How do we actually meditate? So many people do not understand the science behind meditation. When we meditate, we inject far-reaching and long-lasting benefits into our lives: We lower our stress levels, we get to know our pain, we connect better, we improve our focus, and we're kinder to ourselves. Let us walk you through the basics in our new mindful guide on how to meditate.
The beginner's guide to building a meditation habit and practicing mindfulness
In this detailed guide on meditation, we will explain everything you need to know about meditation and how to meditate properly. Even if you want to know how to meditate in bed, how to meditate spiritually, how to meditate for anxiety, how to meditate for beginners, how to meditate Reddit, the benefits of meditation, or even mindfulness meditation; saying, teach me how to meditate.
To meditate, all you need is a place where you can focus. – Detailed Guide
- Meditation is a practice that involves training your attention to stay in the present moment.
- To start meditating, find a quiet space where you can focus for 5 to 10 minutes.
- To reap all the benefits of meditation — like reduced stress and improved focus — make it a daily habit.
- Visit Detailed Guide's Health Reference library for more advice.
In the US, the number of people practicing meditation more than tripled from 2012 to 2022.
While meditation has a rich cultural history in countries like India, China, and Japan, it's becoming increasingly popular in the Western world — and with good reason.
Meditation can have extensive mental and physical health benefits, and you need less than 10 minutes alone each day to do it. It might seem difficult to get started and keep up a routine, but the following guide breaks it down for beginners.
Meditation is a simple practice available to all, which can reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity and promote happiness. Learning how to meditate is straightforward, and the benefits can come quickly. Here, we offer basic tips to get you started on a path toward greater equanimity, acceptance, and joy. Take a deep breath, and get ready to relax.
Continue reading to find the latest and correct answers to all these questions and inquiries on meditation.
What is Meditation?
A detailed guide explanation of the meditation practice.
Meditation is a practice derived from Hinduism and Buddhism. The goal of meditation is to focus and understand your mind—eventually reaching a higher level of awareness and inner calm. Meditation is an ancient practice, but scientists are still discovering all of its benefits. Regular meditation can help you to control your emotions, enhance your concentration, decrease stress, and even become more connected to those around you.
Meditation isn't about learning how to empty your mind or stop your thoughts. Instead, meditation is the practice of training your attention and focus from a place of non-judgment.
Discovering the present moment.
Training the Mind
Put most simply, meditation is a way to train the mind. Most of the time, our minds are wandering — we're thinking about the future, dwelling on the past, worrying, fantasizing, fretting, or daydreaming. Meditation brings us back to the present moment and gives us the tools we need to be less stressed, calmer, and kinder to ourselves and others.
There are lots of different types of meditation. Most religions have contemplative traditions, and there are plenty of secular ways to meditate, too. But in recent years, mindfulness meditation has become increasingly popular.
Basic mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to the present moment with an accepting, nonjudgmental disposition. The goal isn't to stop thinking or to empty the mind. Rather, the point is to pay close attention to your physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions in order to see them more clearly, without making so many assumptions, or making up stories.
It's a deceptively simple exercise — just be right here, right now, without daydreaming. But with practice, it can yield profound results, giving us greater control of our actions, and making room for more kindness and equanimity, even in difficult situations. With time, mindfulness meditation can even help us better understand what causes us stress, and what we can do to relieve it.
Mindfulness meditation was inspired by Buddhist practices, today it is available as a wholly secular practice that emphasizes stress reduction, the cultivation of focus, and the development of tranquility.
There's a large and growing body of research identifying the measurable effects of mindfulness on the body and brain, and it is catching on in professional settings including education, sports, business, and even the military.
Mindfulness vs. Meditation
Though the words are sometimes used interchangeably, it's useful to draw a distinction between mindfulness and meditation.
Mindfulness is a quality of being — the experience of being open and aware in the present moment, without reflexive judgment, automatic criticism, or mind wandering.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of actually being present in the moment, which in turn trains us to become more mindful throughout the day, particularly during difficult situations.
Mindfulness meditation isn't the only way to meditate. Transcendental Meditation, which aims to promote a state of relaxed awareness through the recitation of a mantra, is also popular these days. But in this guide, we're focused on mindfulness, which is increasingly popular and easy to learn.
How to Meditate
Meditation is something everyone can do easily, here's a detailed guide on how to:
Meditation is simpler (and harder) than most people think. Read these steps, make sure you're somewhere where you can relax into this process, set a timer, and give it a shot:
- Find a quiet space. Make sure there is nothing to disturb you before you start meditation. Turn your phone on silent and go into a room away from others.
- Sit in a comfortable position. You can sit on top of a cushion or blanket, on the floor, or on a chair. Sit upright, but don't tense up — your body should feel relaxed.
- Breathe gently. Focus your attention on each inhale and exhale. Alternatively, you can begin with a body scan: focus on each part of the body, down from your toes and up to your head, pausing to notice the sensations.
- Let distractions come and go. If your mind wanders, acknowledge the thought that has distracted you, but does not dwell on it. Then, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Getting distracted when meditating is inevitable and one of the biggest worries for beginners — but learning how to manage distraction is a vital part of the process.
That's it! That's the practice. You focus your attention, your mind wanders, you bring it back, and you try to do it as kindly as possible (as many times as you need to).
How Much Should I Meditate?
Meditation is no more complicated than what we've described above. It is that simple … and that challenging. It's also powerful and worth it. The key is to commit to sitting every day, even if it's for five minutes. Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg says: “One of my meditation teachers said that the most important moment in your meditation practice is the moment you sit down to do it. Because right then you're saying to yourself that you believe in change, you believe in caring for yourself, and you're making it real. You're not just holding some value like mindfulness or compassion in the abstract, but really making it real.”
Recent research from neuroscientist Amishi Jha discovered that 12 minutes of meditation, 5 days a week can protect and strengthen your ability to pay attention.
Meditation Tips and Techniques
We've gone over the basic breath meditation so far, but there are other mindfulness techniques that use different focal points than the breath to anchor our attention—external objects like a sound in the room, or something broader, such as noticing spontaneous things that come into your awareness during an aimless wandering practice. But all of these practices have one thing in common: We notice that our minds ARE running the show a lot of the time. It's true. We think thoughts, typically, and then we act. But here are some helpful strategies to change that up:
How to Make Mindfulness a Habit
It's estimated that 95% of our behavior runs on autopilot. That's because neural networks underlie all of our habits, reducing our millions of sensory inputs per second into manageable shortcuts so we can function in this crazy world. These default brain signals are so efficient that they often cause us to relapse into old behaviors before we remember what we meant to do instead.
Mindfulness is the exact opposite of these default processes. It's executive control rather than autopilot and enables intentional actions, willpower, and decisions. But that takes practice. The more we activate the intentional brain, the stronger it gets. Every time we do something deliberate and new, we stimulate neuroplasticity, activating our grey matter, which is full of newly sprouted neurons that have not yet been groomed for “autopilot” brain.
But here's the problem. While our intentional brain knows what is best for us, our autopilot brain causes us to shortcut our way through life. So how can we trigger ourselves to be mindful when we need it most? This is where the notion of “behavior design” comes in. It's a way to put your intentional brain in the driver's seat. There are two ways to do that—first, slowing down the autopilot brain by putting obstacles in its way, and second, removing obstacles in the path of the intentional brain, so it can gain control.
Shifting the balance to give your intentional brain more power takes some work, though. Here are some ways to get started.
- Put meditation reminders around you. If you intend to do some yoga or to meditate, put your yoga mat or your meditation cushion in the middle of your floor so you can't miss it as you walk by.
- Refresh your reminders regularly. Say you decide to use sticky notes to remind yourself of a new intention. That might work for about a week, but then your autopilot brain and old habits take over again. Try writing new notes to yourself; add variety or make them funny. That way they'll stick with you longer.
- Create new patterns. You could try a series of “If this, then that” messages to create easy reminders to shift into the intentional brain. For instance, you might come up with, “If office door, then deep breath,” as a way to shift into mindfulness as you are about to start your workday. Or, “If the phone rings, take a breath before answering.” Each intentional action to shift into mindfulness will strengthen your intentional brain.
Meditation Types and Techniques
On top of your basic mindfulness practice, there are many other different types of meditation you can try.
While all these forms of meditation incorporate some aspects of mindfulness, they also offer participants an alternative anchor of focus during meditation. Here's how:
Body scan meditation
During a body scan meditation, you'll be focusing on bodily sensations, as opposed to just your breath.
For example, you can start at your toes, and take a few moments to focus on how they feel when they're grounded on the floor. Then, move through your legs, chest, arms, shoulders, neck, and head, slowly noticing the sensations of each body part.
Body scan meditation can be especially useful for reducing chronic pain or dealing with tension, stress, or trauma.
With loving-kindness meditation, the aim is to direct feelings of compassion towards yourself and others.
It's easy to add this to any basic mindfulness meditation. For example, instead of just focusing on your breath, try thinking about someone else in your head. Then, say this phrase aloud: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe.”
You can direct these positive thoughts toward yourself, someone you love, or someone you don't particularly like at the moment. In fact, loving-kindness meditation has been found to help improve self-esteem and even resolve conflicts.
During walking meditation, you'll focus on each step as you mindfully lift and place your foot on the ground. You can walk anywhere — a hallway inside, on a sidewalk in the city, or out in a park.
A quick tip: Walking meditation may be worth trying if you don't like sitting still for traditional mindfulness meditation. It offers the same advantages as meditation — plus the health benefits of walking.
Benefits of meditation
Research has found that meditation can improve your mental and physical health in a variety of ways.
Here are seven science-backed benefits of meditation:
- Better focus and concentration. Studies have found that meditation can increase grey matter in parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
- Improve self-esteem and self-awareness. Self-observation without judgment is one of the core tenets of meditation, and it can help you see yourself in a new way.
- Reduce stress. Meditation can lower levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — and help you feel more calm and relaxed.
- Help manage anxiety or depression. Daily meditation is one of the best natural treatment methods for anxiety disorders, as well as other mental illnesses.
- Fight addiction. Research has found that mindfulness training can help prevent future relapses for those with substance use disorders.
- Control pain. Many doctors recommend meditation – especially body scans — to help manage chronic pain.
- Promote altruistic behavior. Some studies have found that meditation may even reduce implicit bias and fight against racial prejudice.
Managing common meditation struggles
Here are five common issues you may experience when meditating — and how to work through them.
Not having time to meditate: Start small. You don't have to block out 30 minutes each day for meditation. Challenge yourself to meditate for one or two minutes at first.
Not being able to quiet your thoughts: Luckily, the point of meditation is not to completely clear all your thoughts. Rather, it's about noticing them in a non-judging way. Rather than focusing on clearing away all thoughts, become aware of each one, then try to bring your focus back to your breath. You can also try transcendental meditation, where you repeat a mantra that helps you quiet other thoughts.
Not being able to sit still: Don't give up on meditating because you struggle to stay in the lotus position for more than a few minutes. Try a different type of meditation that allows for movement, such as a walking meditation.
Experiencing pain or other uncomfortable feelings during meditation: Meditation exercises, like the body scan, can help control pain. And, mindfulness meditation is associated with helping regulate pain. But what if pain or discomfort is distracting you during meditation?
First, make sure that you're in a comfortable position that won't cause unnecessary pain. Use meditation to familiarize yourself with the pain. Acknowledge it, and observe the pain and any related thoughts or feelings, then breathe through it.
Mindfulness teacher Shinzen Young writes that, when you experience discomfort during meditation, noticing the judgments and the resulting tensions around the pain, then dropping them, can help you better manage it. By softening your resistance to the pain, you teach your mind a healthier way of dealing with it.
Meditation isn't meeting your expectations: Meditation is a practice, and it takes time to see the benefits. If you're having trouble sticking with the practice, look into different forms of meditation, or try some of the habit-forming tips above to help you establish the practice.
Meditation is the practice of being in the present moment and fostering an awareness of your thoughts and feelings while anchoring yourself in your breathing. Meditation goes hand in hand with mindfulness or the awareness of your senses at the moment.
There are different types of meditation to experiment with, such as loving kindness meditations that focus on gratitude and walking meditations that are grounded in movement.
The practice of meditation is associated with better focus, reduced stress, and better pain management. To experience all the benefits of meditation, it's important to make it a habit.
The easiest way to start meditating is to start small — for a few minutes — in a space without distractions. It may help to use a meditation app or guided meditation.
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