Meditation for Beginners:20 Practical Tips for Quieting the Mind
Meditation is the art of focusing 100% of your attention in one area. The practice comes with a myriad of well-publicized health benefits including increased concentration, decreased anxiety, and a general feeling of happiness.
Although a great number of people try meditation at some point in their lives, a small percentage actually stick with it for the long-term. This is unfortunate, and a possible reason is that many beginners do not begin with a mindset needed to make the practice sustainable.
The purpose of this article is to provide 20 practical recommendations to help beginners get past the initial hurdles and integrate meditation over the long term:
- Make it a formal practice.
You will only get to the next level in meditation by setting aside specific time (preferably two times a day) to be still.
- Start with the breath. Breathing deep slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, focuses the mind and is an ideal way to begin practice.
- Stretch first. Stretching loosens the muscles and tendons allowing you to sit (or lie) more comfortably. Additionally, stretching starts the process of “going inward” and brings added attention to the body.
- Meditate with Purpose. Beginners must understand that meditation is an ACTIVE process. The art of focusing your attention to a single point is hard work, and you have to be purposefully engaged!
- Notice frustration creep up on you. This is very common for beginners as we think “hey, what am I doing here” or “why can’t I just quiet my damn mind already”. When this happens, really focus in on your breath and let the frustrated feelings go.
- Experiment. Although many of us think of effective meditation as a Yogi sitting cross-legged beneath a Bonzi tree, beginners should be more experimental and try different types of meditation. Try sitting, lying, eyes open, eyes closed, etc.
- Feel your body parts. A great practice for beginning meditators is to take notice of the body when a meditative state starts to take hold. Once the mind quiets, put all your attention to the feet and then slowly move your way up the body (include your internal organs). This is very healthy and an indicator that you are on the right path.
- Pick a specific room in your home to meditate. Make sure it is not the same room where you do work, exercise, or sleep. Place candles and other spiritual paraphernalia in the room to help you feel at ease.
- Read a book (or two) on meditation. Preferably an instructional guide AND one that describes the benefits of deep meditative states. This will get you motivated. John Kabat-Zinn’sWherever You Go, There You Are is terrific for beginners.
- Commit for the long haul. Meditation is a life-long practice, and you will benefit most by NOT examining the results of your daily practice. Just do the best you can every day, and then let it go!
- Listen to instructional tapes and CDs.
- Generate moments of awareness during the day. Finding your breath and “being present” while not in formal practice is a wonderful way to evolve your meditation habits.
- Make sure you will not be disturbed. One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is not insuring peaceful practice conditions. If you have it in the back of your mind that the phone might ring, your kids might wake, or your coffee pot might whistle than you will not be able to attain a state of deep relaxation.
- Notice small adjustments. For beginning meditators, the slightest physical movements can transform a meditative practice from one of frustration to one of renewal. These adjustments may be barely noticeable to an observer, but they can mean everything for your practice.
- Use a candle. Meditating with eyes closed can be challenging for a beginner. Lighting a candle and using it as your point of focus allows you to strengthen your attention with a visual cue. This can be very powerful.
- Do NOT Stress. This may be the most important tip for beginners, and the hardest to implement. No matter what happens during your meditation practice, do not stress about it. This includes being nervous before meditating and angry afterwards. Meditation is what it is, and just do the best you can at the time.
- Do it together. Meditating with a partner or loved one can have many wonderful benefits, and can improve your practice. However, it is necessary to make sure that you set agreed-upon ground rules before you begin!
- Meditate early in the morning. Without a doubt, early morning is an ideal
time to practice: it is quieter, your mind is not filled with the usual clutter, and there is less chance you will be disturbed. Make it a habit to get up half an hour earlier to meditate.
- Be Grateful at the end. Once your practice is through, spend 2-3 minutes feeling appreciative of the opportunity to practice and your mind’s ability to focus.
- Notice when your interest in meditation begins to wane. Meditation is
hard work, and you will inevitably come to a point where it seemingly does not fit into the picture anymore. THIS is when you need your practice the most and I recommend you go back to the book(s) or the CD’s you listened to and become re-invigorated with the practice. Chances are that losing the ability to focus on meditation is parallel with your inability to focus in other areas of your life!
Meditation is an absolutely wonderful practice, but can be very difficult in the beginning. Use the tips described in this article to get your practice to the next level!
How to begin a meditation practice at home
Tools of the trade
- A comfortable chair that supports your back or preferably,
- A comfortable cushion under your buttocks that lifts your seat and helps stabilize your posture in an upright position.
- A simple kitchen timer.
- A clean, quiet and pleasant place in your home.
- Altar accouterments can include a candle, an image, a small Buddha statue – anything that might help you feel “in the presence of”.
1. It takes some time to strengthen the stomach and lower back muscles that aid in maintaining a comfortable seated posture.
2. You can use a deep inhalation to naturally lengthen the spine, soften the belly and open the chest, but it is not necessary to strain to maintain any posture.
3. Empty-hands (a conscious softening of the hands and fingers) helps to bring relaxation to the arms and shoulders, which may permeate other parts of the body.
4. A soft belly and relaxed jaw are good places to remember (be aware of) in order to gauge any subtle tension that may be held habitually.
5. We cannot force deep relaxation, but we can listen for it and be available to it, welcoming the natural waves of softening and vulnerability that precede interludes of absorption.
- We are engaging in a challenging and formidable relationship with restlessness and diversion. We may be struggling with question(s) of why meditation is worth practicing despite the internal call we may have to explore these inner landscapes.
- We use the timer to keep track of the time so we are not looking at a watch to see how long it’s been; set the timer for what practice period you are comfortable with to begin your journey. Settle into your self and let the timer remind you when your sitting period has ended.
- Practicing at the same time of day (rhythm) is helpful, so if you are wishing to practice in the morning, make it each morning. Shorter duration sits at least twice a day is beneficial.
- The length of your practice time will increase naturally as quietude replaces apprehension.You will find that your interest in being still and silent improves as your body and mind integrate deepening relaxation.
- When this happens (and it surely will), you may increase the duration on your timer by 5 – 10 minutes, or whatever modest increments satisfy you.
- The silly stories about “great” yogis meditating for hours at a time are useless for the beginner. These long periods of “Samadhi” (absorption) occur, but they are not the goal for our simple practice.
- Without much effort (if there is some routine and regular practice) you will find that the quality of your sitting practice naturally deepens and that the joy which emanates from your stillness holds your attention and interest.
- Of course there are many nuances, levels, and subtleties associated with the labyrinth of our minds and personal experience. Being able to comprehend and articulate these encounters is improved by practicing with others and sharing the journey with those who have first hand experience with contemplative and complementary practice experience.
What to Do
- Your thinking, planning and judging mind is useless when it comes to understanding silence, so you may put it away. Contemplative understanding unfolds and speaks in silence.
- Understand that the content of thinking and the sense of a separate self (that emanates from thinking) is a total hallucination – which doesn’t require your attention. We are learning to feel ourselves immersed in presence, rather than be occupied by imagination and personal story telling.
- Leave the mind alone, it is not real.
- For the time that you have agreed to practice, be still, be silent, listen to the whole song of creation/existence rather than focus on your private and imaginary predicament(s).
- Do nothing, in a sense all that is necessary is to explore (with friendly curiosity) the temptations to be elsewhere and other than now. Though it sounds paradoxical, continue to do nothing.
- It can be useful (according to the formal teachings) to bring your attention to the rhythm of your breath and the physical movement of air into and out of the nostrils. This is a tool to assist you in improving the sustainability of your concentration and attention. Additionally, sooner than later, full spectrum (body, mind, spirit) presence will also arise within you making it unnecessary to focus on the breath exclusively.
- In time, the habit of escapism and obsessive justification will melt into a pleasant acquiescence affirming that Now is more nourishing than elsewhere. This is the entry point to arriving, to fulfillment.