So, you’ve decided you want to start meditating. You know it’s really really good for you, and it looks all calm and zen and peaceful, so you sit down and close your eyes and realize…
YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO!
Don’t worry, I got you covered!
Before You Start Meditating, Do These Five Things
1. Know WHY You are Doing It!
This may seem basic, and you may think because mindfulness and meditation are everywhere these days, it’s just obvious that you need to start meditating. But knowing your WHY is an essential step; in fact, it’s the very first lesson in my introductory course Mindfulness 101 (which is a completely free seven-day course — you can learn more here!)
It’s hard to start ANY new practice (meditation, exercise, healthy eating, etc.) without connecting it to the broader context of our lives. If we’re not clear on WHY we’re making time in our day to meditate, it can easily become something we do “when we feel like it,” instead of a practice that’s integrated into our overall wellness and self-care. And meditation, like exercise, will only make a difference in our lives if it is a consistent habit.
So ask yourself why YOU want to meditate. And be specific — if your first thought is, “I want to be more calm,” that’s great, but think about it more specifically. Maybe it’s “I don’t want to flip out at my kids all the time.” If you want help with your stress, maybe your WHY is, “I want to feel more at ease during my day, and not experience each moment as a crisis.”
Get specific about your WHY, what this practice will mean to YOU, and how you will know it’s having an impact in YOUR life, and you will be much more likely to stick to your new habit!
2. Make the Time in Your Schedule
Notice I didn’t say “find” the time — if we think we’ll meditate “when we find some time,” we’ll never find it! How often do you just “find time” in your day for something that’s just for YOU? I thought so…
You don’t need a big chunk of time — in fact, I recommend that beginners start meditating with five minutes or less. You’ll be amazed at how short your attention span is and how much your mind can wander in just a few moments’ time! And all of that is TOTALLY NORMAL — but it can also be overwhelming. Mindfulness meditation is about observing the activity of the mind… and when we’re starting out, five minutes of observation is plenty!
And we ALL have five minutes in our day for this! If you insist that you do not, I will refer you to the Zen saying below:
3. Find a Place to Practice
It’s not essential to have a formal meditation space that’s decorated to the nines (though feel free to create one if that’s your thing!) But it’s logistics like these that can trip us up when we start something new. If we don’t envision when and where we will start our new habit, inertia can take over and prevent us from even beginning!
You can meditate anywhere you will be comfortable — you can sit on your couch or a comfy chair, you can lie on your bed or a yoga mat, or you can sit on the floor, either using towels and blankets, or a meditation cushion. Though some instructors will tell you to sit in a particular way, with your hands in a certain position and the eyes glancing down at a specific angle, my approach is much more simple — find a place and a position where you can be both comfortable and alert.
(Wondering what you might need for your practice? Get my free checklist below!)
4. Figure Out What You Will Do
If we just close our eyes and breathe, our meditation session can easily become “thinking with our eyes closed” or “mindful napping.” It’s helpful to have a strategy or technique that we will use to focus our attention. Some of the most helpful ones to help you start meditating are:
- Counting the Breaths: count each in-breath and out-breath until you get to 10 (e.g., breathe in “one,” breathe out “two,” etc.). If your mind wanders before you get to 10 (which is 100% likely), just start over at one…. And then start over again….
- Use a Mantra with the Breath: you can use words on the inhale and exhale to focus your attention (“breathe in peace, breathe out tension,” “breathe in energy, breathe out and relax,” or whatever words work for you). In general, the in-breath is energizing (bringing new oxygen to the body), and the out-breath is relaxing/soothing (activating the body’s calming response), so you can choose words to reflect what is likely happening in the body as you breathe.
- Noticing the Breath in the Body: focus your attention on your chest rising and falling, or the belly expanding and softening with each breath.
- Use a Guided Meditation: many people find it helpful to have someone guiding them through the practice. You can find several free guided meditation downloads here.
5. Learn More About Mindfulness and Meditation
With all journeys, it’s so much easier when we have a guide. If you are relatively new to mindfulness and meditation, it helps to learn more about the practice — what it is, what it is not, and the many ways to do it — with a solid, well-written book. You can find a list of my favorite mindfulness books here.
You can also explore mindfulness and meditation centers in your area — just google “meditation in _[your city]_” and see if you can find a place to practice with a group. Not only does this hold you more accountable to your practice, but it can provide you with vital support and guidance as you begin what can sometimes be a challenging practice.
Finally, you can learn more in my FREE, seven-day course for beginners, Mindfulness 101! In this course, I’ll walk you through many of the steps outlined above — figuring out your WHY, making the time, and figuring out just what to do when you meditate!
As with any new habit, the most important thing is patience.
We must be patient with ourselves, as there WILL be days we don’t practice, and that’s okay. We just begin again the next day. We must be patient with seeing the results of our practice — just like with exercise, it takes some time to see the benefits of mindfulness meditation in our everyday lives.
But if you can start meditating now, and stick with the practice with intention and fidelity, I’m quite certain you will find it to be life-changing.