Meditation For Beginners: How To Get Started
Keep reading to learn how to meditate, the benefits of meditation, and three styles of meditation for beginners that can be done in five minutes or less.
(It’s important to note that if you have a mental illness or health condition, please get professional guidance before proceeding with any meditation techniques.)
What is meditation?Meditation is an ancient practice that’s believed to have originated in India about 3000 years ago. The act of meditation is quite simple: it’s all about focusing attention on one thing at a time, and being present in the here and now. By deliberately concentrating on just one thing, meditation trains our brains to focus and maintain a more steady mood even when things are hectic all around us.
The benefits of meditationThe science behind meditation is mind-blowing, but the practice itself is the total opposite – it’s mind-strengthening, and could even offer a huge range of different cognitive, emotional and physical benefits.
The reality of modern life is that our brains are exposed to much more information than they’re evolved to (they’re literally in overdrive), so it’s not surprising so many people have trouble focusing, or constantly feel overwhelmed and stressed, which can contribute to a range of issues.
The cognitive and emotional benefitsBy tuning into what’s happening in the here and now, meditation might be able to help you dial down how much your mind wanders, whether that’s feeling distracted and scattered, thinking about things that happened in the past, or worrying about the future.
Research is beginning to create a clearer picture of the impact of meditation on the mind. For example, one small longitudinal study in 2018 of non-experienced meditators by researchers from New York University reported that eight weeks of daily, 13-min guided meditation sessions decreased negative mood state and anxiety scores, and enhanced attention, working memory, and recognition memory compared to a control group of people listening to podcasts.
The physical benefitsWhile there are many emotional benefits, the Mayo Clinic has cautioned that some researchers believe there’s not yet enough research to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation on our physical health.
That being said, there is an increasing body of research into the physical benefits, such as a randomised controlled trial in 2014 of 54 people with chronic insomnia, led by researchers from Rush University Medical Center and Stanford University Medical Center. They found that subjects randomly allocated to the two groups that received different 8-week mindfulness-based programs had significant reductions in their total wake time compared to subjects in a third group that self-monitored their sleep.
Also in 2014, researchers from John Hopkins University conducted a meta-review of 47 clinical studies into meditation (including over 3,500 subjects) and concluded mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved pain (but found no evidence that it was more effective than other active treatments).
Meditation for beginners: How to meditate when you’ve never tried it beforeWhen you’re learning how to meditate, a good place to start is a mindfulness meditation, which will help you to start noticing your thoughts.
Here’s how to get startedSet a timer on your phone for five minutes, find a comfortable seat or lie down (just try not to fall asleep!), close your eyes, and focus your attention on your breath, noticing each inhale and exhale.
You could count your breaths, or pay attention to how it feels (shallow or deep, slow or fast, the sensation of the air passing through your nostrils.). When you notice your mind wandering to thoughts, feelings or physical sensations (aka, distractions!), just return back to focusing on your breath.
Meditating on the breath is simply an avenue to being present, because each inhale/exhale is happening in the here and now (not the past or the future, where our thoughts often go).
Worried you’re not doing it “right”?Often beginners worry they aren’t doing meditation “right” because they realise they’ve lost concentration and been thinking about something else for five minutes! Noticing the different stories and thoughts running through your brain, without judgment, is actually what meditation is all about – it’s not expected that you’ll have no distractions or thoughts still running through your brain (phew!).
In short, it’s all good. There’s no way to get meditation right or wrong – even the most experienced meditators still get distracted.
Three meditations to help you stick to a regular meditation practiceThere’s lots of styles of meditation for beginners if you’re just learning how to meditate – here’s three of our favourite meditations that are super easy to fit into a busy day. These are also just as beneficial for experienced meditators looking to find more mindfulness throughout their day.
Try this in the morning: Focused meditationFocused meditation is ideal for beginners because you meditate on your senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
To try a focused meditation at home, focus your awareness on drinking your morning cup of tea or coffee and do nothing else but pay attention to the warmth of the cup, the steam rising from the cup, any aromas and, of course, the sensations and taste when the liquid hits your lips.
If you like this style of meditation, you can even meditate when doing the dishes or having a shower – turn off Spotify and instead focus on the sensations of the warm water running over your hands… yep, this counts as meditation!
Try this in the afternoon: Body scan meditationMany yoga classes and meditation apps include guided body scan mindfulness meditations, where you slowly move your attention from your toes, all the way up your body to the very top of your head, noticing any physical sensations, trying to not judge these sensations as good or bad. You’re not trying to change any of these sensations, just acknowledge their presence.
This is something you can do in just a few minutes whenever you need to reset, even when sitting at your desk or on your lunch break. Just plant your feet firmly on the ground, sit up straight and let your hands rest comfortably in your lap, and notice how much more centred and calm you feel once you’re finished your body scan.
Try this at night: Progressive relaxation meditationIf you want to use meditation to help you prioritise healthy sleep habits, try a progressive relaxation meditation. Lie down in bed and get everything ready to go to sleep (make sure your blankets are in place, alarms are set, lights are off) and close your eyes. Starting at your toes, tense your muscles and then release them, and progressively move up your body.
Some people fall asleep during the process, but even if you’re still awake by the end, it helps relax your body for a more restful sleep. It can feel strange trying to relax muscle groups like your mouth (lips, gums, jaw) or the top of your head (eyebrows, forehead and scalp) but often you don’t realise how much tension you carry until you focus your attention on it!
There’s no time like the present to get startedJust like fitness, meditation takes practice and repetition. You’re not going to get “good” at meditation overnight – and that’s not the point anyway! Meditation is a journey of exploration; working out what techniques help you feel most relaxed, how to focus your thoughts, and how to control your breath.
It’s all about what works for YOU, so forget about the idea of sitting cross-legged and humming, and instead, pour yourself a warm drink, find a comfortable chair and spend a few minutes focusing your mind.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.