info@zaqra.com

A Beginner's Guide To Practicing Meditation

If you’re a big fan of wellness routines, chances are you’ve considered adding meditation to your healthy-habit lineup. It sounds so nice to sit down, close your eyes, and calm your mind. But when you actually give it a try, that’s when you might start to feel frustrated by your whirling thoughts and lack of so-called “inner peace” — which is why following a few meditation tips for beginners is key.

“Meditation is the act of focusing the mind on one thing at a time to bring a sense of calm, relaxation, and improve attention and awareness,” Dr. Julia Kogan, PsyD, a health psychologist and stress specialist, tells Bustle. But because it’s common to lead a stressful life — where you’re constantly doing a million things at once and have a neverending to-do list — she says it can be tough to abruptly make a change and center yourself while meditating.

It is, however, totally worth all the growing pains you might go through as you develop a meditation routine or try it for the first time. The mindfulness practice has been a longtime staple in the wellness world for good reason: It offers a slew of benefits despite being super simple. “Meditation has been shown to reduce stress levels, improve sleep, increase attention and focus, and improve productivity,” Kogan says. She recommends experimenting with different types of meditation and being consistent until it feels more natural. Read on for nine meditation tips for beginners if you’re looking to give it a go.

It’ll help to find a quiet, cozy place to meditate — preferably one you can return to every day, says Joy Rains, a mindfulness trainer and author of Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind. So pull up a cushion, couch, or chair and designate it as your “meditation zone.”

Once you’re settled, Rains suggests gradually releasing any physical tension you may feel, while keeping your mind alert. It might help to sit up straight, without being too rigid, to get yourself in the right frame of mind to meditate — without accidentally taking a nap.

That said, it’s also OK to lie down. And if you happen to drift off, so be it — Kogan says all that matters is that you feel comfortable and relaxed.

While you won’t always be able to find an ideal environment to meditate, it’s a good idea to remove as many distractions as possible. Close your laptop, mute your phone, and slip into comfy clothes, if you can. A cozy outfit — that you don’t have to scratch, pull at, or adjust — will make it easier to focus, says licensed mental health counselor Kelsey Bates, LMCH.

Rains suggests choosing an “anchor” to come back to as you learn how to meditate. “An anchor is a neutral object to focus on that doesn’t stimulate your mind,” she says. It could be your breath, a word you repeat to yourself, a peaceful soundtrack, or an object you can hold, like a crystal or stone. “Every time your mind wanders, which can be as often as every second or two for beginners, gently refocus on your anchor,” Rains says.

If your mind is racing and you keep having nagging thoughts about what to eat for dinner, your long to-do list, or that embarrassing thing you said in second grade — that’s totally OK (and normal). Let it all come and go without getting stressed.

“The intent of meditation isn’t to suppress thoughts and feelings,” Rains says, but to simply notice them as they pass by. As these thoughts pop into your head, try imagining each one as a passing cloud or boat floating by on a river. “Allow it to pass without judgment and then refocus on your anchor,” she says.

And remember: The act of refocusing is the whole point of meditation. “It's this conscious response that goes a long way toward reducing stress, increasing focus, and enhancing both your physical and emotional well-being,” Rains says.

Can’t quite get the hang of sitting quietly? No worries. You might prefer to meditate while doing something else, like walking, working out, cooking, or eating, says mindset coach Shannon Kaiser. The next time you’re out for a jog or eating dinner, practice being present in that moment, she tells Bustle. “This is mediation in action and it can help you see that mediation isn’t about tuning out life, but instead waking up to the present moment and being immersed in life.”

To meditate while walking, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Holly Schiff recommends strolling at a comfortable pace while focusing your attention on the environment around you and the sensations in your body as you move. “It feels so much different when you actually pay attention to what is going on around you while taking a walk, rather than focusing on all the thoughts swirling around in your mind,” she says.

If you struggle with silence or hate being alone with your thoughts, try listening to a guided meditation. “Using apps like Calm, or downloading spoken word meditations, can be super beneficial,” Kaiser says. Another option is Headspace, which offers a beginner-friendly approach, or Simple Habit, which is chock-full of short meditations so you won’t get overwhelmed.

Speaking of overwhelm, don’t feel as if you have to dive into an hour-long meditation — or even 30 minutes — right out of the gate. “Start with just five minutes a day and work your way up to more,” says Dr. Amy Robbins, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of mental health at BIÂN Chicago. “If once a day sounds like too much, then start with a few times a week.”

Robbins says meditation is all about setting yourself up for success by taking it slow. If you want, tack on another minute every day, she tells Bustle. Or just keep it short and sweet so you’re more likely to come back and try again.

When it comes to getting used to meditation, the length of your practice isn’t as important as consistency. That’s why Rains suggests scheduling a time to meditate so that you get used to doing it and can actually establish it as part of your routine.

Kogan says it might feel right to fit meditation into your morning routine or to try it right before bed, as these are often the least distracting times of the day. The easier and more accessible you make it, the better.

While meditation can sometimes feel difficult, keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way to approach it, says Dr. Renetta Weaver, a licensed clinical social worker and neuroscience coach. The main thing is to be nice to yourself as you figure out what does and does not work for you, and build from there.

“Meditation is a personal practice,” Weaver tells Bustle. So feel free to meditate on the couch, while you walk, for five minutes, or a full hour. As long as it helps you feel a tiny bit more relaxed, focused, and present, you’ll be off to a great start.

Studies referenced:

Hoge, EA. (2013.) Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity. J Clin Psychiatry. doi: 10.4088/JCP.12m08083.

Pascoe, MC. (2017.) Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J Psychiatr Res. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.08.004.

Rusch, H. (2019). The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6557693/

Shiba, K. (2015). The Association between Meditation Practice and Job Performance: A Cross-Sectional Study. PLoS One. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4449168/

Experts:

Dr. Julia Kogan, PsyD, health psychologist and stress specialist

Joy Rains, mindfulness trainer and author

Kelsey Bates, LMCH, licensed mental health counselor

Shannon Kaiser, mindset coach

Dr. Holly Schiff, licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Amy Robbins, licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Renetta Weaver, licensed clinical social worker and neuroscience coach