I’ve been wanting to write a beginner's guide to meditation for months but kept wondering when would be the best time to share it with you. When are people most busy? But the truth is that there will always be reasons to be stressed, all the time. Even if there is a relative lull in your workload there will always be family, friends, relationships, health struggles, identity crises or any other of life’s curve balls to dodge or catch. So the best time to start meditating is always the moment you find it, because there will always be some level of stress that you can release.
If you're new to meditation then you are in the right place - this is your wink form The Universe! (If you're already a committed meditator or dabbled in it here and there then hopefully you'll also find this guide informative and maybe you'll gain something from it too).
Meditation is for real people, not just monks on a mountain top, so I'll begin by clarifying what meditation actually is...
What is meditation?
There is really no single answer to this question because there are a bunch of different types and ways to practice mediation, but essentially meditation is a conscious mental practice/state of passive awareness.
You can roughly divide meditation into 3 types: concentration, contemplation and transcendence. These can involve guided audios, visualisations, colour, body-scans, breath awareness, sensing, repetitive mantras and more. Either way the aim is usually to quieten the mind, focus and/or experience a state of heightened awareness or bliss.
Personally, I feel that the best introduction to meditation is either mindfulness or breath awareness mediation because they are arguably the simplest and most beginner-friendly. They are also the least intimidating and most relatable for anti-spiritual types a.k.a. the least woo-woo (no prior experience with floating buddhas required).
Guided mediations are also an awesome resource for beginners and when you feel the need for a little more guidance - I used these 99% of the time for the first two and a half years of my mediation journey, until I felt like I needed to stretch a little further.
You can try your hand at a number of different types to see what suits you best, and it’s totally fine to use a combo.
Meditation doesn’t have to be done sitting still, and can involve movement like walking or eating, but sitting meditation is often the easiest place to start and the most restful so that is what I have chosen guide you through here.
Scientific research has been done on a range of different types of meditation and there are a host of benefits whichever way you slice it, including:
- Relaxation and stress relief in the short-term for effective stress management and resilience in the long-term [1; 2]. This is how.
- It’s even been found to help reduce anxiety and depression, even amongst those with cancer, social anxiety disorders antedating issues [3; 4].
- Improved focus and self-control [5, 6, 7], happiness, memory, creativity [8; 9], ability to cope with pressure and deadlines [10; 11], academic performance and mental plasticity .
- It can create happier and healthier relationships  through emotional expression  and communication .
- Some research also suggests other health benefits, including improved metabolism, respiration, heart health [16, 17] .
- It encourages you to live more consciously, which leads to more pleasure, gratitude and awareness. You learn to savour life, notice repeating patterns and change habits.
...And so much more… Many of the benefits are pretty hard to put you finger on and I’m not sure they can even be explained - they need to be experienced. I usually get a sense of an expansive wholeness, as though you are at once without form and fully embodied - not a type of self-awareness that makes much logical sense but that’s what makes meditation so magical.
Essentially, meditation slows the frequency of our brain waves (from gamma to theta, or even delta), activating different centers in the brain. This creates more time between thoughts, allowing us to carefully choose the thoughts and stories we invest in that translate into the actions we take.
(I have included some references if science is your thaannng but you can read an overview of the research on meditation too)
How to meditate
1. Get comfortable in quiet spot*. It’s its important to be comfortable to avoid unnecessary distractions during your meditation. I prefer getting zen by sitting crosslegged on the floor, propped a little with a cushion, but sitting upright in a chair works just as well. Either way may sure that your spine is supported and upright, and that you chin is tucked in ever so slightly to support the weight of your head (we want to avoid your chin jutting outward or your head lolling forward). I avoid meditating lying down as we have very strong conditioning to fall asleep in this position.
2. Close your eyes and begin by taking a couple of deep breathes: breathe in for 5 seconds, hold your breath at the top for five second and breathe out for five seconds. Repeat this 2-3 times before returning to your natural rhythm of breathe.
3. Body scan. Move your attention slowly over each part of your body beginning at the top of your skull to the tips of your toes, consciously relaxing each muscle as you go. Release the tension in your forehead, relaxing the muscles between your eyebrows, in your jaw, neck shoulders, hands and feet, where we often unconsciously hold tension.
4. Follow your breath. Breathe in and out, silently counting with each inhale and exhale until you reach ten. Repeat this for as long as you’d like to meditate, even if just for a few minutes. If your focus wanders or you lose count just start at one again.
5. Slowly bring your attention back to the room you are in and open your eyes. That’s it folks!
I took a half-hearted approach to meditation for years. It’s pretty normal to meet resistance when there is something that you really want because it usually involves change. But when I finally committed to make it a daily practice, not out of obligation but a desire to feel good and a daily craving for bliss, I really started to feel the difference. I’m not saying that you need to practice daily but nearly everyone that sings it’s praises gets still on the reg.
* Theoretically you can meditate anywhere but it’s a whole lot easier in a quiet where you won’t be disturbed, especially if you’re new to the practice.
People from all walks of life meditate, from stock brokers to gypsetters, so if you're wondering were you'll find the time let me just say that once you start meditating regularly you always have the time.
Gosh, I really hope this is helpful! I'll be following this post up with some more tips and resources if you come up against any blocks but most of all I'd just love you to give it a try.
Ok, now it's your turn: hop into the comments and share how meditation has changed your life, or if you're still yet to try it I'd love to hear your enthusiasm.
FYI: I am not a qualified meditation teacher but I have been doing it for about 3 years and it’s (almost) impossible to do it wrong. Go on, give it a try!
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Incredible photo by my brother, Rupert.