“I really want to meditate, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. How do I start?” As someone who practices daily, I hear this a lot from people wanting to start a practice of their own but feel discouraged because of preconceived notions about meditation.
Some common misconceptions that you may have fallen victim to are:
- It takes years of practice to get good at meditation.
- I’m not good at thinking about nothing!
- Meditation takes too much time.
- Meditation is religious or for “spiritual people”.
- It’s about stress reduction.
The reality of meditation is that anyone can practice anytime, anywhere and for however long. All you need is a desire to get started and a reason to keep going! I used to suffer terribly from anxiety, which is why I started my practice. Which reason would you choose from the study shown below?
Whatever your reason is, the good news is that you don’t have to be a monk seeking spiritual enlightenment to begin a meditation practice. Actually, meditation has become more mainstream than you may think. Did you know that meditation is almost as popular as yoga? Say what! It is believed that globally between 200 and 500 million people meditate with 5% of that population including children.
If a small child can forgo overthinking how to start, you can too. Let’s talk about some best practices and a self-guided exercise to get your meditation ball rolling.
Getting Started: Meditation Best Practices
Set Your Goal and Intention
Setting a goal for your meditation practice is a great way to hold yourself accountable and measure your progress. However, if you desire to make your meditation experience more meaningful, I recommend setting an intention as well. This is very different from setting a meditation goal. By definition, a goal is something you hope to achieve whereas an intention is your determination to act in a certain way.
Right now, you may be thinking “I don’t get it!” No worries! Let’s take this one step further.
Your meditation goal might be: “I’m going to meditate every day for the next 30 days.”
Your meditation intention might be: “Over the next 30 days I’m going to keep an open mind about my meditation experience and enjoy the journey.”
Have the clouds parted? The intention focuses more on how you plan to show up and be versus solely focusing on what you’ll achieve at the end (if there is an end in mind).
Release Your Expectations
This goes back to your preconceived notions about meditation. What assumptions do you have about meditating? What unnecessary expectations are you placing on yourself before you even start? Being mindful about how you’re showing up to your practice is going to make all the difference to your overall experience.
In other words, if you’re overthinking whether to sit or lay, keep your eyes open or closed, use mudras, etc. before you even get into position, the journey is going to feel stressful and like more work than it’s worth. Please, don’t do this to yourself! Practicing meditation is all about figuring out what works for you, not whether you’re doing it right or wrong.
If you’re someone who struggles with dropping your baggage and letting it all go, give this little exercise a try:
Right before you begin your meditation practice, check in with yourself. Reflect on your day. Assess the quality of your thoughts. Ask yourself how you’re feeling in your body. See if you can identify with any specific emotions that might be coming up for you. Then, go ahead and give yourself permission to leave it all behind for however long you intend to meditate so you can be present in the moment. Give yourself permission to simply try and let your experience be good enough. Maybe that becomes your intention.
Find What Works For You!
From meditation spaces to positions, there are a number to choose from and no, you don’t need a meditation mat, cushion or any kind of special seat to meditate (though they may provide extra support and comfort). I recommend choosing a space and position that suits your needs. Just be flexible and aim for comfort. There are days when I know I’ll be meditating at work. In those instances I book myself a conference room and try to get as comfy as possible.
Your “posture is essential to meditation as it helps with energy flow and concentration, but you can take a flexible approach to it.” You can choose any of the positions below that appeal to you. Work your way down the list and take note of how they feel to you.
- Chair-sitting meditation
- Standing meditation
- Kneeling meditation
- Lying-down meditation
Choose Your Meditation Style
If I were to list out all of the meditation styles for you to choose from I’d likely get a serious eye roll followed by a string of expletives. So, I’m going to keep the decision making process simple for you and lay this out in three easy steps:
- Choose a meditation app. I prefer Insight Timer. It’s free and it’s amazing.
- Download the meditation app on your phone.
- Choose a self-directed meditation experience via the timer or pick a guided meditation.
Timer vs. guided. What’s the difference? As someone who has been meditating for a decade it is my personal opinion that guided meditations are best for beginners because they’re easy. You’re lead through an experience, taking the guess work out of the equation. Here are a few other reasons why I love guided meditations:
- You’re walked through the meditation process and experience step-by-step. Easy peasy.
- Guided meditations often incorporate visualizations, which is a powerful tool for self-growth. (What the heck is visualization you ask? Visualizations are the use of mental imagery to effect positive changes in your life).
- They help to improve clarity and provide profoundly deep relaxation.
There is much less variety with using the timer. You’re able to select some background music as well as your start and end bell, but that’s pretty much it. It’s just you, flying solo with the timer. It’s not everyone’s piece of cake, but I’ve taken a liking to it recently. My recommendation is to start with guided, but if you’re feeling courageous give the timer a try. You may just surprise yourself.
How does that saying go? “Don’t just talk about it. Be about it.” At this point, you have all the tips and tricks to start your own meditation practice. But you may still be wondering HOW to actually meditate. Trust me, it’s easier than you think. Here is a quick self-guided exercise if you’re looking to go at it on your own versus use a guided meditation.
- Get into position – sit, lay, stand, kneel. Whatever position you feel called to that’s the one you should go with.
- Check-in with yourself – close your eyes and bring awareness to your body. Are you experiencing any tension that needs to be released? Locate it and imagine yourself letting it go. You can do this by visualizing a window right where the tension is in your body. Simply open the window and let it drift off with the wind.
- Focus on your breath – your breath will be your anchor throughout your practice. Inhale for a count of 4. Hold your breath for 4. Exhale for a count of 4. Repeat. Anytime you notice your mind has wandered and you’re chasing your thoughts always return to your breath.
- Reflect on your experience – when time is up and your meditation practice has come to a close, pull out a journal and reflect on your experience. What was it like for you? What came up during your practice? Did anything surprise you? Journaling about your meditation experience is another way to take your practice to the next level.
What are your thoughts on starting a daily meditation practice? I’d love to know if I’ve debunked any myths for you. If you’re already practicing, what best practices would you add?