With so much information out there about different meditation forms and techniques, how on earth is one supposed to know where to begin? That is exactly why I decided to write this.
(To jump straight to the steps click here.)
“Who are you?” You might ask. Why, I am flattered that you would ask! I am just a student at BI who happens to have experimented a bit with meditation. From meditating daily for only a couple of minutes, I have experienced noticeable positive changes in my everyday life.
With so much documented data that proves how beneficial meditation really is, I feel like it´s a shame more people don’t do it. However, I’m sure there are many people out there who really want to give meditation a try but are not entirely sure how to begin or which sources are trustworthy and not!
That is exactly why I put together this guide which includes answers to many of the questions I asked when I first began my journey with meditation.
I am not an expert when it comes to meditation and I am not trying to portray myself as one either, but what I have done here is put together an instruction for a very simple meditation exercise based on my personal experience and the research I have done on the topics of meditation.
If you want to learn more about the effects of meditation, you can check out one of our previous articles where we cover some of them with scientific research citations.
In this guide we will be focusing on your very first steps on the path of meditation. We will be covering some of the basics and hopefully give you an understanding of how you can meditate in a secular way.
The Two Main Scientific Meditation Categories
There are dozens of different meditational techniques out there and many of these have specific purposes and benefits. However, the techniques can roughly be divided into two main categories: focused attention and open monitoring.
- Focused attention techniques are primarily about voluntarily concentrating on, paying attention to, an object or something abstract (mental/visual images, taste, for example) over a sustained amount of time. Focused attention meditations are often suggested as a starting point for beginners because of their simplicity. This type of meditation can be done without much training, and often serves as a stepping stone to the other meditation form.
- Open monitoring techniques are more about observing something or some things, such as thoughts or an ongoing experiences, without focusing on them, all without stimulating emotional assessment or attachment.
What Meditation Exercise We Will Be Doing
We will be doing a breathing meditation for this guide. The purpose of this meditation is to focus on the inhalation and exhalation of our breath.
Breathing meditation is perhaps one of the easiest forms of meditation because it can be done without any additional tools or equipment. It falls under the focused attention-category because we will be focusing on a point, in this case: our own breathing. We will keep our mouth gently shut for this exercise, and breathe only using our nose.
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Prepare the Surroundings for the meditation
Here’s a list of what you would like for this exercise:
- 5-10 minutes.
- A place to sit comfortably.
- A device with a timer (a phone, physical timer, or online timer that you can find on the internet for free will do).
Additional things that may help:
- A quiet place or earplugs.
- Being well-rested.
- Being hydrated (helps with mental clarity and overall function of the body).
Step 2: Get Ready Mentally
Begin by taking 1-2 minutes to prepare yourself mentally for the session. You can do this by putting your phone in flight-mode, switching off your computer, or taking off your smartwatch- the purpose is to relax and ready the mind, and to limit possible distractions during the meditation.
I was getting ready to meditate when I suddenly remembered something important that I didn’t want to forget. What do I do?
Avert thinking about past or future events; things you have done or must do. If something important that does not require your immediate attention comes to mind during this preparation phase, you can write it down somewhere and attend to it later to avoid becoming fixated on it.
Step 3: Get in Position
Although you can do the breathing meditation while standing upright or laying down, for this exercise we will be sitting upright.
Find a comfortable place to sit, such as a chair, the floor, or the side of your bed. Choose a spot that is soft but hard enough to keep your spine in a neutral position. Having your spine in this position is quite important, and, in addition to promoting good posture and preventing back injuries, will open the airways and help with proper breathing.
Take a second and pay attention to your body. Notice and release any tension in your muscles, especially around the neck and shoulder area. Relax. Remember to keep your back upright but not too tight. Close your eyes, and get ready for the session.
How should I sit when I meditate? What do I do with my arms and hands?
Whether you decide to sit with your legs crossed or not, does not matter. Just pick a position that will be pleasant to sit in for the duration of the meditation. Keep your elbows close to your torso and put hands in your lap or by the side of your legs.
Step 4: Set the Timer
When you feel ready, set the timer for 5 minutes. 5 Minutes might not sound like a lot, but for the very beginner it can be plentiful.
Why only 5 minutes? That so short!
If you, after those initial 5 minutes, feel like keep going then please do so.
Nevertheless, just like a beginner at the gym might injure herself by lifting too heavy weights without the correct form, meditating a lot for too long in the very beginning can make the practice feel more like a tiresome responsibility than the pleasurable and relaxing habit it ought to be.
Step 5: Start the timer and Meditate
The goal of this exercise is to pay attention to the breathing. More specifically to focus on the bodily sensations of breathing in and out. Feel the lungs and belly expand as you inhale through your nose, and the easy lowering of the chest and shoulders as you exhale through your nose.
You are paying attention to your breathing without forming any opinions about it. You are not trying to control the breathing. Let your lungs do their job and do what comes naturally.
Keep paying attention to your breathing until the timer runs out.
What happens if I get distracted by something, like a thought or sound?
The inhalations and exhalations serve as an anchor that you refocus on if you become distracted by something. If a sporadic thought enters your mind you should acknowledge it without becoming attached to it and return to paying attention to your breathing again. Don´t chase it. Let it «fly away».
Understand that this may be very difficult for beginners, so do not become agitated- it will only be counterproductive. Changing the way your brain is conceiving concepts of your perceptions as it has been doing for all these years will take time, but you will get the hang of it once you keep doing it consistently.
If you are becoming sleepy by doing this simple exercise it may be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep in general, so it would probably be wise to sleep more or get a better quality of sleep.
Step 6: End the Meditation and Evaluate
Evaluation is one of the most important aspects of growing. Once the timer runs out, take your time to open your eyes and evaluate your session. How did it make you feel? Do you feel any different? Most people will report saying they feel more relaxed and at ease. Take a moment to listen to your own body after the meditation exercise.
Was 5 minutes too much for you? Did you become restless or uneasy during the meditation and wanted to quit? Perhaps reducing the time is the right move for you. Did 5 minutes feel too short? Feel free to increase the time for your next session.
Taking time to evaluate the session is key to finding out what does and what does not work for you, and is important for finding the right balance with meditation.
How often should I meditate?
The consensus online seems to be that one should meditate whenever one feels like it and for a duration that you are comfortable with.
My father, who has been meditating for much of his life, told me an interesting analogy that stuck with me when I asked him the same question:
Similar to how the string of a guitar cannot be too tight nor too loose in order to produce the correct note, it is important to find the right amount of time to spend meditating; too much, and it may become an annoyance and cause discomfort. Too little, and it may not be very effective.
Meditating for a couple of minutes every day is something anyone has time to do. It’s all a matter of willpower and prioritization. Nonetheless, it is important to state that many of the benefits of meditation seem to become more apparent if the meditation is done consistently, according to several scientific studies.
Regardless, take your time and do it at your own comfortable pace without giving it too much of a thought whether it is working or not. You´ll know when it does.