Modern-day life has become a great challenge. Its hectic pace and the responsibilities it places upon us take a toll on how we feel and on our health in general. In the workplace, many people are confronted with looming deadlines, time pressure and an ever-increasing number of obligations. The fact that there’s far too little time to address all the tasks required from us is the norm and no longer the exception. As a result, we feel compelled to work long hours, which only adds to the feeling of being overworked. The demands of modern day living overburden us and increase our stress levels. We feel frustrated about our lives and are driven by restlessness. Mental noise surrounds us wherever we go and causes mental sluggishness. At the end of the day, we come home feeling exhausted and don’t want to do anything else but sleep. Meditation can bring unexpected but powerful change to this situation. It effectively calms your mind and enables you to overcome stress. In the following you will find everything you need to know on how to meditate correctly.
If you cultivate the habit of meditating regularly, it will transform your life. It is perhaps the most powerful habit you can form, as it greatly influences many aspects of your life. Some of its benefits are very subtle, while others are immediately noticeable after just three or four days of practice. Meditation quietens the mind and helps you to become more focused. It is a powerful tool that enables you to find peace of mind and inner calmness. A refreshing sense of tranquility and peacefulness can come from each meditation session, if you practice diligently.
“Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”
Unfortunately, the exceptional power of meditation is often neglected. Even more so, a great number of people reject meditation as spiritual nonsense. They either feel that meditation is not in line with their religion or that it is only for those who are interested in spiritual matters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forms of meditation are practiced by all the major religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism). They just have other names and purposes (e.g. repeated prayer, synchronized breathing, visualization, chanting and the internalization of symbols). It’s important to understand that meditation is just a tool. How you’re going to use this tool is entirely up to you. You can use it for a religious or spiritual purpose, but it is not necessary. You don’t have to become a spiritualist in order to meditate.
Meditation can profoundly change how you think and how you behave. It will greatly help you to become a more peaceful and appreciative being. Meditation also has the power to take away your worries and anxieties, while simultaneously helping you to think more positively.
By meditating regularly, you will gradually gain a much better understanding of your mind. Meditation does not only promote mindfulness, but it also makes you more aware of your thinking processes. This can enable you to better understand how your thinking influences your entire reality. The increased awareness can also make you less prone to act in a thoughtless and instinct-driven manner. In short, meditation is a powerful tool that can transform your entire life, if practiced regularly.
How to Meditate
Cultivating the habit of meditation can have a profound impact on your life. However, meditation requires time and patience. Learning to meditate can be a little bit challenging, especially in the beginning. It’s definitely not always going to be easy, but if you practice daily, you will make quick progress. Especially the first sessions will feel a little awkward. You might feel uncomfortable as you’re simply not used to the unfamiliar experience. But with each step you take, you’ll notice that you become better and better.
At the same time, try not to have too high expectations. If you expect meditation to work wonders after one week of practice, you’ll quickly get discouraged. Meditation is a skill that must be developed and strengthened. Just like a muscle, it takes regular exercise to see results. Therefore, don’t expect that meditation will immediately lead you to the destination (i.e. crystal-clear mental clarity and pure tranquility or even enlightenment). Instead, enjoy the journey and pay attention to the small changes that are gradually affected in your life. But most important of all, stay committed to the practice.
Table of contents
The following will help you to get started with meditation. You’ll find in it everything you need to know about meditation. An easy step-by-step guide on how to meditate will be presented along with powerful meditation techniques. You can also find beneficial tips on how you can meditate effectively. Use these materials to smoothen your initiation into the world of meditation.
If you’re new to meditation, it can be quite beneficial to have a beginner’s how-to that details how you can get started with meditation. The following will therefore show you how to meditate and everything else you need to know about the process involved. You can use these instructions as a fundament upon which you can safely make your first experiences with meditation. As time progresses, you will see that you become more and more familiar with the practice of meditation. You will also notice after a while that you’ve slowly developed your very own meditation routine. This is highly encouraged. Use the instructions below as the foundation upon which to discover what works best for you. Here’s how to meditate:
1. Find a quiet and peaceful place
Before you start meditating, it’s important to make some important preparations. These preliminary measures will help you to set the right conditions for effective meditation. They are easy to implement, but can make a big difference.
The first aspect that needs to be addressed is the environment you meditate in. Your environment can greatly influence your ability to concentrate, especially in the beginning. If you meditate in a noisy place, it will be difficult to maintain focus. It is therefore very important that you meditate in an environment that is quiet and peaceful. Choose a place where you are not distracted or interrupted. Preferably, it is an environment where external stimuli are reduced to a slight minimum. In this sense, it does not matter so much where exactly you meditate. All that matters is that it is a distraction free and peaceful environment.
As you become more experienced, it will be easier for you to ignore noises in your environment. But for the beginning, try not to allow sounds from your environment to distract you from the task at hand. Recognize these sounds, but don’t make them your point of focus. If you don’t pay them any attention, they will go by eventually. Calm meditation music or gentle nature sounds are excellent means of shutting external noises off.
It goes without saying that technological gadgets should be turned off while you meditate.
2. Make sure to wear loose clothing
The second important preparation to take is to wear comfortable clothes during meditation. You absolutely want to avoid wearing clothes that are uncomfortable or too tight. Wearing the wrong clothes can cause discomfort, which can be problematic when you meditate for longer periods of time. At the same time, tight-fitting clothing may cause circulation problems, which can result in body parts “falling asleep.” To prevent discomfort, wear comfortable clothes with loose fit.
3. Set a timeframe for your meditation
While it’s not necessary to set a timeframe for your meditation, it can still be beneficial. Especially the beginning, it’s helpful to set yourself realistic goals for how long you plan to meditate. Having a specific timeframe in mind will help you to better maintain the meditation practice. So before you begin meditating, decide how long you seek to meditate. Start slow and increase the amount of time with each day.
If you’re a beginner, see if you can meditate for five minutes. That’s a perfect duration to start with. Practice five minutes each day for a week – if you feel the need to get used to meditation. Otherwise, you can increase the duration of your meditation by a couple of minutes each day. By gradually making one step after another, you’ll quickly be meditating for 10 or 20 minutes a day. All that matters is to start slowly and to gradually work yourself up.
Be committed to your decision on how long you want to meditate. Try to see the meditation through until the specified time is over. You will definitely be confronted with a variety of compelling reasons to stop meditating immediately. Your body may itch, your back may hurt and your feet may fall asleep. Try to ignore these physical sensations and other kinds of distractions. They may be uncomfortable, but they cannot cause any harm. [Except when your knees hurt. Knees should never ever hurt.] All that matters is to mentally prepare yourself that many excuses will come up. They will try to convince you to finish earlier than intended. Ignore these excuses. You will notice that your body and mind will quickly adapt to the (not always comfortable) sensations of meditation. After a certain period of time, it will be much easier for you to meditate longer. All that matters in the beginning is to keep trying and to keep at it until the specified time is over.
Once you’ve grown accustomed to meditating, see if you can sustain the meditation for at least 20 minutes a day. This is the duration that is recommended by most teachers, especially by skilled meditators. However, some benefits of meditation can only be experienced once a certain threshold is reached. Experienced meditators are able to overcome this threshold relatively quick. However, this threshold is for beginners difficult to reach within 20 minutes, which is why it makes sense to meditate longer if possible.
Once you’ve met the decision about a specific timeframe, set a gentle alert when the time is over. You absolutely want to avoid having to check the time while meditating. It will not only distract you, but it also prevents you from reaching a high level of concentration. Once you’ve started meditating, meditate until your gentle alert reminds you that it’s time to slowly come to an end.
4. Set a specific time each day
Preferably, you should always meditate at (approximately) the same time. Once you’ve met a decision about a specific time, stick to it. That way, meditation will quickly become an integral aspect of your daily routine.
5. Do some light stretching (optional)
Stretching exercises can effectively help you to switch into your meditation mindset. They relieve tensions all over the body and in doing so prepare your mind for the meditation exercises to come. While a short stretch out before meditating is not mandatory, it may prove to be quite beneficial. When you’re stretching out before meditating, focus especially on stretching your neck and lower back, but also your shoulders and inner thighs.
6. Find a comfortable sitting position
Especially if you’re a beginner, it’s of great importance to find a position that is comfortable. Physical discomfort will only make it more difficult to concentrate properly. However, it might take some time until you’ve found the position that is best for you. Experiment with different positions and see if you can comfortably sit in these positions for longer periods of time.
While meditation is traditionally practiced in the full-lotus position, you may find this position not too comfortable. It is a position that requires high flexibility in your legs and hips, which is why most beginners struggle with it. See if it helps to sit on a small cushion and/or to assume a half-lotus position. You can also sit with legs crossed (Burmese style). It is a position in which both feet rest on the floor, while sitting on a cushion. Alternatively, you can sit on a chair (without leaning against the back) or a meditation bench.
Personally, I recommend the hero pose (sitting on your knees) in combination with yoga blocks. It is a position that is relatively easy to master and excellent for beginners. [Do not use this position if you have heart problems or headaches at the moment].
When assuming your position, make sure that your back is straight. Your shoulders should be relaxed while your pelvis is tilted forwards. As a reference point, your pelvis needs to be tilted to the point where your sitting bones point straight down. In this position, your back is neither over-arched nor flat. To help your pelvis tilt forward you can sit on the front edge of a cushion.
Place your hands on your knees or lap, with your palms facing upwards.
7. Close your eyes and relax deeply
Once you’ve found a comfortable position, you can finally start meditating. All you need to do now is to close your eyes and to relax. [You can also meditate with open eyes, but in the beginning it may be a good idea to prevent visual stimuli from distracting you.]
At the start of your session you can set your intention for the meditation. You can set a specific intention for this particular session or recall the general reasons why you meditate. Try to remember for one of two minutes the purpose behind your meditational practice. Recalling the reason why you meditate will help you to reignite your motivation. Doing so will keep you going even when challenges arise during the session.
The next step is to bring your attention inward. Be alert of your bodily sensations. Feel how your spine is straightened and how it supports your upper body. Breathe in softly through the nose while slowly beginning to relax. Allow your shoulders to relax and your arms to hang loose. Let all your muscles soften and relax. Loosen your facial muscles and bring your head in a balanced position. Tuck your chin slightly in so that the muscles at the back of your neck are relaxed and slightly lengthened. Let your attention wander from one part of your body to the next, while consciously relaxing each muscle group before switching to the next part of the body. Doing so will greatly help you in relaxing and releases tensions in the body.
8. Focus on your breathing
A great way of starting the medication is to focus your attention on your breathing. It is one of the most commonly practiced meditation techniques and excellent for beginners. The technique in itself is fabulously easy. All you need to do is to focus on your breathing, while simultaneously ignoring everything else. Difficulties, however, will arise when it comes to maintaining your focus. Distracting thoughts will enter your mind. It is important not to allow them to shift your attention away. Instead, try to refocus. Focus on your breathing and nothing else.
Breathe in naturally and notice how your navel moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Feel how the breathing movement makes your abdomen rise and fall. Become aware of the expansion and contraction of your lungs. Notice how fresh air travels down, enters the lungs and how it is exhaled again.
Allow your body to breathe normally, without exerting any influence on it. Be aware of your breathing and focus all your attention on this repeating cycle. What you want to reach is a state in which you no longer think about how your body breathes. It is a state in which you no longer comment and assess what your body does. Instead, you’re simply aware of it. There’s nothing else than your soft breathing.
Naturally, it takes a while to reach this state. Your mind will definitely start wandering around. Once you notice that you’ve lost your focus, refocus on your breathing. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about when you lose focus. You will see that with some time and practice, it will be much easier for you to focus on what you’re doing. Similarly, after some minutes [5-10 minutes] of playing the “refocusing game,” it will be easier to maintain your focus for longer periods of time.
After a certain while, you will enter into a state of “natural presence.” It is a state of exceptional mindfulness, crystal-clear focus and high awareness. Thoughts or judgments will become more and more dormant in your thinking, until they make room for pure beingness, calm silence and heightened awareness.
9. Choose the object of your meditation
If you wish, you can continue to focus on your breathing until the end of the session. It’s perfectly fine to skip step 9 if you’re happy with the results of the previous exercise. In this case, the mindfulness of your breathing is the center of your meditation. However, some people prefer to meditate on specific objects. In this case, they will either skip step 8 and focus on a specific object instead or practice step 8 for a certain while until continuing with the next step.
A meditation object is – as the name implies – something you meditate on. This object can basically be everything, provided it is virtuous. It could be a word, a mental picture, a name, a physical object or even a specific point in your body. For example, you could meditate on a pleasing word such as “love,” “happiness,” “joy” and “oneness.” In general, when deciding on an object to meditate on, it’s important that it is not a complex object. Make sure it’s simple, pleasing and feels natural.
10. Gently let the meditation come to an end
When your alert reminds you that you’ve reached the end of your session, you can either continue for as long as you wish, or let the meditation come to an end. Breathe deeply and feel how you begin to slowly leave the state of deep meditation. Allow it to happen gradually. There’s no need to rush things.
Once you’ve regained a certain level of awareness, you can lift your arms up and stretch your neck. Move your feet out of the position you assumed to meditate and stretch them out in front of you. Perhaps, your feet have “fallen asleep” slightly, which is why it’s important not to get back up immediately. Instead, give your body the time it takes to regain full control over the senses in your feet.
11. Integrate meditation in your day-to-day life
When most people think about meditation, they think about the process described in the above. They associate meditation with sitting somewhere, while concentrating intensively. However, meditation is much more than that. Meditation and mindfulness don’t have to be reserved only for the time when you specifically practice them. Instead, they can be integrated into every aspect of your day-to-day life. In almost every activity you pursue, you can practice mindfulness.
You can be mindful when you’re walking, or mindful when you’re driving your car. The better you become at meditation, the easier will it be for you to induce similar states of consciousness. It will help you to empty your mind and to be fully mindful of the present activity. It will also help you to live more in the present moment and to make the most of it.
In the following you can find some important meditation tips. They are especially helpful if you’re new to meditation. You neither have to master these tips immediately nor do you have to implement each and every one of them. Instead, pick the tips you like and test if they help you in your meditation.
1. Start slow. There’s absolutely no need to rush things. Self-imposed pressure will only prohibit you from reaching the necessary level of relaxation. For this reason, try not to have any expectations when you start meditating. Begin slowly, for example with one five-minute lasting practice session each day. You can gradually increase the duration once you feel comfortable with meditating for five minutes. Keep gradually increasing the time you meditate until you’ve reached 20 minutes. Following this procedure will help you to get a much smoother introduction to meditation than trying to force yourself for an hour in the first session. Once you’ve reached 20 minutes, keep increasing for as long as it feels comfortable.
2. Stick to it. Nothing will be accomplished if you meditate only once a month. If you want to see results, you need to practice meditation regularly. Preferably, meditation should be practiced each day. By starting slow, you can avoid early discouragement, which in turn will help you to gradually develop the habit of meditating regularly.
3. Have no expectations. Even though it may seem counterintuitive not to have any expectations for your practice sessions, having no hopes about the results can greatly help you. Some people start meditating in the hope to become enlightened or to quickly reach a profound level of deep relaxation. These kinds of people will meditate for a short while, but give up relatively quick as they become discouraged by the lack of results. Instead of making this mistake, have no expectations about your meditation. If you feel relaxed and comfortable after meditating, perfect. If you notice that your worries and doubts have started to decrease since you’ve started meditating, awesome. Just make sure not to have expectations, as (too high) expectations of beginners will almost always be disappointed.
4. Work towards the “threshold.” When I began meditating, I hardly could sit comfortable for more than 20 minutes. As a result, I did not experience many of the fantastic benefits of meditation that only come once a certain “threshold” is overcome. After some time, I began making adaptions in my posture (cushions and yoga blocks) that allowed me to meditate for longer periods of time. Once I was able to do so, I was more often able to reach and/or overcome the “threshold.” If you practice meditation, work yourself gradually to the “threshold.” It is the point where your mind is totally calm without being interrupted by thoughts. This is where true wonders of meditation will start to unfold.
5. Posture is overrated. While it’s certainly important to sit correctly (straight back, etc.) during meditation, it is in the beginning only secondary which position you choose. While a great number of skilled meditators recommend the full lotus position, it is not always the best choice. Especially many Western people (including yours truly) have great difficulties to assume this position, without injuring their knees. It is a position that requires high flexibility, which is something that takes time to develop. However, meditation is primarily about working with your mind – the position that helps you to do that is secondary. So don’t forcefully try to fit yourself into a position that is not comfortable for you. Choose a position that is comfortable and helps it to stay alert. At the same time, the position should not be too comfortable, as it will increase the risk of falling asleep.
6. Just do it. Another important mistake that needs to be avoided is procrastination. Most beginners worry greatly about the “how” of meditation, instead of simply starting. They assume a position, feel that it’s not comfortable, adapt their position, meditate for 10 seconds, choose the next position and so on. Then they get up, feeling pretty disappointed and search the internet for solutions. In short, it’s a great waste of time. Instead of worrying too much and paying too much attention to physical discomfort in the back, just get started. It will definitely not be easy in the beginning. Pain and discomfort of the muscles in your back is quite normal, as these muscle groups are not used to sitting in such a position. All that matters is that you start meditating and that you stick to it. There is no perfect position. All procrastination does is to distract you from focusing on the task at hand. If you meditate regularly, you will find ways to optimize your position.
7. Notice when your mind wanders. You will notice quickly that your mind begins wandering around shortly after you’ve started your practice session. It is perfectly natural. There’s nothing to worry about it. However, it is important to develop a certain sense of awareness as to when your mind begins to wander. In the beginning, you might actively engage in the thoughts your mind presents to you. But after a while, you have become much better at identifying the precise moment when your mind starts to drift off. When this happens, gently refocus your attention on whatever you’re focusing on.
8. There’s nothing you can do wrong. Many beginners get quickly frustrated because they feel as if they’re doing something wrong. However, there’s nothing you can do wrong. Meditation is a skill that needs to be trained. It is only natural that you don’t meditate that effectively in the beginning. At the same time, no one expects from you to master meditation within a month or so. It takes years of diligent practice. And the more you practice, the more experienced and confident you will become.
Let’s have a quick look at the best and easiest ways to meditate.
- Get motivated. Motivation is what gets you started with meditation. Motivation is what keeps you going. Especially in the beginning it’s incredibly important to reignite the fire within you, i.e. to develop the necessary motivation that fuels all your practice sessions. You can get motivated to meditate by reading various articles or books on the subject. I also recommend having a look at the following YouTube videos: How Does Meditation Change the Brain by Scientific American, How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains by Sara Lazar and The Benefits of Meditation by John Kabat-Zinn. These videos will be a great start.
- Download Headspace or Calm. Another excellent idea to get started with motivation is to use the apps Headspace/Calm. These apps can be considered as your personal meditation trainer. They will help you to start meditating in a structured way. At the same time, they make the whole journey fun and exciting. For some beginners, these apps might be an excellent introduction to the field of meditation. And as soon as you feel that you’re getting used to meditation, you may no longer feel the need to use technology to meditate.
- Use an accountability tool. If you struggle with meditating regularly, you may find an accountability tool quite beneficial. Preferably, you should choose a tool or an app that is specifically designed to help you develop new habits. One such app is Coach.me, which will help you to regularly check if you are still adopting the new habit.
There are various different types of meditation techniques you can use. The following will present some of the most important meditation techniques.
Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a category of meditation techniques that specifically aim to help you create and raise awareness/mindfulness. The techniques in this category help you to be mindful and observant of what happens, without passing judgment or thinking about it. It’s a fantastic meditation technique for beginners.
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. The mindfulness-based stress reduction technique is an approach to help you reduce stress and anxiety. It’s effectiveness was highlighted by various scientific studies. Even though it is not specifically called a meditation by its creators, it is still very similar and makes use of the same underlying principles.
Vipassana Meditation. Another excellent meditation technique that helps you to increase awareness is the Vipassana meditation technique. Also known as insight meditation, the technique is designed to help to increase awareness by focusing on your breathing.
Zen Meditation (Zazen). Zen meditation is a Buddhist meditation that originates from Japan. Similar to the Vipassana meditation technique, it is practiced by focusing intensively on your breath.
Self-Inquiry Meditation. Also known as “I Am” meditation, the self-inquiry meditation is about discovering who you really are. It is designed to help you investigate your true nature.
Loving-Kindness Meditation. One particular meditation technique that is highly effective in cultivating kindness and acceptance towards yourself and others is the so-called loving-kindness meditation. The technique can be especially beneficial for those who wish to develop more empathy or are highly critical of themselves.
Yoga Nidra. The Yoga Nidra techniques is one of the few methods that is specifically designed to practice in a lying or reclined position. As such, the meditation technique promotes a deep relaxation while being fully conscious and awake. Yoga Nidra may be especially beneficial for those who struggle with finding a comfortable meditation pose.
Let’s move on with the various advantages of practicing meditation.
By meditating regularly, you can transform your life. Meditation can have a wide variety of impressive benefits on your body and mind. The scientifically proven benefits include:
- Mental clarity
- Reduced anxiety attacks
- Decreased depression
- Reduced stress levels
- Improved psychological well-being
- Improved emotional stability
- Lowered blood pressure
- Higher energy levels
- Gradual development of intuition
- Improved immune system
- Increased serotonin production
- Higher stress tolerance
- Increased productivity
- Higher pain tolerance
- Better memory
- Decreased sleep time
- Increased gray matter in your brain
It takes time and patience to learn meditation. If you practice it daily, you will make quick progress. With every week that you practice, you will notice that you become more and more skilled at calming the mind and focusing your attention. Many people say meditation is a journey, not a destiny. And they are absolutely correct. It is therefore important to keep going and to continuously seek to reach a deeper meditative state every time you meditate. Take one step at a time and be patient. Especially the beginning, it can be quite difficult to get used to meditation and to find the right techniques that work for you. But once you’ve cultivated the habit of meditation, you can gradually work on increasing the quality and duration of your training sessions.
I hope you enjoyed this article on how to meditate correctly.