In the US, the amount of people practicing meditation more than tripled from 2012 to 2017.
While meditation has a rich cultural history in countries like India, China, and Japan, it’s becoming increasingly popular in the Western world — and with good reason.
Meditation can have extensive mental and physical health benefits, and you need less than 10 minutes alone each day to do it. It might seem difficult to get started and keep up a routine, but the following guide breaks it down for beginners.
Meditation isn’t about learning how to empty your mind or stop your thoughts. Instead, meditation is the practice of training your attention and focus from a place of non-judgement.
Mindfulness meditation is the most common type of meditation in the West — and perhaps the easiest one to start. Mindfulness has to do with paying attention to what you’re feeling and observing in the present moment.
Note: It’s important to recognize that meditation and mindfulness are not one in the same.
If the main idea of meditation is to be present and aware of your thoughts and feelings, mindfulness is the ongoing practice of honing that awareness and reconnecting to what we do and why we do it.
For example, if you’re totally immersed in a single task, and not thinking about the past or imagining the future, you’re being mindful. Or, if you go for a walk and feel lost in nature, becoming attuned to the chirping birds or falling leaves, you’re also being mindful. In other words: meditation isn’t the only way to be mindful.
On the other hand, meditation is the intentional practice of mindfulness. Instead of focusing on nature or a specific task, you’re focusing on each inhale and exhale of your breathing. This type of mindful breathing is an important and useful way to anchor your focus in the present moment.
To learn how to meditate effectively, it’s helpful to have some guidance. Click to play our audio meditation guides in the background as you start your practice. Try the two-minute meditation first, and once you feel comfortable, try the five-minute and 10-minute meditations.
Note: These guided meditations were created exclusively for Insider by Diana Winston, the director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. To access more free guided meditations from UCLA, visit the website or download the UCLA Mindful App.
Mindfulness meditation can be done anywhere that you can focus. Here are a few steps to help you meditate:
Meditating for just five to 10 minutes each day is an achievement to be proud of. Some people like to meditate for as long as 30 minutes to 45 minutes once they become more experienced, but there are benefits even with short amounts of practice.
Building a meditation habit is important if you want to gain all the benefits that the practice has to offer.
If possible, try to meditate at the same time every day, as this will help you build a habit so you build meditation into your daily schedule. And if you have to skip a day for whatever reason, don’t be too hard on yourself — just try to get back to your routine the next day.
Some people choose to meditate every morning, right after they wake up. Morning meditation is a staple of some successful entrepreneurs’ schedules, and it can help improve your focus and clarity for the day ahead.
Others choose to meditate right before they go to sleep, as it can promote relaxation and help your drift off easier. Meditation for sleep is a bit different than in the day, as you normally wouldn’t want to fall asleep as a result of your practice.
In a 2021 study of meditation app users, researchers found that people who used the app at the same time every day were more likely to continue using the meditation app.
The research also suggested that establishing the habit of using the app at the same time every day may have made the act of meditation easier and more beneficial for people, since they could focus all their cognitive resources on the meditation, rather than making the time or space meditate.
Quick tip: Make a note of when and where you will meditate. This can help hack your brain into making the behavior habitual. It can also help to pair the habit with another habit you already do every day — such as brewing your coffee.
As James Clear writes in his book Atomic Habits, making the desired habit visible while removing any obstacles in your environment is an important tool for forming the habit. So if you want to form a meditation practice, create an environment associated with meditation.
Maybe you have a meditation room or nook that’s free from distractions such as your phone or television, with a comfortable seat or cushion for meditating. Each time you meditate, do it here.
Another way to help yourself build a desired habit is to make the habit easy. Meditating for more than 10 minutes might seem like a challenge at first, but meditating for two minutes while you wait for your coffee to brew is much more doable.
Keep doing this every day, and you might find that you’ve formed a habit. Now you can try increasing the amount of time you spend meditating.
Quick tip: You may prefer a specific posture for meditation, depending on the time of day or your physical condition. While most people sit for meditation, you can also lie down, kneel, or stand — just make sure your position is comfortable and you’re able to stay focused.
On top of your basic mindfulness practice, there are many other different types of meditation you can try.
While all these forms of meditation incorporate some aspects of mindfulness, they also offer participants an alternative anchor of focus during meditation. Here’s how:
During a body scan meditation, you’ll be focusing on bodily sensations, as opposed to just your breath.
For example, you can start at your toes, and take a few moments to focus on how they feel when they’re grounded on the floor. Then, move through your legs, chest, arms, shoulders, neck, and head, slowly noticing the sensations of each body part.
Body scan meditation can be especially useful for reducing chronic pain or dealing with tension, stress, or trauma.
With loving kindness meditation, the aim is to direct feelings of compassion towards yourself and others.
It’s easy to add this on to any basic mindfulness meditation. For example, instead of just focusing on your breath, try thinking about someone else in your head. Then, say this phrase aloud: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe.”
You can direct these positive thoughts toward yourself, someone you love, or someone you don’t particularly like at the moment. In fact, loving kindness meditation has been found to help improve self-esteem and even resolve conflicts.
During walking meditation, you’ll focus on each step as you mindfully lift and place your foot on the ground. You can walk anywhere — a hallway inside, a sidewalk in the city, or out in a park.
Quick tip: Walking meditation may be worth trying if you don’t like sitting still for a traditional mindfulness meditation. It offers the same advantages of meditation — plus the health benefits of walking.
Research has found that meditation can improve your mental and physical health in a variety of ways.
Here are seven science-backed benefits of meditation:
Here are five common issues you may experience when meditating — and how to work through them.
Not having time to meditate: Start small. You don’t have to block out 30 minutes each day for meditation. Challenge yourself to meditate for one or two minutes at first.
Not being able to quiet your thoughts: Luckily, the point of meditation is not to completely clear all your thoughts. Rather, it’s about noticing them in a non-judging way. Rather than focusing on clearing away all thoughts, become aware of each one, then try to bring your focus back to your breath. You can also try transcendental meditation, where you repeat a mantra that helps you quiet other thoughts.
Not being able to sit still: Don’t give up on meditating because you struggle to stay in the lotus position for more than a few minutes. Try a different type of meditation that allows for movement, such as a walking meditation.
Experiencing pain or other uncomfortable feelings during meditation: Meditation exercises, like the body scan, can help control pain. And, mindfulness meditation is associated with helping regulate pain. But what if pain or discomfort is distracting you during meditation?
First, make sure that you’re in a comfortable position that won’t cause unnecessary pain. Use meditation to familiarize yourself with the pain. Acknowledge it, and observe the pain and any related thoughts or feelings, then breathe through it.
Mindfulness teacher Shinzen Young writes that, when you experience discomfort during meditation, noticing the judgements and the resulting tensions around the pain, then dropping them, can help you better manage it. By softening your resistance to the pain, you teach your mind a healthier way of dealing with it.
Meditation isn’t meeting your expectations: Meditation is a practice, and it takes time to see the benefits. If you’re having trouble sticking with the practice, look into different forms of meditation, or try some of the habit-forming tips above to help you establish the practice.
To help you get started with meditation, try some of the best meditation apps that we tested and recommend:
Meditation is the practice of being in the present moment and fostering an awareness of your thoughts and feelings while anchoring yourself in your breathing. Meditation goes hand in hand with mindfulness, or the awareness of your senses in the moment.
There are different types of meditation to experiment with, such as loving kindness meditations that focus on gratitude, and walking meditations that are grounded in movement.
The practice of meditation is associated with better focus, reduced stress, and better pain management. To experience all the benefits of meditation, it’s important to make it a habit.
The easiest way to start meditating is to start small — for a few minutes — in a space without distractions. It may help to use a meditation app or guided meditation.
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