So you want to know how to meditate, but don’t know where to start. Or maybe you think you know how to meditate, but aren’t sure if you’re doing it right. The truth is, most people who say they meditate are really just sitting there thinking about their problems or just dozing off! This post will help you avoid common pitfalls and show you how to meditate with ease, joy and no frustration.
Before you start, you’ll have to find a quiet time and place to meditate. It’s best to use the same spot to meditate everyday. Decide how long you want to meditate and set a timer. 20 minutes is usually a great length for beginners: long enough to feel Zen, but not too long that you get fidgety. If 20 minutes seems ambitious to you, try 15. Or 10. Or 5. Even 1 minute is better than zero. Start with whatever length of time you’re comfortable with and gradually increase the time at your own pace. And always set a timer: you don’t want to keep glancing at a watch.
Okay, now let’s get started:
1. Set your intention.
Why are you meditating? To be happier? To be more focused? To achieve enlightenment? Whatever your reason, make sure you can articulate it in a single sentence such as, “I’m meditating to be more present in my relationships and more focused at work.” This sentence will be a powerful tool that you can deploy later to subdue your mind when it’s bored and wondering why you’re just sitting there.
2. Sit up straight.
Sit comfortably with your back straight. Don’t lean against a wall or chair, and don’t lie down or else you’ll just fall asleep. You can sit on the floor or in a chair; whatever feels good as long as your back is straight. Sitting in a chair is not cheating, so don’t feel obligated to sit cross-legged if it’s uncomfortable. Relax your shoulders and make sure you’re not tense. Remember: this is not an endurance exercise. If you’re uncomfortable, switch positions.
Rest your hands in your lap or on your knees, palms up. Keep your eyes closed. Close your lips, relax your jaw, and press your tongue against the roof of your mouth behind the top front teeth.
To relax into this posture, take three to five long, deep breaths through the nose and exhale through the mouth. As you exhale, let the tension leave your body.
Feels good, doesn’t it?
3. Observe the breath.
Now, let yourself resume normal, natural breathing. Focus all of your attention on the sensation of the breath in the nose. Restrict your attention to the nose, and observe the sensation of air touching your nostrils as you inhale and exhale.
Have the intention to keep your attention locked on the breath until the timer rings.
4. Congratulate the mind.
As you’re focusing on the breath, inevitably, your attention will wander and suddenly you’ll realize that you’ve forgotten the breath and are thinking about something else. We call this Forgetting & Mind-Wandering and it’s totally natural, so don’t get frustrated at yourself when it happens.
Instead, the moment you notice that Mind-Wandering is happening and that the breath has been forgotten, congratulate the mind for noticing. Give yourself a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction for noticing Mind-Wandering when it happened. “Good job, mind! You did it! You noticed Mind-Wandering!”
5. Reset your intention.
After you’ve given yourself some positive reinforcement for noticing Mind-Wandering, then remind your mind your purpose in meditating. Remember that sentence we came up with in step 1? Deploy it now. Remind your mind that, “Hey, Mind, remember that we’re meditating to be more present in our relationships and more focused at work.”
6. Gently return to the breath & start again.
Once you’ve reset your intention, then gently bring your attention back to the breath in the nose and start again. Inevitably, again you’ll notice that Mind-Wandering is happening and that the breath is forgotten. Again, congratulate the mind for noticing Mind-Wandering, remind the mind your purpose in meditation, and then gently bring your attention back to the breath to start again. Keep repeating this process until the bell rings.
When you first meditate, you’ll see that your attention is short and constantly interrupted by Mind-Wandering. Don’t be discouraged: that’s what’s supposed to happen! You are essentially leash-training your mind, so be as patient with your mind as you would be with a puppy.
After just a few weeks of practice, you’ll find that your mind is noticing Mind-Wandering sooner and sooner, and that Mind-Wandering is happening less and less. Within a few months or years of practice, you’ll find that your mind does not wander and that your attention is staying locked on the breath for the entire duration of the meditation. In this manner, you’ll be able to measure your progress in real terms. At the early stages, the majority of your meditation will be taken up with Mind-Wandering, and very little time will be spent with the breath. As you progress, eventually you’ll be spending more time with the breath and less time Mind-Wandering, until you’re with the breath without any Mind-Wandering at all. Doesn’t that sound nice?
If you can keep your attention focused on the breath without interruption, then you can stay calm in stressful situations, you can choose not to react emotionally to unexpected setbacks, you can access a reserve of patience you may not yet have. The benefits are exponential. Can you imagine being able to turn off that inner voice that’s always chattering away in your head, rattling off anxieties & worries? How much happier would you be without that voice?
Happiness is contagious, so by giving yourself the gift of meditation and gaining mastery over your mind, you’ll make yourself and the world a happier place. Do it for yourself, your loved ones, and everyone you meet. And when the stress starts to get to you, simply close your eyes, return to your breath, and start again.