How to meditate - a beginner's guide
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Learning how to meditate and cultivating a regular practice often seem a natural step in many a spiritual journey. It's a practice that moves us from a state of doing into one of being, and can often help us to learn much more about our true self.
That being said, it's not easy. The mind will often do anything it can to distract us when we settle down to meditate. From thinking about a to-do list to pondering over past lives, our mind knows no limits!
Here, we've teamed up with mindfulness expert, author and life coach, Neil Seligman, who shares his tips for beginning a meditation practice.
What is meditation?
When first learning how to meditate, it can often feel like you need to control the mind and every thought that might pop into it. But, as Neil explains, this can often have the opposite effect, making the practice seem frustrating.
"Meditation is the simple practice of coming to a stop and exploring your experience with the intention of cultivating presence, awareness and kindness," he says. "It often feels very ordinary – so don’t expect too much at the beginning. Remember that there is a practice of stillness in every wisdom tradition. It is as instinctive as eating, drinking, or keeping warm.
"Trying actively to clear the mind tends to have completely the opposite effect. In fact, asking someone to seek out a thought in their mind is much more likely to give them the experience of thought-free awareness. Try it now if you like. Go find a thought – what happens?"
It often helps to think of yourself as an observer. Notice if thoughts arise, but don't put any judgement on them. A useful way to think of thoughts is to imagine them as a train arriving at a station. You can notice that the train is there, but you don't need to get on it. Simply notice the train and then let it leave the station once more.
"Meditation might seem at first to be a mental exercise because often the body is static," says Neil. "Meditation teaches the skill of welcoming awareness into both body and mind, and links us to the deeper ways in which we might experience ourselves as human beings."
Finding your practice
As peaceful as it seems to sit with a clear mind for hours on end, know that even meditation masters started small. Learning how to meditate takes time, perseverance and patience – so be kind to yourself.
"Start small with just a five-minute practice and gradually build up," says Neil. "Sometimes it feels easy and some days it feels really hard. Don't worry – just keep showing up!
"If you’re not meditating at all, just try it once. If you meditate once a month, try once a week. If it’s twice a week, build up to a weekday practice and so on. There are always lots of questions about frequency and duration but it's important to remember that there's no set target here. If you were to build up to 20 minutes once or twice a day, that would be fantastic, but my usual suggestion is to simply meditate more than you currently are now.
"Perseverance and a little discipline is key to get through the first weeks and build a habit."
How to meditate
Find a comfortable position and take some time now to practise your meditation. Below, Neil outlines how to prepare and then offers a series of meditation techniques, depending on how much time you currently have. Bookmark this page to help you return to these meditations with ease next time.
Prepare for meditation
Meditation is best approached in a comfortable seated position. This could be on a normal chair or with your hips raised on a cushion and feet resting on a wider cushioned mat (traditionally known as zafu and zabuton).
"I recommend this technique if you're feeling stressed or anxious," says Neil. "This pocket-practice, called STOP, is taught on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses to help regain clarity and calm."
Stop and pause. Feel gravity pushing the weight of the body down – feel your feet on the floor.
Take a conscious breath. Feel the warmth and energy of your body.
Open – gently observe what is happening internally and externally. Is there an opportunity here to redirect?
If you have a little longer to practice, or are gradually increasing your meditation time, try this technique for helping to slow down.
You have arrived. Take five slow breaths here.
Acknowledge the whirl of activity that the mind is still chewing over as you begin your practice. Observe it neutrally and welcome it by allowing it to be just as it is. Know that it will settle in its own time.
Offer your breath an invitation to slow down and take five easeful breaths here.
Now, bring the same invitation to the body: slow down.
Take five breaths as the Energy of Slow circulates gradually through every bone, every muscle, every artery, every cell.
Next, take the focus of your awareness to mind and offer it the invitation: slow down.
Take five breaths here and before bringing your practice to a close, contemplate how the Energy of Slow can be welcomed into daily life.
Return to wakefulness in your own way.
Neil's final meditation invites you to scan and bring awareness through to the whole body. Take your time – Neil's recommendation is for 20 minutes, but stay longer if you wish.
Breathe and notice the body. Remember it. Discover yourself in this moment as a physical being with weight, temperature, texture, colour and energy. Take five breaths here.
Are certain parts of your body calling for attention? An itch, a scratch? A shift of body weight? Attend to the body’s needs until it is quietly resting at peace.
Now bring awareness to the feet and toes. What do you sense? What is present? What do your feet want you to know about how they are feeling in this moment? Take at least five breaths here and gather information.
On the next breath, allow your awareness to move up into the legs. How do they feel? Are they comfortable? Go slowly. Check in with the calves, shins, knees and thighs. Feel for temperature, movement and weight. Notice where you are holding on. Take at least five breaths here until ready to move on.
Bring your awareness now to the central core of the body: the abdomen and chest. Check in. Listen. Feel. Be in your body. Notice all sensations, images, feelings and words that arise and take five breaths here.
Next, bring your attention to the arms and hands. Let your awareness travel down through the upper limbs and into the fingers. Take your time and feel all of the sensations present. Simply notice. Whatever is there, whether it feels pleasant or challenging, take an inventory. Do not add any judgment or commentary to the sensation. Follow and breathe. Listen for five more breaths.
Finally awareness moves up through the neck and into the head. Breathe. Listen. Gather. Observe. Witness. Take at least five breaths here.
On the next breath set an intention to inhabit the body fully. Imagine the mind and body are one. Take five breaths here.
Return to wakefulness in your own way.
Find out more about Neil Seligman
Neil Seligman is a leading Mindfulness Expert, Author, Healer and Life Coach Counting CEOs, celebrities and global firms amongst his clients, Neil is dedicated to guiding all towards the expression and embodiment of their highest potential. Buy Neil's book, 100 Mindfulness Meditations – The Ultimate Collection of Inspiring Daily Practices.