Updated: Nov 1, 2019
Whether you are in the workplace, at school, or at home juggling a million things to support your family, someone somewhere has probably suggested that you start practising mindfulness, or some kind of meditation to reduce stress and win a whole host of attractive - sounding health benefits.
Maybe you even think it’s a good idea (and we think it is!) but where do you start?
People often think they have got to find a course or a class, but while that can help, it isn’t absolutely necessary. Lots of would-be meditators ‘do a course’ and still struggle to become more mindful, or establish a habit of meditating. Others read books, feel inspired, but then nothing seems to come of it.
Fundamentally, becoming someone who meditates is between you and yourself! Qualified teachers can mentor, guide and advice, and it’s a special experience to meditate with others sometimes, but you have to light the fire internally, so to speak, if you are to be successful.
So how do you begin?
The good news is that it’s almost unbelievably simple in terms of technique.
At its simplest meditation is simply this:
- Find a quiet comfortable place to sit, or lie, where you won’t be disturbed
- Whether lying or sitting, try to keep your back straight
- If you are sitting, keep both feet on the floor and your hands in your lap
- Begin to focus on your breathing, taking steady slow breaths in... and out….
- Focus only on your breathing. If you find your mind wanders off to something else, bring your focus back to your breathing each time, no matter how many times this happens
- If it helps you stay focused you can count as you breathe 1..2..3 (or 4) as you breathe in...1...2...3.(or 4) as you breathe out. Or if numbers aren’t your thing you can think to yourself... ‘I am breathing in’ … ‘I am breathing out’.
The important thing is that you keep this simple, easy focus solely on your breathing and nothing else. As you do you’ll find your mind clears, your body relaxes and it starts to feel good. That’s it; this is enough, practised regularly, to become a meditator.
The more challenging part in the early days is making the commitment and sticking with it.
For many people, especially those geared to judge their worth by what they achieve and do, the idea of stopping and sitting, just breathing and expecting nothing, is way outside their comfort zone. It feels lazy, pointless, a waste of time, boring; or even worse, a time to concentrate on worrying.
For this reason, even though the best benefits of meditation or mindfulness come with, say, 15 or 20-minute sessions, I find that for many people this should not be the immediate goal.
There has been more positive feedback when I’ve been teaching meditation if I ask people to start very modestly with much shorter periods of time. It is far better to be successful in completing 2-5 minutes on a regular basis than struggling through 20 minutes every 10 days!
Think of it as a meditation/mindfulness muscle, it needs to be gently and gradually exercised and it will get stronger bit by bit. Once you have a proper training regime then, just like training to run, you will be able to manage a bit longer in meditation once you have a basic level of ability.
I cannot emphasise enough that the most important thing is simply to start. There is nothing to be ‘good’ at (although so many people tell me they are ‘no good at meditating’).
Just as you might start training to run by setting off for five minutes any old how, recognising that you have a way to go to look like a ‘proper’ runner, so it is with meditation. Do it as a beginner, be kind to yourself, encourage yourself each time you manage a little session and soon it will begin to hook you. You will love the sense of peace, calm and control that begins to seep into your life. After a while, what felt like a real intrusion - to sit down, relax, be quiet and just breathe - will be something that you look forward to.
The other delightful thing that happens as you quietly establish this little oasis of calm each day is that all the other scientifically evidenced health benefits start to show up in your life. Meditation actually ‘grows’ connections in your brain. Focus improves, anxiety levels fall, mood lifts, creativity improves, sleep benefits - and that is just the start!
To help get you started I have put together ten simple tips for meditation beginners
10 little bits of advice to help you on your way.
Find a safe and pleasant space
Meditation works best when you have a safe quiet space in which to do it. A favourite armchair or bed is great, or a cosy corner where you can be surrounded by photos of people close to you, or items that have a special meaning. If the only time you have to meditate is during the working day then sitting in your car is fine, but make sure you have something to make you feel comfortable, maybe a cushion or blanket or your favourite coat. In some workplaces staff have asked to use empty offices, bringing in plants, pictures and fabrics to make them more hospitable.
Create a mental space
By this I mean make sure you have made a firm decision to do this, not just a vague intention. Decide when each day would suit you to meditate and then try to stick to that as far as you can. If you find you cannot meditate one day at that time, make sure you try to plan another time rather than letting it slip.
Be patient with yourself
There is no point getting stressed over meditation or mindfulness. Calmly pursue it. If you let a few days slip by and fall out of the habit, then just calmly bring yourself back and try again - don’t focus on what feels less than perfect, focus on the bits that have worked.
Allow for more than one way
People like me can suggest ways of meditating but each person is wonderfully unique. Sitting, lying down, standing, walking, painting or colouring, listening to a visualisation or calming music, humming, singing, being with plants...all these things can take people into that calm meditative state. If common techniques don’t work for you, experiment.
If you would like to try a guided meditation then we have a free 10 minute lunch break meditation on our YouTube channel - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tPS9LxUR3k
Honour the time, no matter what happens
Sometimes life can just get in the way and we can’t find our moment to meditate. If this happens we have a technique called ‘honouring the space, or time’. This simply means that you think about meditating at about the time you would actually have been doing it. This helps your brain acknowledge the routine, but also just the memory of meditating can bring a sense of calm to those who do it regularly.
When you are being mindful you are focusing on simply living in the present moment. You bring yourself to focus on what is actually happening right now in your life, setting aside memory and the past, setting aside planning or worrying about the future and simply being in the moment with what you are seeing or doing right then. If you are walking in nature that is all you are doing, observing and sensing what is around you. If you are washing up then you are focusing on the dishes, the warmth and wetness of the water, the smell of the dishwashing liquid. If you are with another person, you are totally with them, watching, listening, being. Mindfulness can be used throughout your day, in addition to meditating for a few minutes each day, as we have already discussed. You will find that as you meditate more you will naturally become more mindful.
Don't expect miracles, but don't miss them either
Many people report profound changes that can feel almost magical as they change through the practice of meditation. Others experience gradual, subtle improvements, there is no one-size-fits-all. If you sit meditating and waiting for miracles you are likely to be disappointed. You should, though, quietly observe yourself as your meditation habit grows. If you sense there are changes in your mind and body your instinct is probably correct - meditation is changing you as it has changed many other people.
Keep a journal
It can help when you first start to keep a diary or journal, just noting down each time you spend in meditation and anything you observe. Also, note any feelings that arise and any changes to your health and mental wellness.
If it becomes a struggle, ask for help
Sometimes there is an obstacle or we need a boost in confidence. Or we can’t find ‘our thing’ when it comes to meditation. If this is the case then seek out a qualified meditation teacher. The British School of Meditation has registered teachers throughout the country (I am one, firstname.lastname@example.org) who will be happy to offer a few sessions to boost your confidence.
Just like the gym or playing a musical instrument, there is no benefit to meditation if it becomes a stress in itself. Relaxation is enjoyable! Having a quiet, calm mind can be blissful and provide a seed-bed for creativity and productivity in life. Giving yourself some quiet meditative space is a gift to your health and your wider life. But like all gifts, it has to be one you would choose to receive. Be curious and open about what might work for you, and then experiment until you find your own unique way.