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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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

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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.

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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

More by this author

Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

Reference

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