How to meditate: a beginner's guide to mindfulness meditation
Learning how to meditate is a low-cost way to look after your mind—here's how to get started
Learning how to meditate is an excellent way to look after your mind and bring some calm to your day. Whether you want to reduce stress, manage your blood pressure, or improve your wellbeing, mindfulness meditation is a great place to start.
Importantly, it doesn't cost a thing to give it a try; all you need is a few minutes and a quiet space to sit. That's why it is one of the top low-cost self care ideas to protect your wellbeing without breaking the bank.
There are a few different styles of meditation, but the most popular is mindfulness meditation. These short sessions encourage you to focus on your breath and develop an awareness of the present moment, which you can extend throughout the day.
You could download a guided meditation app to take some time for your mind, but if you want to learn how to meditate independently, we'll guide you through everything you need to know.
How to meditate for beginners
There are a lot of great meditation apps (like Headspace or Calm), YouTube tutorials, and online courses, but you don't have to spend hours learning how to meditate to get started. All you need is a few minutes and a quiet place to sit.
- Find a quiet place to sit by yourself on a chair, a cushion, or the floor.
- Close your eyes and focus on the normal rhythm of your breath.
- If you find that you've been distracted, simply note the distraction, and return to the breath.
It's as simple as that; if you make it through those three steps, then you've meditated. Sitting still and upright won't feel suitable for everyone, so you could try lying down to meditate if that feels more comfortable for you.
Although there's this popular idea that the aim is to clear your mind of thoughts, the real goal is to develop an awareness of your thoughts. So don't worry if your mind jumps around—this is totally normal.
The more you meditate, the easier it'll be to spot thoughts as they appear and bring your attention back to your breath. There's no set time that you must meditate for, though it's common for a session to last around 10 minutes.
You don’t need to launch straight into a 10-minute meditation, though. While you’re getting used to the experience, taking even just a minute to become aware of your breath can help ease you into meditation.
If you'd prefer someone to guide you through the practice, this 10-minute meditation for stress is a great place to start. It's led by Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of the Headspace meditation app.
How long should you meditate for?
Many guided meditations last between 10 and 20 minutes, but you can meditate for as long as you want. Sometimes, a few minutes focusing on your breath might be what you need, while another day, you may want to experiment with an hour-long session.
You can vary the duration, but how often should you meditate? Some people find that meditating every day helps them develop a consistent habit, but you don't have to commit to daily meditation to benefit from the practice.
According to the Headspace science team, "many studies show positive results with a consistent meditation practice three to four times a week. Learning to meditate is like learning any other skill."
"Think of it like exercising a muscle that you've never really worked out before. It takes consistent practice to get comfortable. It's also useful to build a new meditation routine by adding it to an existing [one], like after brushing your teeth in the morning."
What to think about while meditating
There's a common perception that the goal of learning how to meditate is to clear your mind of thoughts; the aim is really to become aware of what's going on in your mind and body.
It's easy to get lost in a train of thought; our brains are very good at distracting us from the present moment. When you leave your house and walk down the street, do you see every detail of the buildings, sidewalk, and road?
Familiarity like this allows our brains to think about something else—our schedule, a particular relationship, or ongoing worry. Mindfulness meditation allows us to recognize that we're distracted and helps us to refocus on the present.
Thoughts will inevitably come up, and there will be times that you'll feel distracted or lose time thinking about something else entirely. But the more you practice, the easier it'll be to notice when this happens and return to the current moment.
This is why the key to meditation is to be kind to yourself. According to the Headspace team, "noticing the distraction is awareness itself. The more we practice coming back to the breath... the more comfortable the mind is with sitting still and being present."
What are the benefits of meditation?
Daily life can be stressful, so many of us look forward to much-needed vacation time. But, according to a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15 minutes of meditation can boost your wellbeing like taking a vacation.
While it feels good to be relaxed, inevitably, you'll sometimes experience unpleasant or unwanted thoughts and feelings. Meditation can help here, too, as a study published in the journal PNAS found that it deactivates brain areas related to unhappiness.
Taking a few moments to focus on your breath can make a big difference when you're feeling stressed. According to research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, slow breathing increases comfort and reduces anxiety, anger, and depression.
Developing a regular practice can have long-term effects as well. One meta-analysis (a review of published papers) in JAMA Internal Medicine found meditation reduced stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.
While there are a lot of benefits to learning how to meditate, you might give it a try and find that it's not working for you. Fortunately, there are other ways to develop a meditative, mindful approach to your day.
According to Eve Lewis Prieto, Director of Meditation at Headspace, "you really have to carve out time for self-care. This can, of course, be through a 10-minute session on the app, or a three-minute session if you don't have time!"
"But it also can be achieved through other activities—exercise, daily walks, fresh air, and getting a good night's sleep. Dedicating a small fraction of each day to self-care, even if that's just 10 minutes, can have a huge impact on our mental and physical wellbeing."
Some people find that yoga is an excellent alternative to meditation, particularly as it also helps develop the connection between your mind and body. All you need is one of the best yoga mats and these 15-minute yoga routines to get started.
James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.
In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.