Meditation has been around since 1500 B.C.E. but it’s only recently started to become part of the mental health movement. Everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Katy Perry is touting its benefits.
For good reason; there’s plenty of science to back up the claimed benefits of meditation.
Would you like to learn how to start meditating or to add new techniques to your existing meditation practice?
Our meditation guide will help you learn how to learn how to meditate like a pro.
What is Meditation?
When you think of meditation, you likely think of Buddhist monks living in a temple. They dedicate their life to minimalism and eliminating desire. And while yes, they do meditate, that’s likely not what meditation will mean for you.
Meditation doesn’t have to take up more than 10 minutes of your day if you don’t want, but more dedicated meditators build up to an hour or more.
A common misconception about meditation is you’re not supposed to think. That’s not exactly accurate. When you’re meditating, especially as you’re learning, you’ll inevitably get distracted. The key is to keep your mind wandering to a minimum and concentrate on the present moment.
Learning how to meditate is about learning to recognize you’ve become distracted by your thoughts. With mediation, you learn to return your attention to your breath after your mind wanders. You’re learning to watch your thoughts without judgment and become present in the moment. You’re learning to let thoughts pass without getting caught up in what’s going on in your head.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation has a lot of benefits tied to it. It can help relieve anxiety, depression, and stress. This reduces the cytokines in your system which eases inflammation too. Yoga is another great way to relieve stress, in part because it involves a lot of mindfulness principals (there’s even a very popular technique called mindfulness meditation).
Meditation also improves your mental health and willpower in other ways. Since meditation is about noticing your thoughts, it can help you identify when a thought isn’t helpful, or even true. This can help you cut back or eliminate any existing negative self-talk.
It’s also about improving focus. Those who meditate can focus longer and are more likely to notice when they’ve become distracted. This helps them to refocus their attention.
A lot of the pieces work together to help you in other areas of your life, too. For instance: with less stress and inflammation, and more control over your thoughts, those who practice meditation sleep better.
Mindfulness is another facet of what it takes to maintain a healthy life.
How to Meditate
When it comes down to it, how do you meditate? Here’s a step by step guide to get you started with a proven meditation practice.
Find a comfortable place to sit. You don’t have to be cross-legged on the floor, and if you’re not used to sitting like that, you should sit in a comfortable chair instead. You should be comfortable but in an alert position.
Plant your feet on the floor and sit up straight. Rest your hands on your lap. When you feel comfortable, close your eyes and turn your attention to your breath.
When you’re starting, it’s recommended you practice for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. As you get more comfortable settling into a meditation practice, you can boost this to 20-minute sessions, or even 40 minutes. Increase the time as you develop a regular habit.
There are several different meditation skills. We’ll focus on a few of them here.
You don’t need to try to control your breath. Just breathe normally, and observe.
Notice how it feels to breathe. Where do you feel movement, in your chest, in your stomach? Notice how the breath feels coming in and out of your nose. Is your breath quick? Is it slow and deep?
You don’t need to form thoughts about your breath. Just notice how it feels.
You can also try counting your breath. Inhale, one, exhale, two, up to five. If you get comfortable counting up to five, you can count up to ten. This can help you focus on your breath.
If at any point in time you get lost, don’t worry. Start over at one, and keep going.
What’s important is you don’t judge yourself for getting lost. Do the opposite. The purpose of meditation is to notice when you get pulled away and be able to pull yourself back. Noticing distraction is good!
Why the Breath?
Breath is the core of meditation when you’re starting. It’s because it’s easy to focus on and easy to control. It brings us out of our heads into our bodies, and into the moment itself.
Another technique is called a body scan. As you’re meditating, start at the top of the head. Notice the sensations you feel. Are you tense in any place? Do you notice any particular sensation or feeling?
Slowly work your way down your body. Notice temperatures or sensations. It’s okay to not notice anything.
The point is to observe what’s there and notice it. Notice the way your body feels on the surface beneath you. Notice the textures touching you.
Another technique to help you notice when you’re distracted is by labelling it. When your thoughts start to pull you away: notice it, label it “thinking”, and return to your breath.
Sometimes an itch or particular sensation can pull our focus. You can label it “feeling” and return to your breath.
Remember to Observe, and Act Compassionately
Meditation is about training ourselves to observe what’s there and cultivate compassion.
As you meditate, try not to berate yourself if you’re struggling to focus. Instead, learn to observe what’s there without getting caught up.
It’s like sitting on the curb and watching traffic. You could see a car and chase it, and then get distracted by another car and insist on chasing that.
The key is not to chase your thoughts. Instead, watch them arrive, and let them pass by.
Mindfulness is different than meditation, but it relies on a lot of the same principals. Mindfulness is about being aware of your body and the world around you. It’s noticing the textures, the ways your muscles feel when they move, the sensation of fullness, the way it feels to eat and taste a particular food.
Meditation will make it easier to be more mindful in your daily life, but like meditation, mindfulness takes practice too.
It can be helpful to assign a trigger to your mindfulness routine, like at a stoplight or whenever you stand up. Turn your attention inward and notice the world around you, and how you feel in it. What do you feel?
How to Add Meditation to Your Routine
A key to incorporating meditation into your life is to make it a habit. If you have a structured morning routine, this is a great place to add meditation. Or you can pair it with another trigger, like before or after your morning cup of coffee.
The more you can tie meditation to an existing trigger, the more likely you are to stick with it. Remember, you only need to dedicate 5 to 10 minutes to your meditation practice when starting out.
Don’t let it overwhelm you. If you only have a minute, then only practice for a minute. Every little bit is helpful.
How to Add Mindfulness to Your Daily Life
The great thing about mindfulness is you can practice it at any point. Washing dishes? How does the sponge feel? What do you hear? What do you notice?
Going for a walk? How does it feel to move your muscles?
Participating in a sport? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell?
Mindfulness is about noticing the world around you and letting the moment sweep you up. Any moment can be mindful.
When you’re starting, you may want to set occasional reminders or pair mindfulness with triggers. The more often you meditate and practise mindfulness, the more often these moments will come naturally in your day to day life.
Learn More About Meditation and Mindfulness
Curious to learn more about meditation? There’s an endless amount of resources on the topic. Consider books like 10% Happier or The Power of Now.
You could also check out apps like Headspace or Balance. They both have a free introduction program that can help you get started.
You can also look up guided meditations on YouTube.
How to Meditate Like a Pro: Practice Daily
Meditation boasts of plenty of health benefits. Meditation relieves anxiety, depression, and stress — and helps you become more involved in the moment. These are the kind of claims that you have to practice to believe.
Fortunately, meditation is free, and easy for anyone to incorporate into their daily lives. These tips will help you learn how to meditate like a pro, so you can enjoy the benefits of meditation too.
Take a look at the rest of our website for more tips.