Last year I wrote “A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation” and it was – and still remains – the most popular post I’ve written on my blog. In an effort to update some of the resources and learnings, I’ve updated this post and created version 2.0. For additional resources on meditation, check out this conversation I had with meditation teacher, Mary Meckley. We cover topics including the benefits of meditation, recommendations for beginners, techniques, and much more.
If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
– Lao Tzu
I started to meditate about 4 years ago and it’s become an important part of my daily ritual. I must admit, however, that it wasn’t easy getting started and it still isn’t the most natural thing for me to do. It’s taken some experimentation with what works for me and adapting a meditation practice around that. Your meditation practice might look completely different from mine – and that’s okay. The important part is that you put in the time to meditate to create the space for silence and calm during your busy day.
I’ll take you through a bit of my journey with meditation and the process and tools that have worked for me so far. If you already believe in the positive effects of meditation, you can skip Part I and just go right into the techniques and resources that I’ve been using. Either way, Part I will be helpful in helping you understand the why behind meditation.
So let’s begin!
Part I: Why Meditate?
There are a lot of reasons why it’s beneficial to meditate and in no particular order here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced and heard others experience.
- Helps you move into the present;
- Brings about peace and calm in your mind;
- Builds your perspective and compassion for others;
- Helps you feel like you’re in greater control of your day;
- Helps you detach yourself from situations and outcomes;
- Slows down your day;
- Allows you to cut through the busywork and focus on doing what matters most;
- Creates silence during our noisy, busy days.
In The Tim Ferriss Show the majority of top performers (80%+) Tim has interviewed have some sort of meditation practice, and his podcast has some incredible guests including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tony Robbins, Sam Harris, Chase Jarvis, and many others. To me, there seems to be a trend with meditation and mindfulness that helps people be there best.
I know some of the benefits above might sound “woo woo” but there’s growing scientific evidence that meditation not only reduces stress, it also changes your brain. According to a study done in conjunction at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, long-term meditators had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision-making. As we get older, the frontal cortex shrinks, and mindfulness practices like meditation can help slow this process down.
As you’re getting started, the important part is how meditation affects you personally. If you get even a modicum of peace and calm from a 5-minute meditation, maybe it’s worth it for you? After all, 5-minutes is not a bad tradeoff for that kind of feeling.
Part II: How to get started
I initially struggled to get my meditation practice going. When I first experimented with meditation, I picked up a meditation book, read it, and listened to the accompanying CD with guided 20-minute meditations. I found the experience to be extremely difficult – especially sitting in silence for 20 straight minutes. I began to dislike meditation after realizing I wasn’t particularly good at it.
In retrospect, I think I tried to do too much too soon. In my opinion, a 15-20 minute meditation is too long for a beginner to do on their own especially without a meditation teacher to guide them along the way. The key is to start small with a 1 or 2 minute meditation. This way you get a small “hit” of that calm, rewarding feeling to get you going.
The “calm” feeling could be different for you. It might not be a feeling of calm but rather a feeling of inspiration and excitement. It could be a feeling of understanding and love. Try to remember that positive, rewarding feeling so that it brings you back your next meditation session.
Rain Wilson (from The Office fame) shared in an interview that meditation for him is like watching the ticker symbol of a stock market go by. The symbols are your thoughts and they just scroll past you. You’re not attached to the thoughts, you just observe them and let them by. I think that’s a pretty good analogy. (You might want to use clouds in the sky if ticker symbols make you anxious).
The important part is realizing that meditation is not about eliminating all your thoughts and getting into a “blank” mindset. It’s about recognizing the thoughts as they appear and keeping yourself detached from them.
So here are a few tips to help you start to meditate and I’ll break them down for you in a bit more detail below:
Start with just 2 minutes.
Meditation is just like any sport or exercise in that the more “reps” that you put in, the better you get at it. You wouldn’t run a marathon on your very first run, right? So it makes sense to not make your first meditation session a marathon session.
Start with something small – like, very small. Start with a 2-minute meditation and see if you’re able to handle that. From there, up the timing to 5-10-15 minutes. But take it really slowly. Don’t rush yourself. It’s one of those things where you won’t just be able to “will” your way to doing more. Mary Meckley, meditation teacher at Sip and Om, suggests that you meditate just to the point that you can go a little bit longer so you can come back the next day excited to pickup where you left off.
Let’s make meditation fun by making it simple and easy to start.
Learn simple techniques to get you going. (e.g. box breathing technique)
I learned a simple breathing technique called the “box-breathing technique” from Ben Greenfield at a conference in 2015. The technique is simple but surprisingly hard to master. Basically, you slowly breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breathe for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold (your empty lungs) for a count of 4. Then repeat. This technique allows you to oxygenate your body while allowing you to focus on your breath – not your distracting thoughts – during your meditation.
If you find yourself having difficulty concentrating, this is a good technique to practice. If you find that 4 seconds is a bit too long to hold your breathe, try 2 or 3 seconds. I recommend trying it once or twice during your first meditation.
Discover what time of day you are best able to meditate.
I’ve experimented with all sorts of times during the day but early mornings and evenings seem to be the best time for me. For you, it might be different. Try experimenting with a 2-minute meditation at different times during the day to see which one delivers the greatest benefits. When I used to work in the corporate world, I would find time to do a quick 5-minute meditation over lunch which created some calm in an otherwise busy environment. It was super helpful in helping me reset and get ready for the second half of the day.
Part III: My favourite resources
There is a ton of great resources available to get started with your meditation practice. Books, apps, podcasts, and so much more provide resources that you can often tap into for free. Out of all the resources that I’ve experimented with, here are a handful that have allowed me to cultivate my meditation practice.
For beginners, Calm is a good app to start with. It’s got a clean and beautiful interface and comes with a number of calming background sounds. What I like the most about Calm is that you can use their timed meditations for free. If you’re just starting out, I recommend using Calm to do a 2-minute timed meditation everyday. That way you’re not spending any money and you’re getting to benefit of trialing meditation for yourself.
If you really like the app it’s got a ton of great additional guided meditations – including a new daily meditation – that you can use to further establish your meditation practice.
Sip and Om
Once you’ve established your meditation practice and you can meditate up to 10-15 minutes with relative focus and calm, I recommend checking out Sip and Om. It’s the resource I’m using for my daily meditations.
This subscription-based service provides a new meditation everyday. Each week is a different theme and each day utilizes a different technique to get you deeper into your meditation. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Mary Meckley who runs Sip and Om if you’re curious to learn more about how this meditation service came to be. You can check out their free 2-week trial to see if this might be the right fit for you.
The Daily Meditation Podcast
If you can’t afford the monthly subscription, Mary does do a free podcast called the The Daily Meditation Podcast where you can listen to Mary explain a new technique everyday. It doesn’t give you the full meditation but you can get a sense of the techniques that are out there. The podcast episodes are shorter so you can even use it for your daily meditations as you’re getting started.
Another notable app is called HeadSpace. I’ve tried HeadSpace in the past and they’ve got a great beginner program called the Take-10 which provides 10 short meditations with helpful video explanations to get you started.
The good news is current meditation apps are constantly updating and innovating to make meditation more accessible and new apps are being created as more people begin to meditate!
I hope this gets you started with your meditation practice. It’s a powerful practice to cultivate which impact so many different aspects of your life. Just make sure to be kind to yourself. Your first few weeks or months of meditating won’t be easy. I still struggle to convince myself that it’s worth the time to meditate especially when I’m in the midst of a busy day. But those just might be the days where you need to meditate the most.
Good luck! And feel free to post your personal experiences with meditation. I’d love to hear from you.
Featured image by Isabell Winter.