Beginner's Guide to Meditation Made Easy

Quieting the mind can have a major impact on more than your stress status.

June 22, 2015
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Meditation, despite its mystical connotations, is first and foremost a practical perspective taking exercise: a tool to get to know your own mind and that part of you that is eternal. Over time, long-term yogi meditators not only feel strong and flexible, but also more confident and clear-minded. During most of our waking hours, we are so engaged with our thoughts and perceptions that we don’t have an awareness of the filter through which we receive them. When you sit in meditation, you step back from the activity of analyzing/processing/creating and witness as these mental processes unfold. Much as rivers are always shifting, all things, including the mind, are constantly changing. As you become adept at watching the ephemeral nature of the mind, you start to get rooted in that which is constant, unchanging, and always present.

And did we mention it has a ton of benefits? Meditating is linked to stress reduction, and stress is widely acknowledged as a primary cause of disease. If that wasn't enough, it also makes you smarter. Studies show that meditating facilitates neuroplasticity, or your brain’s ability to build new pathways of understanding. And then, there's the whole emotional intelligence boosting thing. Research is showing that meditators develop greater emotional intelligence. Practitioners have a greater ability to perceive their own thoughts and feelings; to harness those thoughts and feelings for high-level problem solving and other cognitive tasks; to work with complicated relationships; and to harness emotions for the greater good.

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More: A Surprising New Reason to Meditate 

Willing to give it a try? Go through these four steps to successful meditation:

1. Affirm to yourself that you will try meditating. Right now. 
Ask just about anyone if they’d like to incorporate meditation into their daily routine, and nearly everyone will say yes! However, the leap between acknowledging the value of the practice and actually doing it is particularly wide. Why is that? 

Meditation may appear serene, but it can actually be quite strenuous. When we sit, we are asking ourselves to peel away the multilayered defense of conditioning. Most of us have created a highly functional personality around our insecurities, wounds, and losses, creating a self-image that projects health, happiness, and confidence, both to others and to ourselves. In meditation, there is no one to impress or hide from. You come face-to-face (so to speak) with your raw, unguarded self. 

It’s not always comfortable to engage at this deeply honest level. We often avoid practices of introspection. Consider that the immediate benefits of meditation practice are not as obvious as a yoga practice. Nobody can see whether you’re a good meditator or not. But with sustained effort, most practitioners discover very quickly that they are less reactive and come out of anger and other states more quickly than before. Why not commit to trying it?

2. Get comfortable.
Practically speaking, we exist in two dimensions: time and space. When preparing to meditate, you want to be as relaxed as possible in both of these dimensions. 

Time 
Decide a length of time to sit for -- it could be five minutes, twenty minutes, or longer. Five minutes may not sound long, but it’s a good place to start, and you can always increase your sit time tomorrow. More important than the duration is the commitment. A timer can be very helpful. Let the timer manage this dimension for you. There is no wrong time tomeditate. Many prefer to sit in the morning, but if a midday sit or evening practice works better for you, sit then. As you fall in love with the practice, you may find yourself rearranging your day for it! Also, reaching stillness is often easier after a yoga practice, so you may find a post yoga sit just the thing for you. 

Space 
Meditators are often instructed to find a comfortable seat, but the truth is, no seat will be perfectly comfortable, especially at the beginning. The good news is: It doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be comfortable enough that you stay still and unbothered for your designated period of time.

More: A Super Simple Meditation from Tone It Up

Once settled, gently close your eyes or keep them ever so slightly cracked open. Up to you.

3. Stay in your seat.
This is actually one of the more challenging instructions. As soon as we find a position and close our eyes, inevitably our nose will itch, back will need to crack, hair will need to be redone, you name it. This is the nature of the mind: It is never satisfied. When we ask the body to slow down and be still, we notice how habituated we are to unconsciously seeking new, and presumably better, experiences all the time. Tell yourself that this seat is good enough. Let this seat be fine as it is. Each time you indulge the urge to fidget, you draw your awareness away from the breath. 

4. Be with your breathe.
We are always breathing, but how often do we really pay attention to it? The breath functions very well as what meditation teachers will call the “object of meditation,” meaning: the focal point for your mind as you sit. The mind needs something to land on: an object. The breath works well as an object because it is ever present. You don’t need to conjure it up; it’s always there. 

Feel your inhales and your exhales. You can even label “inhale” and “exhale” silently, inside, to help you observe when you are beginning. The mind is unlikely to be satisfied with just watching breath. It will prefer to wander off and find things to think about. To have a mind that wanders does not make you a bad meditator. Actually, there’s no such thing as a bad sit! Your job is to notice, and when the mind does wander away, see if you can use the feeling of breath in the body to bring it back. This is a process that will happen again and again. These moments of drifting and regathering attention are part of your quest to know the‰mind. 

Eventually, the duration of your experiences of presence will increase. It is in this place of stillness and presence that we access what yoga calls the purusha, the inner witness, the intuitive knower, the inner guide, or, in Wanderlust parlance, true north. 

Check the timer you set when you began reading this section. How long has it been? Many of us will spend far longer reading about meditation than we will actually meditating. No author’s thoughts on the practice, however, will do you much good unless you put them to use.

Adapted From Wanderlust: A Modern Yogi's Guide to Discovering Your Best Self