Woman sitting on a mountain meditating with clouds passing behind her

How To Meditate: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

Throughout history, meditation has played a significant role in the lives of people from diverse cultures and traditions around the globe.

This time-honored technique offers a wealth of mental, emotional, and physical rewards, such as alleviating stress, sharpening focus, and elevating overall well-being.

As we navigate the rapid pace of modern life, it is increasingly vital to establish a consistent meditation practice that fosters equilibrium and serenity in our daily routines.

This comprehensive meditation guide is crafted to support both novices and experienced meditators in deepening their self-awareness and realizing their full potential through the transformative potential of meditation.

Join us on this voyage of self-exploration and inner tranquility as we journey together toward enhanced well-being.

What is meditation?

How to meditate - A person practicing mindfulness meditation on a yoga mat

Meditation is the umbrella term for setting a fixed amount of time to improve yourself.

There is a wide range of practices that fit under the term meditation, and some argue that meditation is a state of mind and not a practice. In this article, I’ll help you answer some common questions, and help you find the meditation that is right for you.

A step-by-step guide on how to meditate

Let’s jump right in. If you’d like to try a quick 10-minute mindfulness meditation practice follow these simple steps:

Things you’ll need…

  • somewhere you can sit in a comfortable position and won’t be disturbed
  • a timer (the one on your phone will do)

A step-by-step meditation:

  • Set the timer for about twelve minutes – this gives you enough time to get settled and enjoy a ten-minute meditation practice
  • Either close your eyes or look ahead with a soft focus
  • Take a deep breath, breath in through the nose, and breathe out through the mouth
  • Take a few deep breaths and after your next deep breath continue to breathe naturally
  • Try to notice the physical sensations of your breathing; maybe your nose, your chest, or your abdomen
  • With your full awareness focus on your breathing
  • If you have any thoughts and emotions rise, or you start wondering if you’re doing it right, let those thoughts go and bring your attention back to your breath
  • Repeat noticing your thoughts and letting them go until the end of the timer
  • Spend a moment, in the end, to reflect on how you feel.

If that was your first basic mindfulness meditation, congratulations on starting your journey! If it wasn’t your first I hope that was a nice practice.

How to meditate - woman meditating in her living room

How do you define meditation?

The challenge with talking about meditation is that it is a very broad term.

When someone asks how to meditate, is like asking how to play instruments. There are hundreds of instruments, and you can play them all in different ways.

Take the guitar, you don’t see Willie Nelson playing the same way as Jimmy Hendrix, but both are considered masters of the instrument.

Oxford dictionary definition of meditate

focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.

The purpose of meditation

The aim of meditation is to practice remaining in the present and exploring self-awareness. All the benefits associated with meditation such as using it to calm your mind, and the mental and physical health benefits are all a byproduct of meditation practices.

Some use meditation to improve their mental health, some to find a spiritual connection, and some just because it’s calming and helps with relaxation and focus. Whatever your reason for meditating, think about why you clicked on this article and be glad you are involving meditation in your life.

How to meditate - A man dressed in white meditating next to a floor plant

The challenges of meditation

The mind left alone is set up to ruminate about the past and worry about the future. The aim of meditation is to practice the opposite of these two mental forces and focus our minds on the present moment.

Why do we worry?

Stress and worry in the right amounts and at the right times are actually good for us. The mind has evolved to help us prepare for dangers by repeating past examples and learning about them, and imagining problems and scenarios in the future so we can better prepare for them.

For example: If you have young children you want to protect them, you look at a coffee table, and notice the sharp corners. You ruminate about a time that you hit your head and how much it hurt, and then you imagine your child hitting their head and so you install corner guards. Your ruminating and worrying have prevented a potential accident.

Where this causes a problem is when we are unable to shut this mechanism off. When we continually live in a state of stress it begins to cause both physical and mental health problems.

Anxiety can be caused by this constant mental state of stress, and sometimes we don’t even have to have an identified stressor to have anxiety.

Modern life

Our modern society is making it more difficult to make meditation a part of everyday life. Our attention is constantly been fought for with notifications and social media. It’s rare to have five minutes where we can just sit down and remain present.

Everyone has meditated before

Many people think meditation is an alien practice that they haven’t experienced before. Even children, who are full of energy and easily distracted have had a meditative state. If you ever see a child drawing a picture, usually tongue sticking out the side of their mouth, a deep look of focus and concentration – nothing else exists to them at that moment but that drawing. That is meditation.

This is the same for adults. If you have a favorite hobby, something where you forget the world and focus only on that one task. That’s meditation.

How to meditate - A person meditating on their couch

What are the benefits of meditation?

There is a growing list of the benefits of meditation some of the most common are:

Are there any downsides to meditation?

I have written a post that goes into detail here, but generally, there is more harm in doing nothing than the side effects of meditating. The most common negative side effect relates to deep-seated traumatic issues that have been buried in the subconscious. Meditation turns our attention inwards and sometimes this can surface thoughts and emotions that can feel overwhelming.

Which meditation should I start with?

There are far too many meditations to fit into a single post. I’ve run through nine categories of meditation in this post.

In this post, I’ll suggest four meditations that will give you a range of practices that you can try. These are Mindful breathing, Movement meditation, Mantra meditation, and Body scan.

1: Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness has become a buzzword in meditation circles. It’s gained a lot of attention because of its easy-to-follow principles, and science-backed research. Mindfulness meditation is about focusing on the present moment with openness and without judgment. If thoughts arise, you notice them and let them go, returning back to the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness meditation breathing

If you’ve been following along from the start, you’ve already tried mindfulness meditation breathing in the ‘step-by-step on how to meditate’ section.

Mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening in the present moment. When your mind inevitably wanders to the past or future with kindness and compassion, let go of the thoughts and bring your attention back to the present.

2: Movement meditation

Meditation doesn’t have to be done while sitting down, it can be done standing, lying down, and even in controlled movements such as walking, Tai Chi, and Yoga.
Walking meditation has become increasingly popular during and after the pandemic as people have looked for ways to reduce stress by combining going outdoors for a walk and meditation.

Walking meditation is simply paying attention to your body and environment as you are walking. This keeps your mind in the present moment and improves the mind and body connection.

Yoga is often thought of as just a physical practice, but there is also a meditation element to Yoga called Dhyana. This is one of the limbs of Yoga.

How to meditate - A yoga class

3: Mantra meditation

People often have reservations about using mantras because of their religious connotations, and although the origins of the word come from sacred utterances, the repetition of a word or sentences can be non-religious as well. They can also be called affirmations, which almost everyone is using today.

Similar to all meditation techniques, the important part is staying in the present. Any word or words can be used as long as it brings focus and emotions when you say the words.

An example of a non-religious mantra is:

“I am where I need to be. I am grateful for what I have.”

4: Body scan

The body scan is a simple practice that is great for relaxation and is commonly used for sleep meditations. The practice involves focusing on the sensations of the body and being mindful of how you are feeling. Body scans normally begin by focusing on the top of the head and scanning down, looking for any tension and letting it relax.

Guided body scans are great when you have difficulty falling asleep. It’s easier to have someone else guide you through the meditation than to try to do it yourself.

How long should I meditate?

There are different suggestions about the right time to meditate for. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) typically recommends practicing meditation for 40-45 minutes per day. The Transcendental Meditation (TM) tradition often recommends 20 minutes, twice daily.

The duration of meditation isn’t as important as the frequency. There’s no point trying for 90-minute sessions and giving up after the first few tries. Creating a habit should be your goal when meditating. Start with something as short as five minutes and do this for a week if you are just starting. Once you consistently meditate every day, move up the minutes.

How to meditate - A woman practicing mindfulness meditation on her couch

What can make meditation easier?

Whichever technique you use it’s important to be patient and remember that you are learning a new skill. I always compare meditation to a physical exercise routine, so here are a few tips that should help your meditation practice (and also work for the gym).

  • Have a physical plan somewhere that will remind you to meditate: This could be a calendar page that you tick off each day – it gives you an additional sense of satisfaction when you tick off each day. Aim for 21 days as this is apparently the number of times you do something before it becomes a habit.

  • Set an alarm: Building on the first point, try to meditate around the same time each day and set an alarm to remind you to sit down and breathe.

  • Make a place for meditation: Make meditating as easy as possible by setting up a space for you to meditate. This doesn’t have to be fancy; with statues, tye-dyed banners, and incense, it could just be a place with a cushion that isn’t in the way and where you won’t be disturbed. As long as you are in a comfortable position, that’s what is important.

  • Don’t get stressed if you don’t think you’re doing it right: Meditation is a very personal experience and with practice, you’ll learn what works for you. Try to stay calm and take a deep breath and return your attention to your practice.

  • Find a position that suits you: As I’ve said, meditation isn’t done by just sitting down, there are whole variations of sitting positions, and if any of these cause you any persistent pain or discomfort, change your position. You can also find lots of meditation or yoga cushions to help you sit more comfortably.

  • Don’t react – respond: Part of meditation is to create a distance between you and your thoughts. You might feel some pain or even an itch, if this happens try to make it a habit not to respond immediately. First, focus your attention on the sensations, and with your full awareness notice if the feeling moves or disappears. If the sensations remain, then with mindfulness, respond to them.

  • Get some help: With any other skill or practice, when we want to learn a new feature, we will find a teacher. This could be at a local meditation center, over video calls, or using abundant guided meditation videos. You can find a whole list of my guided meditation videos here.

  • Practice mindfulness throughout the day: Mindfulness and meditation are slightly different in that meditation is the planned time for practice and mindfulness is a way of life. You can be more mindful when you are doing any day-to-day activity, like brushing your teeth or making a coffee. As you practice being mindful throughout the day, it will help make your allotted time for meditation easier.

How to meditate - A man practicing breath meditation

Meditation FAQs

It’s natural to have questions about your meditation journey. As you explore a world of self-awareness, here are some questions that are commonly asked.

Am I just someone who can not meditate?

If you’re asking this question, your meditation journey has officially begun. Everyone asks this question when begin meditating. Some do find it more difficult than others, but this shouldn’t put you off practicing meditation.

Just start with short regular sessions, and over time, things will get easier.

If I have an itch, should I scratch it?

Whatever bothers you during your meditation, first be mindful of the feeling and what you are thinking. Try not to automatically react to it. By using mindfulness in your meditations, you are teaching the brain not to react automatically. What you’ll sometimes notice is that as you observe the itch, it moves and sometimes disappears on its own.

If the itch persists then go ahead and scratch it.

Should I always meditate with my eyes closed

Many people like meditating with their eyes closed, but you can meditate with your eyes open. Meditating with your eyes open can help if you find yourself falling asleep during meditation. To meditate with your eyes open, pick a spot in front of you and watch it with a soft focus.

Why do meditations start using deep breaths?

You don’t have to breathe deeply during meditation, but breathing in a certain way can help create a sense of calm.

You’ll normally notice during guided meditations that you are asked to breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth. This creates a mind-body connection where the inhale is smaller than the exhale and has a calming effect on the brain.

Deep breathing at the start of the meditation also sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to relax and begin the practice.

Why can’t I clear my mind?

You’ll be pleased to hear, that you don’t have to clear your mind during meditation. This may happen more often the more you practice, but the mind will always have thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation teaches you to notice the thoughts and gently bring your attention back to the present moment, normally using your breath.

Some focus meditation techniques try to explore the thoughts in more detail, by paying attention to what thoughts arise. What’s important is that you pay attention to the thoughts as if you are observing them from outside of your mind, and not be carried away by them.

Related: The Best Mindfulness Book to Read

The Takeaway

Hopefully, you now know more about meditations than you did before. By using something as simple as the breath, we can teach our minds to remain calm and not be hijacked by our thoughts.

Do you have any more tips? Let the community know in the comments.

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