Start Here if You Want to (Finally) Begin a Meditation Practice

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Woman meditating with one hand on her heart and one on her stomach

At this point, recounting the benefits of meditation is akin to singing the praises of the sun or Birkenstocks or chocolate cake. The jury is back, and meditation kind of rules. But if you’re just getting started, you may have questions about how to make the most of the time you spend with your eyes squeezed shut.

“Meditation is a way of transforming your life from the inside out by transforming your mind,” says Kirat Randhawa, a meditation instructor for Alo Moves. The most common form of meditation is mindfulness, which involves focusing on your thoughts, your breath, an object, or a feeling without judgment.

By some estimates, meditation is thousands of years old. And there’s a reason this practice stands the test of time: for many people, it just works. Here, Randhawa explains the benefits of snuggling up on a meditation pillow for as little as one minute a day — and how to incorporate this well-being exercise into your everyday life.

The Benefits of Meditation

Randhawa says that meditation offers a wide range of benefits that vary from person to person, from need to need, and even from culture to culture. “In general, [meditation] can aid people in developing a more accepting relationship with their experience, including the busy mind, which allows us to see clearly and thus move with more wisdom,” she says.

Over time, spending more time with your mind may allow you to have more autonomy over your inner and outer experiences. “We access an internal resourcefulness that can help us meet a wide range of goals — like sleeping better, feeling less stressed and anxious, focusing better, making intuitive decisions, igniting creative flow, noticing how we contribute to our own distress, and learning to trust our own experience,” Randhawa says.

That’s a lot of wins for meditation, but the benefits aren’t purely mental. Meditation has also been shown to improve conditions like hypertension and reduce your chances of cardiovascular mortality. Mindfulness training has also been linked to better sports performance, so adding a sit to your pre-workout routine may actually make today’s session a PR.

Different Types of Meditation

Given that meditation is older than many countries, this wellness practice has had plenty of time to evolve and segment. Presently, there are countless types of meditation. Below, Randhawa breaks down just a few of them.

Mindfulness

“Mindfulness is the practice of creating a clear, spacious mind through sustained concentration,” Randhawa says. “In turn, this allows for greater behavioral and emotional flexibility, allowing us to think, speak, and move in more desirable ways.”

Thanks to its simple instructions, mindfulness is a great option for beginners (more on that in just a sec).

Vedic

Also known as Transcendental Meditation (TM), Vedic meditation was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and has gained popularity among celebs over the years. This style of meditation is a twice-daily, 20-minute practice that employs mantras that help you reach a state of awareness. Generally, an instructor is recommended for these sessions.

Visualization

Visualization is just what it sounds like: a type of meditation that asks you to bring certain images or experiences to mind. “Visualization is a creative technique that inspires behavioral change by igniting hopeful imagery and emotional expansion through reflection,” says Randhawa.

For example, you may visualize yourself playing as a child in order to increase your self-compassion for your adult self and facilitate healing for traumatic experiences that happened to you long ago. This is called an inner-child meditation.

5 Tips for Starting a Meditation Practice You Can Stick With

Here’s how a simple mindfulness meditation session looks on paper:

  1. Find a comfortable yet upright position that you can hold for the entirety of your meditation without too much fidgeting. A chair, a pillow, or a stool will work nicely.
  2. Set your timer for the duration you’ve chosen for your session.
  3. Gently close your eyes and bring attention to your breath.
  4. As you begin to note your inhales and exhales, you may find it helpful to count: inhale one, exhale two, inhale three, exhale four — and so on. If you prefer not to count, simply rest your attention on your breath.
  5. Whenever your mind wanders, don’t chastise yourself. Instead, gently draw your intention back to the breath. Whether you do this one or one hundred times per session, be patient and kind with yourself.
  6. When the timer goes off, gently bring your awareness back to your body and blink your eyes open. Move slowly as you re-engage with the world, and note how you feel.

At face value, meditation may seem easy. You just shut your eyes and pay attention to your breath, right? Well, yes, but (but!!!), it’s easier said than done. Before you jump onto a couch pillow and close your eyes, take note of Randhawa’s five beginner meditation tips.

1. Find Your Intention

Narrowing down your intention before you start meditating will help you establish some direction in your meditation practice. “[An intention] can act as a ‘mover’ of the mind and support close affiliation with internal states that resemble ease, relaxed presence, and alertness,” says Randhawa.

For instance, if your goal is to calm down after reading some truly disturbing political coverage, state that to yourself before you begin meditation to orient your practice.

2. Stay Consistent

Ask yourself when (and for how long) you can meditate each day. “It’s important to identify what our current capacity for mind training is so that we can move in accordance with that truth,” says Randhawa. “Completing 10 minutes of meditation daily when the mind is more relaxed and alert is far more beneficial than trying to complete 30 minutes of meditation daily when the mind is distracted.”

Perhaps you choose the moment you wake up or the second the coffee kicks in; perhaps you’re more of a pre-bedtime meditator. Like putting a little money in your 401K each month, meditating for just a few minutes daily will help you accumulate mental wealth over time.

3. At the Same Time, Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

“Recognize that it’s a practice. Just as we would train for months in advance before embarking on a marathon, the same level of precise training is necessary for developing stability of mind,” says Randhawa. When we sit down and expect our minds to be calm, cool, and collected, we may become unnecessarily frustrated to find the mental equivalent of a tornado.

“Take your time, go at your own pace, and know that the healing of the practice occurs when the attention is brought back to the breath or the body every time it wanders off. This is where the growth happens,” says Randhaw.

4. Express Gratitude for This Practice

Having a moment to sit down and tune into yourself is special — and it should be treated as such. “As you engage in daily contemplative practice, take a moment to honor the causes and conditions that have come together for you to be able to meditate and explore the mind,” says Randhaw. “Embodying reverence for the practice, the teachings, and the capacity for developing compassionate awareness invites us to extend appreciation to those who have practiced before and to those who will follow behind. “

5. Let Creativity Into Your Practice

Meditation practice shouldn’t feel rigid or stuffy. In time, you may find that it’s actually an opportunity to play.

“Let yourself be guided by what your body and mind genuinely need. Perhaps it’s inviting more silence, or it’s inviting some background sound. You might wish to lie down, sit upright, or even try a walking meditation,” says Randhawa. “By resting in a creative space, you’ll be able to show up for yourself in consistent and flexible ways each day.”

Try This Beginner-Friendly Meditation

Using a video or app to guide you through a meditation can be a great place to start your practice. Below, breathwork coach and meditation guide

Kristina Joy takes you through an intention-setting meditation, which can be an energizing way to start the day.



Image Source: Getty | Maskot

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