“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” –Buddha
A daily meditation practice can change your life. It’s a peaceful time to connect with yourself, your spirit, and the universe around you. In recovery from substance abuse, there’s a lot of talk about meditation. For many people, it’s a way to cultivate inner peace, a form of personal therapy, and a place of refuge in difficult times.
It can also help with anxiety and depression, as well as managing our day-to-day stresses. Some studies have shown how meditation elicits a ”relaxation response” in the body. With regular practice, this physiological response can lower blood pressure and blood cortisol levels, improve circulation, and increase feelings of well-being.
You may know every good reason to meditate, but how do you meditate?
Most people think of meditation as a mystical activity for monks and yogis, sitting cross-legged in the lotus position and levitating off the ground. While meditation can be a beautiful internal experience, it’s something that everyone can do. And, there’s no single “right” or “wrong” way to do it—the key is to be patient and keep practicing.
If you’ve gotten frustrated in the past, or if you just don’t know how to incorporate meditation into your life, here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started.
Find a Quiet, Safe Space
“When you know that everything that is happening is only appearing on the screen of consciousness, and that you yourself are the screen on which it all appears, nothing can touch you, harm you or make you afraid.” –Annamalai Swami
First, pick a space that’s quiet where you can focus. At first, it might be intimidating to venture into the whirlwind of your thoughts and practice sitting with yourself. You need a safe atmosphere in which you can ease into a relaxed state.
You can meditate wherever you feel most comfortable—whether it’s inside your own home or somewhere outside, like on your porch, at a park, or at the beach. Many people find it helpful to choose a location where they meet with a group to meditate. Wherever you choose, just be sure that you won’t be interrupted during your session.
Meditation can be in complete silence, observing the sounds around you. But, if the quiet doesn’t work for you, try listening to calming music or a soundtrack of nature sounds like ocean waves or birds chirping. There are also tons of guided meditation recordings available online that can walk you through different breathing exercises and visualizations.
Sit, Lie Down, or Walk
“Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated.” –David M. Bader
Seated meditation is common, and you can certainly choose to sit in the lotus position or try a specific posture, like in some Buddhist meditation practice. Some people get discouraged because it can be difficult and uncomfortable to sit in these positions, but you should know that these are not the only ways to meditate!
Though having the body close to the Earth is considered helpful in keeping the meditator centered and grounded, there is no specific posture that’s “required.” You can sit on the ground or on a cushion, with your legs crossed or straight out in front of you. You can also sit in a chair. No matter how you choose to meditate, it’s important to have good posture so you can breathe easily and normally.
If you can’t relax and get comfortable during seated meditation, you can also meditate lying down. Be sure to relax your body, lie down flat , and keep your arms and legs uncrossed. Though lying down may be more comfortable, it might be too comfortable for you to maintain focus.
If you get sleepy during meditation, try sitting up and straightening your posture. There’s also ways to practice walking meditation. It’s best to try mediating while sitting or lying down so you can practice the basics, but the same concepts will apply. Take slow, relaxed strides, paying attention to each step, noticing the sensations in your body and the details of your surroundings.
Tune In and Be Present
“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there—buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.” –Deepak Chopra
First, become aware of your thoughts, feelings, and any distractions in your mind. Let them come and go. All of these thoughts might seem overwhelming, but they are normal. In the beginning of meditation, it’s strange to give your full attention to your thinking. It will take practice to allow them to enter and exit your awareness, like they’re moving through a revolving door.
When you meditate, you’re taking control of your attention. You train your mind to enter a calmer state. Meditation isn’t about emptying the mind or letting it wander aimlessly. It’s about observing your thoughts, emotions, and surroundings, without criticism or judgment. You only need to notice those thoughts and feelings, and no immediate action needs to be taken.
As you tune in to your thoughts, you will become more comfortable with the magnitude and frequency of thoughts that you have. It’s okay and perfectly natural if your mind does wander. There’s no need to jerk yourself out of a thought. Just take a moment to pause, notice it, and let it go gently.
Practice mindfulness—staying in the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or fretting over the future. The only goal in meditation is to be present, and ultimately to develop a continuous awareness of your body, mind, and surroundings.
Direct Your Focus
“Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.” – Alan Watts
Meditation is a practice in focus. As your thoughts come and go, turn your attention to your breathing. Just breathe naturally and keep a normal rhythm. Pay attention to the sensation of the air entering and leaving your nostrils. You can meditate with your eyes closed or open, whichever helps you to focus best.
Focus on your breathing throughout the meditation. Notice how your body moves, how your chest and shoulders rise, how your belly expands. Scan your body from head to toe, noticing how you feel in the balls of your feet, your knees, your back. Describe these sensations and thoughts to yourself internally.
It can be tempting to follow some of your wandering thoughts during mediation, but you can always bring your focus back to your breathing and the sensations in your body. Some people find it helpful to visualize during their meditation—imagining themselves breathe out anxieties and worries, and breathe in positive energy.
There are many other possible focuses for your meditation:
- concrete details in the environment, like the shapes, colors, and sounds around you
- repeating positive affirmations
- chanting mantras—words without meaning, like “om,” that are meant to steer the mind away from intellectual thinking
Be Kind to Yourself
“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are.” –Ani Pema Chdoron
One of the most difficult things about meditation is learning to befriend yourself and be patient. Paying attention to all of your thoughts can be anxiety-provoking, and you might hate it at first. You need only to observe objectively, rather than make judgments on your thinking. Practice self-acceptance as you meditate. Realize that these are your thoughts, and that’s all that they are.
It’s normal to get restless, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced meditator. Use that restlessness as a moment to practice mindfulness. Notice your restlessness, accept it, focus on any sensations it creates in your body.
It’s easy to get frustrated with meditation if you don’t see the kind of progress that you expect. Try to let go of any preconceptions about meditation. Accept it as a time to hang out with yourself—it might not be an ephemeral, out-of-body experience. You may not be able to meditate for hours on end, or even for one hour. Try smaller intervals, like 5 to ten minutes (or even just one minute) and work up to longer durations.
Meditation is meant to be a peaceful, calm time. It’s not natural and it’s not simple. It’s a beautiful experience that evolves with practice. As you go into your meditation sessions, actively work on maintaining a positive attitude rather than dreading it. Be gentle and remain curious about what you might learn about yourself.
Stick With It
“While meditating we are simply seeing what the mind has been doing all along.” –Allan Lokos
Above all else, don’t give up on meditation before you’ve given it a fair trial. Like playing a sport or refining any skill, meditation takes practice. Every time you sit down to meditate, you flex your brain’s muscle memory.
As you incorporate meditation into your daily life, make a schedule that allows for time to meditate. It helps to pick a time each day—whether it’s in the morning, before bed, or even on your break at work. You can even find apps and classes that will help you hone your skills and hold you accountable. Just be sure to meditate daily, so you can reap the greatest benefits.
Breathe and Connect with Yourself
“Self-observation is the first step of inner unfolding.” –Amit Ray
When you take the time to sit with yourself and pay attention your thoughts, you develop greater self-awareness. You come to understand how your mind works. As you continue to practice, you learn to transform your thoughts and develop greater control over them.
Learning to center yourself when your mind wanders, to accept your thoughts as they are, and to not hold onto your thoughts and feelings too tightly are all valuable skills. You can learn to manage stresses and increase your focus. You can let go of worries more easily. When things don’t go your way, you’ll be less affected by those external circumstances and have smaller fluctuations in mood.
So much of pain and suffering is perception. Meditation is a way to practice taking your brain’s reins to transform negative thoughts into positive feelings.