How to Meditate in Eleven Steps
When you’re learning how to meditate, you’re learning how to transform your life. In fact, meditation is scientifically proven to help people, which is why it’s recommended by top psychologists and mental health experts. Not to mention, the thousands of notes we’ve received from people all over the world crediting mindfulness as the key to finding relief from everyday stress, burnout, insomnia, anxiety, addiction, depression and chronic pain. In addition to feeling relief, people are also noting the benefits of cultivating compassion, gratitude, kindness, focus, joy and self-love through their meditation practice.
Mindfulness wakes you up to your life by teaching you how to build awareness, pay attention, face discomfort, be present, and surf life’s ups and downs. With greater clarity, you make better choices, build stronger relationships (including the one you have with yourself), and begin to notice the beauty that’s been right in front of your nose.
Meditation can also help increase our ability to focus and concentrate. It can help us recondition our minds to break unhealthy habits. In the age of distraction, it’s your superpower.
Meditation has physical benefits too. With regular practice grey matter in the amygdalae (part of our temporal lobes and believed to play a key role in our emotions) shrinks, in turn reducing anxiety and stress. This lowers blood pressure and enhances immunity and the body's ability to heal.
While meditation can be honored as a practice that came out of traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism, today meditation is a universal and secular practice. It can be practiced by anyone at any time in any place.
There’s just one catch: meditation takes practice, which means it takes patience. Think of it in the same way we think of physical fitness: it takes more than twenty sit-ups or running a single mile to get lasting results. The longer you stick with it the easier it becomes and the more benefits you’ll notice.
The best way to learn how to meditate is to do it. The ideas will only get you so far, it must be experienced. If you’ve been meaning to try, start now with these eleven steps. We’re cheering for you.
1. Find a quiet place.
Find a comfortable way to sit on a chair, couch, bench, or cushion in the most calming place you can find. It’s also okay to lie down if that works better for you (for many people, bending their knees as pictured below will offers support to the low back).
2. Set a timer.
Set a timer for somewhere between one and thirty minutes. We recommend beginners start with five to ten minutes. It’s helpful to remember that you have the rest of your life to build up your time if you choose to make meditation a lifelong practice. In the meantime, it’s amazing to note how much can change when you shift your attention for just a few minutes.
3. Close your eyes... or keep them open.
This is up to you. Both options have benefits. Most beginners find it easier to close their eyes so they’re not distracted by what’s in front of them. However, if you’re tired or tend toward daydreaming, keeping your eyes open, still and softly focused can help you stay in the present moment. We recommend choosing one and sticking with it for your entire meditation. Over time, you can experiment with both and decide what’s best for you.
4. Bring your awareness to your foundation.
Your foundation is all of the parts of you that are touching the ground. Notice how you’ve landed. Does one side feel heavier than the other? Feel free to make small adjustments to create more balance in your foundation. Sometimes this happens just by noticing, sometimes your body isn’t ready to shift and that’s okay too. Come back to your foundation often. When the mind gets busy, we forget that we are in a body so it’s helpful to think about how your body is touching the ground.
5. Once your foundation is set, get grounded.
The act of grounding has two components. The first is to reach down to the ground as if you trying to grow roots. Notice how when you press into the ground with your foundation it helps you to sit up taller!? The second is to allow yourself to be held by the earth. In other words, stop working so hard. It’s reassuring to remember that even on the hardest of days, the ground is supporting you (allow yourself to feel it).
6. Bring your awareness to your spine.
If you're sitting, straighten your spine until you feel tall and dignified. The structure of the spine, when it’s properly aligned, is designed to support you with minimal effort. If you’re not used to sitting like this, it’s natural to feel tired as you re-train your muscles to hold this posture. Do your best each time that you sit and we promise that it’ll get easier.
If you're lying down, find a comfortable position for your spine and allow your body to settle.
7. Concentrate on your breath.
Concentration is a fundamental tool of meditation because it cultivates focus. We often choose the breath as the object of our concentration because it’s reliably there for us. Notice the rise and fall of every inhale and exhale. There is no need to change the way you’re breathing, though you may notice that the very act of paying attention to your breath will change it. That’s okay. Just stay with your breath. Notice the texture of your breath...is it smooth or jagged? Notice the length of your breath...is it long or short? Notice the balance of your breath...is the inhale longer than the exhale? Notice where you can feel the breath most predominantly...is it most noticeable in your belly, chest, nostrils, or just outside of your nostrils?
8. When your mind wanders, return to the breath.
It’s natural to start thinking about anything but the breath, so rather than beating yourself up over it, gently invite yourself back to the breath. Over and over. This is the practice. You may need to bring yourself back sixty times a minute. This is how your capacity for concentration builds. The act of noticing that your mind wandered is what we call mindfulness. Many of us spend much of our life on autopilot. We get tangled up in thoughts and stories and we don’t even notice that our mind is spinning, as if it were trapped on a hamster wheel. The power of mindfulness is that we can interrupt the wandering of our mind into unhelpful territories.
9. Hang out in the present moment
Q: Where’s the best place to hide something precious?
A: In the present moment.
Ha-ha! That’s a favorite joke among meditation teachers. The reality is that we often find ourselves ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, and telling stories about ourselves, rather than being here now. The senses are our gateway into the present moment. Be with your senses and notice what you hear, taste, feel, smell, and see. Associations and stories related to the information that you receive through your senses will come up. Resist following that train of thought and just stay with the experience of the senses. That’s how we stay in the present moment. It’s very embodied. It’s not something to think about, it’s somewhere to be. If it becomes too difficult, return to the breath; it’s the anchor of your meditation practice. This radical act of being sweeps the mind of clutter and invites clarity.
10. Repeat steps 7 through 9 until your timer goes off.
When your timer goes off, gently wiggle your toes and your fingers to shift out of stillness. Take a moment to thank yourself for devoting time to your health and wellbeing. Transition slowly back into your day (waiting a minute or two to jump back into checking messages, etc.), stretch a little, and invite the mindfulness you cultivated to stick with you.
11. Make time for meditation again the next day.
The benefits of mindfulness and meditation come from consistency. Challenge yourself to meditate every day for a week to discover the gifts that mindfulness will bring into your life. If you like, try our 7 Days of Calm for free. If you choose to use our guided meditations, our Meditation Instructor, Tamara Levitt, will take you through the steps outlined above and more!
Wishing you a beautiful journey.
Looking for more guidance?
Use the Calm app from your phone or your computer to develop a meditation practice, breathe deeper, invite a moment of relaxation into your busy day, and soothe your way into dreamland when you're ready for bed.
Calm is beginner friendly and offers programs for all levels of mindfulness experience.