Meditation for beginners – a step-by-step guide

“What’s the right way to meditate?”

There’s no right way to answer this question.

Some folks want to start meditating and ask me for the correct approach. Others have tried it and quit because they felt they were doing it wrong. Many feel intimidated to take the first step. Most people want to know how to meditate right.

Looking for a perfect way to meditating is counterintuitive.

Meditation is a personal practice — you learn to do it as the journey goes. But, most importantly, it’s a way to familiarize with our imperfect mind. A perfectionist mindset won’t help.

Meditation is as simple as running — our bodies are naturally designed for both activities. However, mastering either requires training and practice.

Meditating is like going to the gym. You will resist first, until you build the habit. It will take some time to see the benefits. Unlike exercising, meditation shouldn’t be turned into a challenge — be gentle and aim for small progress.

Life is about the journey, not about reaching a particular destination — we spend our entire existence improving how we live.

“If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.” — Lao Tzu

This post will provide you with guidelines, insights, and tools to get you started and much more. Use it as a baseline; meditation is not a rigid approach — build your practice as you go.

Practicing meditation is simple and available to all — it can reduce stress, increase clarity, and promote happiness. Learning how to meditate is straightforward. Some benefits can come quickly.

However, taming your mind takes time and years of practice — turning your mind into an ally is a lifetime journey.

Meditation for Beginners – Index

If you are reading is either because you want to try meditation or you’ve tried it before and failed. Either way, it’s okay. I’m here to help you.

This is a long post. Be patient. I recommend you read it carefully — you can bookmark it and read in chunks. Or read it all together and then get back to the parts that matter the most.

To facilitate navigation, use the following table of content (links will take you to each section):

  1. What is Meditation
  2. The Benefits of Taming Your Mind
  3. Meditation vs. Mindfulness
  4. Why do YOU Want to Meditate?
  5. The Different Types of Meditation
  6. Build a Meditation Habit
  7. The Meditation Practice: Getting Started
  8. Understand the Journey, but Start Small
  9. Troubleshooting Your Practice
  10. Exercises & Guided Meditations

Feel free to shoot any questions or share your progress below. I will update the post with more resources and clarify my points based on your feedback.

1. What Is Meditation

The mind wanders where the heart is.

There’s a lot of craze about meditation that creates confusion. It’s essential to understand what meditation really is before you start practicing.

Meditation is not something religious, anyone can (and should) practice. No matter how smart, rational, or anxious you feel. Everyone benefits from meditation.

Meditation is a practice to train your mind.

Most of the time, our minds are wandering — we are thinking about things that happened somewhere else in a different time. Meditation brings your attention back to the present — it reduces distractions, stress, and self-criticism.

Meditation brings clarity, calmness, and kindness — both towards ourselves and others. It’s about becoming familiar with our breathing, our thoughts, our emotions — you get to meet your worries face-to-face.

Meditation helps you become more familiar with yourself.

Sakyong Mipham said: “Meditation is that ability to take a journey with your mind. It’s proactive; we can engage. We take short times to relax and calm ourselves. We want to know our minds; we want to know who we are. Meditation is a journey to become familiar with our minds.”

Meditation is not about not thinking or emptying your mind — it’s not about silencing your thoughts or emotions either. Regular practice helps to pay attention without getting tangled in your thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to the here and now, is being present and listening to your thoughts and emotions. You learn to accept them without being judgmental.

Sounds easier said than done, right?

The practice is simple, mastering it takes time and preparation — your mind is a like wild horse, you need to tame it before you can enjoy riding it.

Meditation is a deceptively simple exercise — just be right here, right now, without daydreaming. Practice can yield profound results. It gives us greater control of our actions, and makes room for kindness and patience, even in difficult situations.

With time, mindfulness meditation can help us better understand what causes suffering, and what we can do to relieve it.

Meditation is a journey of self-discovery.

Your mind will wander. Thinking is as natural as breathing; you can’t stop either. Just acknowledge what you are thinking and label it “thought” and move on — that’s how you come back to your breathing and the present moment.

Don’t get caught on what’s the perfect definition. Focus on the experience — approach with an open mind, not with your brain.

2. The Benefits of Taming Your Mind

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

Meditation has many benefits, but that’s not why you should meditate.

There’s much more to meditation than calming your mind. Reducing stress or anxiety are just functional benefits — meditation helps turn your mind into an ally.

Mindfulness meditation has been around for thousands of years. It wasn’t until recent decades of scientific research that we validated what we observed through common sense: meditation works. That’s why meditation is catching on in business, sports, and military organizations.

Research shows that meditation not only reduces stress and anxiety — it changes your brain for the better. Neuroscientists found out that it strengthens areas of the brain related to learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation. It also decreases blood pressure, helps fight addictions, and improve sleep.

Management-based research concludes that mindfulness in the workplace improves employee focus, attention, and behavior.

Meditation can effectively help clinically-depressed patients. Magnetic Resonance Imagery analysis shows that the changes in brain activity in people who meditate regularly hold steady even when they are not meditating.

Disassociating meditation from religion has helped it become mainstream. Though mindfulness meditation originated in Buddhist practices, anyone can practice regardless of their spiritual affiliation.

However, Buddhism is more than a religion — it’s packed with wisdom and learnings that can help improve your meditation practice.

Westerners tend to use meditation to fix issues. We want to reduce symptoms or something that’s bothering us. Easterners meditate to prevent issues — they focus on training their mind, not on fixing something.

We have a hard time dealing with life impermanence — we can’t let go of the things we love. However, everything ends in life. And that ending becomes the start of something else. That creates a bittersweet takes that shapes our lives — impermanence is a constant.

We suffer because we resist impermanence. Pain comes from our desire for things to last forever. Our mind becomes our enemy. That’s why training your mind is so crucial: the more you understand yourself and how your mind works, the more you can benefit from meditating.

Accepting impermanence is a liberating experience — we become less attached. Turning your mind into an ally simplifies your life too.

The meditation practice is simple; meditating it is not.

That’s the biggest challenge with meditation: it’s a peaceful and positive experience, but training your mind is not easy. That’s why many people quit meditating. They didn’t prepare to face the uncomfortable, frustrating, and scary aspects of meditation.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. I have never envied a human being who led an easy life.”

The good news: meditation always works even if you don’t notice it in the beginning.

That’s why we shouldn’t prescribe meditation as a fix. There’s no problem to use meditation to reduce stress. However, the most powerful effect of meditation is long-term — we tame our minds to avoid issues in the future.

Meditating with a functional objective can backfire (especially when you are getting started) — stress reduction or focus might not happen overnight. Learning to tame your mind takes practice and time too.

The ultimate goal of meditation is to achieve wisdom.

Meditate to familiarize with your mind and yourself — let the benefits be a byproduct of practice. Meditate without expectations and your mind will pay you back before you notice it.

3. Meditation vs. Mindfulness

“Meditation dissolves the mind. It erases itself. Throws the ego out on its big brittle ass.” — Tom Robbins Your mind wanders where your heart is.

Though these two words seem interchangeable, they are not the same.

Mindfulness is the quality of being present — the experience of being open and aware in the moment, without judgment or criticism, focusing your mind on the present rather than wandering.

Meditation is the practice of training your mind for everyday mindfulness. You prepare yourself by strengthening your mind — you become familiar with yourself so that you can deal better with unexpected events.

Mindfulness is a mindset; meditation is the training to achieve it.

It’s difficult for the human mind to stay present. A study at Harvard found that people spend 46.9 percent of their time thinking about something other than what they are doing. It’s hard to enjoy life when you are not present.

Mindfulness is the opposite of living in auto-pilot.

It’s the practice of noticing the degree in which we are identified with our ideas and beliefs, creating a space for:

  • Awareness, not thinking
  • An attitude of openness and curiosity, not judging
  • Flexibility of attention, not resisting

Mindfulness helps you develop a Teflon Mind — you acknowledge thoughts but don’t let them stick. You move on.

Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach explains: “Mindfulness is your awareness of what’s going on in the present moment without any judgment. Meditation is the training of attention which cultivates that mindfulness.”

Mindfulness is appreciating the present — Pic by Ben White

Mindfulness has three qualities according to Sakyong Mipham: familiarity, remembering, and non-distraction. These three abilities are necessary to tame our wild minds — we meditate to learn and build these qualities.

We use the breath to practice centering our mind. Once we relax, the present moment and the rhythm of the breathing become very familiar. Remembering is reminding to hold our minds to our breath rather than being caught up in thoughts. An untamed mind tends to wander — to know ourselves better requires avoiding distractions.

Through time, your mind will learn to stay calm rather than run away chasing distractions.

4. Why Do YOU Want to Meditate?

“To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others.” — Buddha

I hope that so far, you are still curious about meditation and that you are starting to reflect on how meditation can help YOU.

It’s time for a short exercise: find your ‘why.’

Most people start meditating because of science-proven benefits — they contemplate achieving short-term goals. However, meditation’s most significant contribution lies on the journey itself — you get to know yourself better, you become gentler and unleash kindness and wisdom.

Avoid starting meditation with a transactional approach; aim for something bigger, not just to fix a problem.

Write on a piece of paper why you want to meditate — focus on what you want to learn about yourself instead on functional outcomes. The purpose of this simple exercise is to create motivation.

Meditate because you want to, not because you have to (or others are doing it).

Having a clear purpose turns meditation into a personal moment to be enjoyed — training your mind is not a chore.

When it comes to meditation, what’s your why?

Write it down and continue reading.

5. The Different Types of Meditation

There as are many ways to meditate as meditators.

Even within Buddhism, there are many schools — Zen, Tibetan visualizations, Shamatha (mindfulness), Vipassana (awareness), etc. You don’t need to know them all to start meditating. However, understanding the basics can help you make the right choice.

Take a quick glance without getting overwhelmed.

1. Guided Meditation:

This is when it’s led by a teacher or guide — recorded meditations usually fall in this category. You are first guided to relax your body and mind before going on a journey. Most Guided Meditations focus on quieting the mind and producing calmness and relaxation. There are many functional too that address sleep, anxiety or self-confidence issues.

2. Mindfulness Meditation

It’s the process of being fully present — you acknowledge your thoughts without being judgmental. Usually, you sit in a straight position on the floor or a cushion, close your eyes and bring the attention to your breathing. It’s the widely practiced and the one I will dedicate more space in this post.

3. Transcendental Meditation

This technique includes repeating an assigned mantra, such as a word, sound, or small phrase. It’s practiced 20 minutes twice each day. You give your active mind a chance to settle down to experience increasingly quieter levels of thoughts until it reaches the deepest level: transcendental consciousness.

It’s one of the most widely adopted techniques, yet it’s very controversial too.

4. Visualization

This is technique is employed throughout the Vajrayana practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Everything we perceive in our daily life is a product of our imagination. However, believing in the illusions we create, drives frustration and confusion. Your imagination is a powerful tool — you can focus on visualizing a problem or an object, and you can make it vanish as well. Practice can make your issues disappear by using the same approach with which you created them.

5. Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is a form of moving meditation — it shifts your consciousness while moving. Supporters of this method believe that walking also stills the mind and provides a path to contemplation. Walk slower than a normal pace and focus on your breath as you would on a Mindfulness Meditation.

6. Hybrid Approaches

Most meditation techniques are thousands of year old. Add neuroscience, life hacking, and a Western approach, and you’ll get every remix possible. For example, there are mindful meditations that include visualizing mental pictures or situations that you find relaxing. Or to imagine yourself in a hypothetical situation — e.g., visiting your childhood house or meeting your future-self.

Though there are still places and people who practice more pure styles, be ready to find mostly hybrid ones — especially on recorded guided meditations.

If you want to dig deeper into the different meditation styles, check out this post.

6. Build a Meditation Habit

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle

Creating a new habit seems more difficult than it is — the best way to meditate regularly is to enjoy doing it. As Sakyong Mipham says: “If we prepare for it properly and make it a regular part of our life, it becomes like drinking water.”

The basic premise of meditation is “not to tight, not too lose,” according to Mipham.

You must establish a routine, follow it with discipline, and stick to the instructions. Tighten your routine — provide yourself with time and space to meditate. Soften your mind and body properly.

Training your mind is not a hobby — it’s the most important thing you can do. At first, you’ll feel that you are adding another task to your life. With practice, you’ll realize how meditation will simplify many other aspects in your life.

Establish your routine:

  • Set a daily time for practice and stick to it
  • Define the length of the session (I suggest you start with 10–15 minutes). Use a timer, so you don’t need to worry about time.
  • Choose a place and a chair or cushion. Build your ritual by sticking to those choices.

The more consistent your practice, the more successful it will become.

The most critical aspect is the time of practice. Some people suggest the morning. I prefer the evenings, though I usually do a short meditation as soon as I wake up too.

Start small. Even if it’s 5–10 minutes. The initial goal is to build a habit, to get used to meditating and enjoy doing it. It’s better to start with attainable goals than to be very aggressive — mismanaging time is one the most common reasons why people quit meditation.

Once you get more practice, you can be more flexible. If you are short of time you can divide your meditation practice into two parts or maybe shorten it once. Sometimes I do 2–3 meditation either because I want to or because I need to. It’s okay to be flexible without losing your cadence.

For the place of practice choose one that is quiet and where you won’t be interrupted. You don’t need a meditation room — simply stick to the same place and notify others (you can put a sign on the door) that you are meditating.

Lastly, will you sit on a chair or in a cushion? Will you meditate on your own or follow a recorded meditation (guided or not)?

Take care of your body before you train your mind. If you are hungry or thirsty, or your body is in pain, that could quickly become a distraction. Some people like to stretch or do some warm up before starting their practice. Also, if you feel tense, taking a slow walk could help you begin the session in better form.

Embrace your practice with a soft mind — there’s no such a thing as a perfect time or environment to meditate. If you try to create ideal conditions, you will never start.

Experiment and see what works better for YOU.

7. The Meditation Practice: Get Started

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” — Mark Twain

Just a few minutes a day can make a big difference.

Mindful meditation is to become mindful throughout your entire life. It’s not mind cleansing, but mind training. You don’t want to get rid of your thoughts or emotions; you want to acknowledge and pay attention to them without being judgmental.

When you sit down, take a balanced and grounded position. Allow the body energy to move freely. If you use a cushion, gently cross your legs. If you are in a chair, keep the legs uncrossed and your feet flat on the floor. Imagine that a string attached to your head is pulling you upright.

Find a slightly loose natural position — Don’t force your posture.

Place your hands on your thighs. They should rest without pulling your shoulders down or up. Relax your jaw and tongue. Slowly close your eyes. You can keep them slightly open too.

Start by breathing in. The breath represents being alive and present in the moment. Placing the mind on your breathing and returning to it, again and again, is how mindful meditation works.

Breathe normally. Don’t force it; just breathe.

If you find it challenging to stay focused, you can count your breaths. Count up to twenty and start over. If you lost count, start over again. Avoid judging yourself. Once you get used to noticing your breath, you can drop the counting.

When you breathe, notice the air temperature. Notice how the air enters through your nostrils, your chest expands, and the breath rests for a moment. Then your chest contracts and the breath leaves your lungs, gently exits, and dissolves.

Enjoy this experience. Just breathe.

Thoughts and emotions will distract you. When you notice something, acknowledge it. Label it as “thought.” Don’t evaluate your thinking. Once you label it, get back to your breathing.

By acknowledging your thoughts, you recognize the movements of your wild mind. Meditation is training your mind to become undistracted and focused. You are learning to enjoy being fully present.

Balance is key. In the beginning, it’s normal to force your posture or breathing. Regular practice will help you find the sweet spot between “too loose and too rigid.”

Be kind to yourself. Don’t judge your practice; don’t judge yourself. Soon you’ll start noticing how your body relaxes and fills with energy with every breath you take. This comforting awareness will encourage you to practice regularly.

Meditation instructions are simple. When you lose your wild mind, you bring it back by focusing on your breath. Remember to stick to the guidelines until you practice naturally.

The more progress you make, the more resistance you’ll experiment. Check out the ‘Troubleshooting Section’ to deal with obstacles.

8. Understand the Journey, but Start Small

“The thing about meditation is…you become more and more you.” — David Lynch

The ultimate goal of meditation is to turn your mind into an ally.

The journey is a long one — there are as many as 5, 7,9, or 10 meditation stages depending on the school. However, understand the trip but don’t get stuck planning for stages or goals.

Focus on making progress one step at a time. You can use the following sequence to set some real milestones.

  • Personal time: Every time you practice, appreciate making time for yourself.
  • Improve your breathing: After a couple of sessions, you’ll start to see the benefits of a more relaxed breath.
  • Relax your mind: Improving your breath will help you calm your mind. Your meditation practice will help you reduce your anxiety and stress. With time, the effect will last beyond the training.
  • Acknowledge your thoughts: You’ll soon become more aware of your feelings and worries. You start to understand your wild mind.
  • Put your thoughts aside: You’ll learn to see your thoughts rather than see reality ‘through them.’ You don’t let your thoughts cloud your vision.
  • Increased awareness and delayed responses: You’ll stop living on autopilot. By becoming more conscious about your reality, you’ll be able to respond more calmly to any given situation rather than (over) react to it.

The sign you have gained realization of a particular stage or object is that none of your subsequent actions are incompatible with your progress. For example, if you earned a perfect realization of compassion, you will mostly not inflict harm upon other beings.

Don’t worry about the right way to meditate — remember to keep an open mind.

Making progress one meditation at a time — Pic by Keegan Houser

Sakyong Mipham discusses nine stages of training your mind that can be grouped into three critical phases.

1. Developing Stability

It’s about placing the mind on the breath. You extract your mind from daily problems, thoughts, and events. You focus on your breath rather than on your busy mind.

You will be distracted though. Every time a thought ‘interrupts,’ simply acknowledge it by saying ‘thought’ and move on. Don’t try to avoid your thoughts; notice them and get back to your breath.

Each time you place your mind back to your breath, you are making progress. Remember, you are not trying to ‘achieve’ anything — you are learning to deal with your mind.

Throughout consistent practice you’ll find the benefits of regularity. At some point, you’ll realize how good you are becoming at ‘extracting’ your thoughts. Previously, you were worried with not being distracted. Now you’ve gained confidence — you start to focus on the quality of your meditation.

2. Developing Clarity

The first phase required strength and lots of practice . Getting to phase two is not easy.

Now, you’ve developed clarity — you start to see the benefits of a tamed mind — when confronted with familiar situations, you notice that you don’t react the way you used to. It’s not your mind, but you, who’s in charge.

Having a clear mind starts to feel natural — there are harmony and joy. You start to see the possibilities of what you can do with a tamed mind.

Before, your relationship with your mind was a burden. Now it’s full of possibilities — your mind is no longer a wild horse.

3. Building Strength

The battle may be over, but there are still pieces of past behaviors. Your thoughts and emotions can still be a threat. However, your mind is so strong that those attacks can easily dissolve. You are confident about what you can do with a tamed mind.

You still have to make a slight effort at the beginning of each practice. However, it feels much easier to point your mind in the direction of your breath.

In the end, your meditation becomes closer to perfection. Your mind feels like a finely trained racehorse — you feel centered and confident. You feel magnanimous and expansive, like if your mind is operating in a different category.

9. Troubleshooting Your Practice

“It is not the noise that disturbs you, it is you who disturb the noise.” — Ajahn Chah

Approach your meditation practice with curiosity.

I’ve been meditating for decades and every time I practice feels unique.

Avoid rationalizing too much or bringing a perfectionist mindset to your practice. The intention is not to master your mind, but to understand it and turn into an ally. Start by being more accepting and compassionate towards yourself — having a high standard won’t make your mediation better. On the contrary, it will take the joy out of it.

Here are some of the most common obstacles we all face when meditating. Some feel stronger when we are getting started. However, the mind is like a wild horse; it can always surprise you — be open to listen rather than resist distractions.

Noises and senses: A major obstacle is preventing one from entering deep meditation. Why can’t we just ignore a sound when meditating? Our senses can distract us from facing our thoughts. Letting go of one the five senses means letting go of the others.

It takes practice to focus on the breathing — The breath is a stepping stone from the world of the senses over to the realm of the mind.

Laziness and inertia: Make peace with the dullness and stop fighting it. Laziness is the result of a tired mind or lacking purpose. When you don’t have a clear reason to meditate, it feels like a chore rather than a beneficial practice. Inertia is a consequence of living on autopilot — when we are used to not paying attention, we have a hard time listening to what our mind is saying.

Put joy into the practice; the reward is recharging your spirit after each meditation.

Restlessness and remorse — We’re so used to being busy, that meditation can seem boring at first. If that’s the case, try focusing on very specific sensations, like the out-breath. You can even try to control your breathing by taking shorter in-breaths and longer out-breaths.

Most importantly, try not to be too hard on yourself.

Doubt: It’s entirely human to be skeptical about what we don’t know or what we can’t master. The proof of meditation’s benefit doesn’t lie in all the research but in experiencing the benefits firsthand. Maybe you doubt if meditation works, you might doubt the teacher or even yourself.

Stay curious; don’t close the door until you have fully experienced what’s on the other side.

Self-Criticism: It’s very common to be too harsh on yourself when you begin meditating. Everyone who meditates, even the most experienced folks, get to experience this from time to time. Our perfectionism challenges our practice: “This is not the right way of meditating!” — we say to ourselves.

Try to let go of any judgments — there’s no right or wrong to meditate. Trust your mind’s potential.

Only the mind can solve the problems the mind created.

Anxiety: Imagine that you are driving at 100 MPH and you suddenly hit the break. Your body moves forward at the same speed. You can experience inertia during meditation too — when you suddenly stop your mind, your thoughts can move forward like trying to escape. If panic is too intense, feel free to open your eyes or take a break. If not, try to continue focusing on your breath and move on.

Sleepiness: Many people get sleepy or fall asleep during meditation. This could be due to tiredness. Or maybe you are so tense that relaxation makes you sleepy. Falling asleep from time to time is not a problem. If it becomes normal, then you won’t be able to face and acknowledge your thoughts. Try changing the time you meditate or practicing for shorter periods.

10. Exercises And Guided Meditations

Here are some resources to start your practice.

Start with shorter and less complex ones. It’s easier to practice breathing exercises and then body awareness before you jump into a full meditation. Also, within each category, there are shorter videos to get your practice going before you experiment with the longer ones.

1. Breathing exercises

2. Body awareness (body scan)

3. Meditation to reduce stress and anxiety

4. Meditation for increased energy

5. Meditation for deep sleep

6. Meditation to increase focus and concentration

7. Loving-kindness meditation

8. Meditation to accept change

9. Meditation for success and abundance

10. Meditation: meet your future self

What About You?

If you see something’s missing or that can be improved on this post, please reach out.

Also, if you have specific questions related to your practice or want to share your personal experience, please share below.

Tame Your Mind

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