Interested in meditation? Read our thoughts on how to meditate and start your own daily meditation practice with no experience. We’ll go through learning to meditate, some resources (of ours and elsewhere on the web) for you, and offer a pragmatic bit on how to meditate with some tips and thoughts for you. You may also check out our page on Meditating for Beginners for a few more tips and outlines of important meditation practices, and our page on mindfulness for beginners for more about mindfulness practice.
Learn to Meditate
Several times a week we are asked about learning to meditate, and it’s an understandable question to have. If you haven’t meditated before or have limited experience, sitting quietly with your eyes closed can seem overwhelming or perhaps rather pointless. There are many things you can do to learn to meditate. In this age of information, we can learn to meditate a variety of ways. Remember that all of us were once new to meditation and although it doesn’t always seem easy, you can train the mind to settle into a meditation practice!
Listen to Guided Meditations
This is almost always our first recommendation for those that wish to learn how to meditate. In our opinion, discussing how to meditate for beginners without mentioning guided meditations first would be irresponsible! We’ve seen it in our own practice and in the practice of our students. Guidance helps us know exactly what we’re doing! You can let go of any expectation that you can close your eyes and know exactly what to do the first time meditating. It’s perfectly normal to need a point in the right direction. There are guided meditations ranging a variety of practices, lengths, and teachers. As discussed below in the “Start Small” section, go with a short meditation and simply set the intention to sit for the duration that you lay out for yourself. You can check out our YouTube channel for some guided meditations, download the Insight Timer app, or of course download the One Mind Dharma App!
Read Instructional Books
Before we dive into the benefits of reading about meditation, we must mention the dangers. If you read and read and read but don’t actually practice, it’s probably not going to help you very much. I had this experience myself. My first introduction to Buddhism was when my dad gave me The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, a wonderful book about bringing mindfulness to everyday activities. I loved the ideas and practices in the book, but didn’t actually utilize what I was learning. Instead, I continued to read and continued to avoid practicing. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t grow very much other than allowing some seeds to be planted. When we read, it is much more beneficial to actually utilize what we are taking in, and put our newfound knowledge into practice. With all of this being said, I do think that reading is a great way to take in the essence of meditation practice. With the plethora of books out there, we recently made a list of our favorite Buddhist books, which includes many books great for beginners!
Find a Group
Finding a meditation group is a fantastic method of learning to meditate. Sitting with a group and a teacher will surely help you deepen your understanding of meditation practice. You’ll have a teacher to guide the group and meditation whom you can ask questions. You’ll also have a community of practicioners to ask questions, interact with, and learn from. Although it may sound silly, sitting with a group helped me simply because it forced me to actually meditate. When I sat at home when I was new to practice, I would often open my eyes and stand up before the timer went off. However, because of my ego, I never did this in a meditation group. Although the ego is at play here, it still is worth noticing what helps us and what encourages our practice. If you want help finding a local group in your area, just email us at [email protected] and we will help you! We also have some online groups we do at www.OneMindDharma.com/live.
Don’t Go it Alone
Before writing this, we read a few other “How to Meditate for Beginners” articles on the web and noticed that every single one we read left out this piece of the puzzle. Finding others to meditate with or share your practice with can make all the difference. This may look different for you than it does for someone else, but the basic idea is that connecting with somebody else with your practice can help you understand and grow. Perhaps you find a friend to start a meditation practice together, and check in with each other daily. Maybe you can find a teacher or experienced meditator to connect with and ask questions. We’re always available! You can reach out to us at [email protected] and we’re happy to answer any questions you have. You can also add us on Skype if you’d like to text or video chat (username is OneMindDharma). The point is that you don’t have to go it alone! Find an online group on Facebook or Google, attend a local meditation group, or reach out to a teacher!
How to Meditate
Here we offer a few thoughts on how to actually meditate. We regularly are asked how to meditate effectively or “right,” and the truth is that there are a ton of different ways to meditate. There are many different spiritual, religious, and secular traditions in which meditation is important. Even within the school of Buddhism with which we are familiar and practice, there are many different meditation practices and methods. We can’t sit here and pretend that we can tell you exactly how to meditative effectively even with a single practice. You will have to find what works for you, and allow yourself space to investigate. We offer a few tips here along with some practices, and at the bottom have a form to receive basic body scan instructions.
This is hands-down the best tip we have to offer on starting a meditation practice. If you’re wondering how to start meditating, this is a good piece of the puzzle. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start with just five minutes of meditation. You can find short guided meditation practices online, such as our 5 Minute Meditation Practices, or the YouTube video below. Meditation is a PRACTICE. It takes effort and time, and our experience changes over time. As we become more accustomed to sitting and meditating we may begin to lengthen the periods, but if we start with too long a period we may find ourselves overwhelmed.
Find Your Posture
You may have an image in your mind of what may be the right meditation posture. You really can meditate in whatever posture works for you. When the Buddha spoke about the foundations of mindfulness, he specifically mentioned meditating in postures such as standing, sitting, lying down, and walking. If you can sit comfortably for five minutes, we recommend trying sitting in a chair or on a cushion when you first are learning to meditate. Try to remember to keep the spine straight, but relax the muscles around it. That is, allow the shoulders to drop a bit, let the muscles in the abdomen loosen, and don’t tense your jaw. You don’t need to find the perfect posture right off the bat; feel free to make adjustments and figure out what works for you.
Although this may seem a daunting task, it is one way to really give meditation a chance. You can try to set a specific time aside each day to meditate. Chances are you can find five minutes to put aside every day. Make it an intention to sit every day, and take it seriously. As you sit every day, you build upon the previous days’ practices. The continuity can truly deepen insight and understanding, as well as the mind’s ability to settle. For more suggestions, check out The Inner Net’s tips on building a daily practice.
Start Where You Are
See if you can let go of expectations you may have of what meditation is or how the experience should be. It’s natural that when you sit to meditate you experience some discomfort. You’ll perhaps come up against some of the hindrances, such as sleepiness or an anxious mind. Allow yourself to return to where you are. If the mind wanders or checks out, don’t take it too personally. Try to return to the awareness that it is natural. If your mind was already perfectly settled and concentrated, you maybe wouldn’t need meditation!
We mentioned this before, but it also is helpful to listen to guidance to actually learn how to meditate. With a guided meditation, you will be actively taught how to meditate. Especially if you want to learn new practices or methods, guided meditations are a wonderful way to investigate new practices. You can read about a practice previous to trying it, but guidance during the actual meditation period can help keep you on track.
Although you may want to read every book and try every practice, it can be helpful to start simple in our meditation practice. If you bounce from practice to practice, you may not dive deep enough into one practice to really settle with it. When I started meditating, I started with a concentration practice (like the YouTube video above). I sat with a basic concentration practice every day, mixing in one day of a metta practice to which I was introduced. This continuity can help us really develop some awareness and skillfulness in responding to experience. Pick a practice and stick with it. Mix the new practices in slowly.
Look for Additions to Your Practice
This may sound hypocritical given the last suggestion, but you may try adding new things into your practice after some time. You can try new practices, new postures, or add something else in. Some people enjoy relaxing sounds or music while meditating. Others prefer walking meditation. After you settle in one practice, slowly begin to investigate other ways to meditate that may be beneficial for you. A healthy practice will need to eventually incorporate concentration practices, mindfulness practices, and heart practices. But don’t rush it! Take it slow, and add things in gently.
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Get a written script in PDF format for a body scan meditation.