Meditation may be a word you hear often—especially if you’re interested in wellness and mindfulness—but when it comes to what meditation really is, you might not be so certain. Fortunately, the idea is pretty simple: In its most basic form, meditation is the practice of calming the mind.
It’s designed to help you develop of new state of consciousness, in which you uncover a clearer, more relaxed and focused mind. When practiced regularly, meditation teaches you the techniques needed to develop a greater sense of concentration, clarity and calm. It helps you get to know the way your mind works and thinks, while at the same time allowing you to cultivate more positive thoughts, habits and ways of being.
Meditation is the practice of turning your attention inward and focusing on a single point of interest—such as your breath, a bodily sensation or a mantra—while turning your attention away from distracting thoughts. While meditating, you remain fully awake and alert, but you free your mind from focusing on the outside world, what’s going on around you, worries about the future or thoughts of the past. It helps you live in the now, while quieting the constant chatter in your mind and soothing your spirit.
Easier said than done, right? Because our brains are wired to run a thousand miles a minute—processing everything that’s going on around us and constantly presenting us with new and ever-changing thoughts—it may seem impossible to quiet your mind completely. And unless you’re a meditation master, that may be true. Fortunately, meditation acknowledges the fact that thoughts can (and will) happen. In fact, it teaches you that when thoughts do arise during meditation, you should let them pass through your head without judgement, rather than dwelling on them or becoming frustrated that they're there.
Meditation isn’t part of any particular religion—though many hold it as a common practice—and can be done by any person at any time. All you need to do is...begin. So how do you do it? Here’s a quick guide for beginners to start your meditation practice today:
1. Sit or lie comfortably in a quiet place where you won’t be easily distracted. If you’re sitting in a chair, place your feet flat on the ground with your hands resting gently in your lap. If you’re sitting on the floor or a meditation cushion, cross your legs and let your hands rest gently on your knees or in your lap. Sit up tall, but maintain a relaxed, comfortable position.
2. Close your eyes and breathe naturally, making no effort to control your breathing.
3. Focus your attention on your breath, noticing how your body moves on each inhale and exhale—the rise of your chest, the expansion of your rib cage, your diaphragm filling with air. Don’t try to control the pace or depth of your breathing—just breathe normally.
4. As you focus on your breath, your mind may begin to wander, with thoughts of the day ahead, memories of the past, worries or concerns. When you notice these thoughts popping into your head, simply bring your focus back to your breath, without judgement of yourself or your thoughts.
5. Continue this practice for 3 to 5 minutes. Try to maintain a regular meditation practice each day or several days throughout the week, extending your meditation practice by a few minutes each time.
6. If it’s helpful, use a meditation app to guide your meditation practice. We love Headspace or Calm. You can also follow along with one of our guided meditations.