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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Learn to Meditate in 7 Steps (The Beginner’s Guide)

Learn to Meditate in 7 Steps (The Beginner’s Guide)

If you have never meditated before, no worries. This practice is very much a personal experience. You make of it what works for you, your health, and your intention.

These days, we see meditation being prescribed as the remedy to stress, anxiety, depression, or any other health-related concerns. We see this practice spread out from yoga studios into offices, corporations, as well as military and police enforcement divisions.

It has become a practice modality serving people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels, which puts you in the perfect position as a beginner.

This guide will provide you with some basic steps to starting your meditation practice. But before you learn to meditate, you should first know what meditation is.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a practice in mindfulness. It teaches you how to sit with the thoughts that run through your mind, or with the feelings or body sensations that you may feel while seated. Meditation allows these experiences to exist without reacting to them.

Meditation is not about stopping the flow of our thinking mind, which is impossible. Rather, it is about acknowledging that we are thinking, feeling human beings who have the choice and power of how we react to those thoughts and feelings. We do this through meditation.

Meditation is all about stillness. The world bombards us with information every day. Meditation comes in as the practice to pull us away from these external noises, so that we may give ourselves a mental break. This break allows us to freshen our perspective by training our mind in awareness.[1]

Meditation has been also shown to reduce stress, control anxiety, help with memory loss and information retention, as well as improve our sleep, relationships, and general attitude toward life.[2]

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1. Set Up Your Space

Before you can learn to meditate, you will want to create a space for yourself first. Humans are natural nesters; we crave comfort and space in which we can feel at home.

Our meditation space is not any different; it serves as a home for your spiritual practice. This space can be anywhere in your home, office, or somewhere where you feel at ease, or spend a lot of your time. You do not have to make this space super fancy or spend a lot of money decorating it. Just choose a corner of peace where you know you will not be disturbed.

2. Find Your Seat

This is probably the most important step in your practice. Finding the right seat for your meditation is paramount.

Why?

Because if you are physically uncomfortable while you are seated, you are going to hate meditating. Your body is going to be in pain, and you are not going to be able to focus on anything or find any relaxation.

With that in mind, here are a few pointers to get you started with finding the right seat:

  • If you want to sit on the floor, on cushions or a yoga mat, sit cross-legged or with one ankle in front of the other. If you notice that your knees are higher than your hips, you will want to elevate yourself on something higher, like a bolster or some extra cushions.
  • This is important because once your knees are higher than the hips, your back eventually begins to round as you sit. This rounding is pretty uncomfortable, as you try to sit up tall and maintain a tall spine through your meditation. So, lift yourself higher so that your knees can descend, allowing your spine to remain erect without much effort on your part.
  • If you want to sit in a chair, feel free to do so. There is no rule in meditation against sitting on a chair or the floor. Again, comfort is key. Just make sure that your feet touch down to the floor so that they are not hanging while you sit.
  • Lastly, if you do want to sit on the floor but feel the need for some extra support, sit up against a wall. This way, your back will still be supported.

3. Find Your Breath

Once you are comfortable and seated, rest your hands anywhere you would like (in your lap or on your knees) and close your eyes.

The first step for you to learn to meditate is to find your breath. As you sit, tune into the following breath exercise:

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  1. Take a full breath into the nose, filling the belly and the lungs
  2. Take a full breath out through the nose, exhaling fully the belly and the lungs
  3. Repeat this while you’re normally breathing in and out, and as you do so, begin to relax the physical body
  4. Relax the shoulder blades, the arms, the hands, the legs, and the feet
  5. Let the belly be soft as you breathe: you don’t need to pull it in or “contract the core” in any way
  6. Notice if you can slightly drop the chin so that the back of the neck is longer; this will prevent your neck and head from hurting, as you maintain this long spine hold
  7. Lastly, relax the muscles of your face: your jaw, your eyes, and your brow

As the body begins to relax, maintain your breath. Now, add on some visualization to help with the mind. Visualize the breath coming in through the nose, into the throat, down into the lungs and belly, and then visualize it coming right back out the same way.

Give it a color (maybe white or silver), if that helps. Just visualize it coming into your body, and leaving your body. Then, begin to sense how the breath feels: is it cool as it comes into your nose? How does it feel when it enters the lungs? And then is it warm as it exists through the nose? Is it full or shallow?

How does your body react to the breath: is it soothing or jittery? Can you fully inhale and exhale, or does the breath get caught up somewhere?

None of the answers are right or wrong. They are simply how you are going to build awareness of your body and breath.

4. Distract the Mind

The biggest challenge in meditation is keeping the mind busy while the body is relaxed.

Think of your mind like a toddler: it gets distracted by shiny objects and random things. It is your job as the practitioner to metaphorically take that toddler by the hand, and guide it back to your center. In this case, that center is your breath. It is your anchor.

Do not get discouraged if you trail off. It is a normal part of the process. It is said that we have anywhere between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts per day.[3]

We cannot just turn those off. So, if you do get distracted, notice that you have drifted away, and then come back to that breath. After all, this coming and going of awareness is truly what meditation is all about.

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Another way to distract the mind is to give it something tangible to do. In meditation, one of the easiest tools to do this is by counting.

As you breathe in, give yourself a count of 4. As you breathe out, give yourself another count of 4. Once this time becomes too short, bump it up to 6, 8, or 10.

Essentially, you are breathing to a count of whatever you choose and then exhaling for that same count. Once you reach a full count, you start all over again.

This simple exercise gives your mind a logical task. Yes, you will probably still get random thoughts that will grab your attention, but as mentioned, this is part of the process. Notice when you get distracted, and come back to your breath and your counting.

5. Option to Utilize Affirmations

For some people, counting is too dry. Similarly, you may be having the type of day where you just need some motivation and inspiration. In these cases, affirmations are a great tool in your meditation practice.

Affirmations are words or phrases that you repeat to yourself while you meditate. They serve as anchors, just as breath and counting do. When you get mentally distracted, you can come back to your affirmation. You can speak your affirmation out loud or to yourself, depending on where you are practicing.

Some examples of affirmations are:

  • I breathe in fully; I breathe out fully.
  • I am enough.
  • I am love and I am loved.
  • I am whole.

You can also make use of Sanskrit affirmations or mantras. These are said to carry a higher vibrational frequency because they are stated in the sacred Sanskrit language.[4].

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Some examples are:

  • So Ham – which translates to “I am.” This is often practiced with inhaling as you state So, and exhaling as you state Ham.
  • Sat Nam – which translates to “True Identity.” It is a seed mantra that activates the 7 main chakra systems in the body.
  • Om – which is the universal sound and one most people are familiar with in yoga classes. It is usually practiced by drawing out the O and closing the lips on the M to create a buzzing vibration in the mouth and body.

6. Option to Utilize Guided Meditations

You may feel like you need someone to guide you through meditation if it becomes difficult to do it on your own. There are thankfully a plethora of online videos via Youtube and meditation apps on your phone that are widely accessible. Some are free, while some have a subscription option.

Some examples are:

There are different meditation styles that you can choose from on these websites and apps. Feel free to follow them and find what works for you.

7. Keep It Simple

Meditation is not always going to be easy. Some days, you are going to be busy, tired, apathetic, or unavailable, and that is okay.

Meditation is a practice that will always be there. As humans, we are constantly striving to perfect some routine or regimen. While it is good to remain disciplined with your meditation, do not let it become a chore or a task to cross off your to-do list. Allow it to simply be a reprieve for you; a kind of mental vacation for sacred self-reflection.

This is truly where this practice thrives and gives back tenfold.

Final Thoughts

If you want yo learn to meditate, these 7 tips will help you chart out a plan to begin. They are simple and perfect for beginners, making this meditation practice ever so accessible to everyone.

Meditation is beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety, but it is most beneficial in building your inner awareness. With this, you will be able to notice your inner and outer worlds without a knee-jerk reaction but with more compassion, pause, and reflection.

Learn to Meditate Further By Reading These Articles:

Featured photo credit: Amelia Bartlett via unsplash.com

Reference

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Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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