best to notice when it does.
If the mind is busy. It’s busy. Just accept it and continue to practice.
If you miss a day. No worries. Try and practice tomorrow.
No need to judge yourself or get frustrated.
Be kind towards yourself and approach your practice with friendliness.
COMMON PROBLEMS BEGINNERS FACE WHEN STARTING MEDITATION
1. I Can’t Stop Thinking
Lots of people think meditation is about clearing the mind or stopping thoughts. It’s not.
We don’t try and empty the mind in meditation.
When thoughts arise, we gently let them go and then go back to focusing on the breath.
At times it may feel like the mind is empty of thought, but that’s not the goal of meditation.
If you have thoughts, that’s normal. We all do. Our brains are thought factories and we can’t just shut them down.
So don’t worry about whether you’re thinking or not thinking.
If thoughts come up. Notice them. Pause. And let them go.
If thoughts aren’t there. Great. Just keep focusing on the breath.
It’s a win/win situation.
2. I Nod Off Or Space Out
Many people get sleepy when they try to meditate. I’ve definitely nodded off a few times.
Sometimes we are tired because we just need more sleep.
It may be because your mind is over stimulated. So when your body gets still, the mind thinks ‘it’s time to sleep’.
You have a few options.
Think about getting some more sleep or rest when you can.
Maybe instead of meditating you could have a nap.
Or, if you want to keep on meditating take a few deep breaths making them slightly audible and sit up straighter. Then let it flow naturally, paying more attention to the in breath.
3. Am I Actually Meditating
In meditation, we’re learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out.
And when the mind wanders, we notice when it has, then return to focusing on the breath.
You WILL worry you’re doing it wrong.
That’s OK, we all do.
Just follow the simple steps you’ve been taught.
As long as you are doing that. You’re not doing it wrong. You’re meditating!
4. I Struggle to Relax
We’re so used to keeping busy.
Always doing, doing, doing, that you might be restless or agitated when you sit to meditate.
Or you might find it boring because your mind is so stimulated and needs something more exciting to do.
See if you can try and sit with it.
And if you can’t, I would try some controlled breathing to see if it can relax you.
Try taking a deep inhale for a count of 6 and then take a longer exhale for a count of 8.
Keep doing that for as long as you need to until you can relax into your meditation practice.
If you feel like doing this for the whole practice, so be it. Sometimes we just need to do what we can and it won’t be every practice.
Don’t be hard on yourself or judge yourself.
You might not have meditated, but at least you should feel a bit more relaxed.
5. I’m No Good At This
When we begin meditating, it’s all too common to beat ourselves up or feel like giving up.
‘I’m doing it wrong!
‘I’m not a good meditator!’
‘I can’t stay focused on my breath!’
We want peace and calm but find unpleasant emotions, thoughts, and sensations coming up.
We may feel impatience, disappointment and self-doubt about our capacity to meditate.
We may have many expectations about how meditation should be and feel we are falling short or doing it wrong.
Nearly everyone I know has experienced this self-doubt when they start meditating, including myself.
Remember, the purpose of meditation isn’t to enter a state of bliss or eradicate all thinking.
It’s simply to be present with whatever is going on right now.
Let go of any judgments you have about having a good or bad meditation, and whether or not you’ve achieved anything.
The more you practice, the more you will feel comfortable and confident with it.
The simplest and best advice I can give is to just practice and not have any expectations of how your practice should be, how you should feel, what your mind should or shouldn’t be doing or thinking about or how long it should take to feel the benefits.
Accept every practice as it is.
Some results from meditation will be immediate. For example you might feel more at ease after a practice. But not always.
Other results will come in a few weeks or months.
And some deeper results may take years.
So don’t get attached to expectations. This is a common reason for people quitting.
If you practice consistently, all the benefits will come your way.
So be patient and trust in the process.
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT MEDITATION
MYTH #1: Meditation is just relaxation
Relaxation is one of the benefits of meditation.
But meditation is more than relaxation, because it trains you to become both present and aware.
Giving you more benefits beyond just relaxation – like the ones listed earlier in this article.
MYTH #2: It takes years to get any benefit?
Meditation has many levels of benefits and if you want to attain enlightenment it will definitely take a while!
A Buddhist monk with thirty thousand hours of meditation practice will have gained more benefits than a person who started doing 10 minutes a day, a few weeks ago.
But if all you want is to be less stressed and feel more balanced, this can start happening in a matter of weeks.
And often, just one session can leave you feeling more relaxed, more focused and more rested.
MYTH #3: Meditation is all about being present
Being present is one of the effects of meditation but that’s not all it’s about.
You can be completely in the moment in other activities, like surfing, running or doing DIY.
But in meditation you are also learning to become aware of when you’re not being present – when you become lost in thought.
It’s about being present, but also about being aware of what is happening in the mind.
MYTH #4: I need a quiet mind in order to meditate
This is like saying, that being fit is a requirement for going to the gym.
Having a “calm mind” before starting to meditate is not a requirement. Anybody can meditate.
Therefore, don’t think that because your mind is busy or restless, you cannot meditate.
In fact, if your mind is busy and restless, there’s even more reason to meditate!
MYTH #5: Meditation is about feeling good
In general meditation will make you feel good.
But sometimes it may make you see painful or difficult things that you were previously ignoring.
Negative thoughts, emotions and stories may arise that need to be attended to.
But this is good, because it will enable you to see the parts of you that may need to be healed or let go of.
COMMON QUESTIONS BEGINNERS HAVE ABOUT MEDITATION
1. How long should you meditate for as a beginner?
You’ll hear a lot of people say you should do 20 minutes a day.
Some people start with 20 minutes a day. Others start with 10. Some do just 5 minutes.
It really comes down to your schedule and what you think you can fit in regularly (i.e. at least 5 days a week, which is what I suggest).
I agree that doing 20 minutes a day is amazing and something to aim for. But it might be hard to stay consistent when you first start out.
I know a lot of people who find it hard to stay consistent with just 10 minutes a day.
And if your meditation practice becomes hard to keep up, you’ll start to skip it.
What I recommend is to start with a 5 minute meditation practice because you’ll be more likely to fit it in to your schedule. And more likely to stay consistent.
And once you’re consistent, you’ll feel more confident and ready to start practising for longer.
Mediation is a lifelong practice, not an 8-week fix. So start slow and steady and build from there.
2. I can’t focus on the breath without trying to control it. Any tips?
This is normal in the beginning. Just keep trying your best to observe the breath’s natural rhythm without trying to change it.
You will eventually relax more and more in to the practice, finding you start to let go of the need to control the breath.
3. What if I can’t follow the breath?
If you can’t follow your breath because you have a cold, an allergy or your nose is just blocked, try using the rise and fall of the belly or chest as your point of focus.
4. What should I wear to meditate?
You can wear whatever you like so long as you’re comfortable. It also helps to take off uncomfortable shoes and to loosen tight clothing, like ties or belts, if they’re bothering you.
5. How do I asses the quality of my meditation practice?
Simple. Don’t. Just sit. And practice.
Because assessing your practice will lead to you judging your practice, which is something we want to avoid.
6. What if I experience unpleasant sensations?
It’s likely that you’ll experience unpleasant physical sensations.
Because if you’re not used to your meditation posture, there may be some discomfort in sitting still.
You might also become aware of tensions in the body that usually get ignored because you’re preoccupied by thoughts or your daily activities.
It may also be because you’re injured and now that you’re sitting still with nothing else to occupy your mind, you become more aware of the unpleasant sensations that accompany your injury.
Unpleasant sensations can be varied. Sometimes it’s associated with thoughts and feelings and we’re able to sit with it.
Sometimes it’s our body telling us that something is wrong.
So take a moment to sit with the unpleasant sensations and see if you can breathe through it. It may eventually pass.
But don’t feel you have to. If you need or want to move, feel free to do so and mindfully adjust your posture.
It takes some skill to differentiate between what type of unpleasant sensation you’re experiencing, so never feel like you have to sit through it.
7. Can exercising (running/cycling/surfing) be a form of meditation?
When you’re you running you may be completely present with it – focusing on your stride; your pace; your breath; where you’re going.
When you’re doing something like running, and you are completely focused on that activity, this is what we might term mindfulness. Because your attention is completely focused on what you are doing. You may even feel like you are in a state of flow.
But that is not meditation that is simply being in the present moment.
When we meditate not only do we build presence by focusing on the breath.
We go deeper by starting to notice what is happening in the mind. We are also training ourselves in awareness, by noticing when thoughts and emotions arise.