A Beginner's Guide to Meditation
By now, we've all heard enough people sing the praises of meditation to know that the practice is good for the mind and soul. It's meant to bring peace and balance to our lives, but the mere act of getting started can be stress-inducing and therefore quite counterproductive. But don't run away for that reason. We tapped experts for advice for aspiring meditators. Use these tips, and you'll soon be the one extolling the virtues of meditation to your friends.
If you're nervous about staying focused or sitting still, you have plenty of company. “People tend to have a picture of meditation in their head that makes it look more daunting than it actually is," Dr. Sal Raichbach a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker at Ambrosia Treatment Center tells SheKnows. "The first comment I always get from people is that they believe they won’t be able to sit still for a long period of time."
Raichbach explains that a meditation session doesn't have to be long to be effective. In fact, he typically recommends that people start with two to three minutes at a time and build from there. "A few minutes a day is more beneficial than once a week for an hour," Raichbach says. "The important thing is that those two or three minutes are quiet and free of distractions so you can be still and focus."
You also don't need to be seated cross-legged on the floor like many of us envision — just find a position that's comfortable, whether it's sitting in your favorite chair or lying on the floor.
Susan Greif, a creative transformational expert and healing arts professional, tells SheKnows that counting your breaths is the ideal form of meditation for beginners. "Inhale through your nose, then exhale through your nose with closed lips as you sigh," she says. Here are the steps to Greif's suggested breathing technique:
- Inhale for a count of five, expanding your lungs and filling your belly with air
- Hold for a count of five (optional)
- Exhale for a count of five, deflating your belly, pulling your belly button toward your spine, releasing air from your chest and relaxing your shoulders
Dr. Laura Chackes, a psychologist and clinical director of The Center for Mindfulness & CBT in St. Louis, Missouri, recommends starting with three minutes of meditation per day and ideally working up to 10 to 20 minutes. She says to pick a convenient time of day for meditation so you'll integrate it into your daily routine more easily.
"It doesn't matter what time of day you choose, just that you pick a time that you are consistently available and most likely to practice," Chackes tells SheKnows. "The point of this is to develop a habit that you will do every day at a certain time, like brushing your teeth."
Chackes also emphasizes that it's not cause for concern if your mind wanders during meditation. She likens meditation to an exercise of the mind that builds the mindfulness "muscle" in your brain.
"Every time your mind wanders away from your breath, it's like your arm straightening out from a bicep curl. Noticing that your mind has wandered and bringing it back to the breath is the fist coming-back-towards-your-shoulder to build that muscle," she explains. "Without the mind wandering, the exercise wouldn't go anywhere, so the thoughts that pop into your mind while meditating are not a problem, but rather an integral part of the exercise."
Raichbach and Chackes both note that guided meditations are highly effective for certain people. If you're having trouble getting started on your own, don't be afraid to check out YouTube tutorials or try apps like Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm, 10% Happier or Smiling Mind.
Most important, be patient with yourself and don't throw in the towel if you can't get through a 10-minute meditation session on your first try. "We live in a fast-paced society, so meditation doesn’t come naturally to many people," Raichbach says. "As you get better, quieting your mind will become effortless, and you will look forward to those couple minutes of peace a day."