When we learn how to meditate, we are also learning how to reduce stress, calm our minds and bodies, improve our sleep quality, get along better, and feel happier. Learning how to meditate is a meaningful life skill, and it’s never too late to learn.
Let’s start right at the beginning: What is meditation? Given how meditation and people who meditate are sometimes depicted in the media, it’s possible you’ve been given a picture that is incomplete or incorrect. Meditation can be a robed monk in silence for days or a yogi in lotus position leading a yoga class, but it can also be the commuter on a noisy subway with just five minutes to spare between stops.
It is not a particular religious practice (although some faith communities have embraced meditation). There is not one single, “correct” way to meditate. Meditation is not an emptying of the mind and being without thoughts.
Meditation, most simply, is a practice to calm the brain by paying attention. And most often, what we’re paying attention to is our breath.
Here is how to begin meditating, in five steps.
Find a comfortable position for your body. Many people sit in a chair, feet flat on the floor. Others prefer to sit cross-legged on the ground or on a cushion. Others prefer to lie flat. What’s most important is that you feel comfortable and relaxed.
Close your eyes. If closing your eyes feels uncomfortable for any reason, you may softly focus your gaze on something specific, instead. Maybe there’s a tree out the window, or a pen on your desk …
Breathe. There’s no need to control your breath at all. Just let it come in and go out as it does naturally.
Pay attention to your breathing. Notice how it feels as you inhale, and then exhale. Notice how the in-breath changes to an out-breath. Notice the sensations throughout your body. What do you feel inside your nose, your throat, your chest? Notice the movement of your rib cage. (All this noticing is the meditation. You’re doing it!)
Gently return your attention to your breath. Our brains are creative marvels. They produce so many thoughts per second. Your mind is a busy place. When you notice you’re following a trail of thought, simply return your attention to your breath. You may have to do this many times, and that’s entirely okay. It’s part of meditating.
However long you can meditate is the right length of time. We know from research that we experience the greatest benefits when meditating becomes a daily habit, but even once-in-a-while meditators will enjoy reduced cortisol levels and less emotional reactivity to stressors after a single session.
Even if you don’t *feel* very different at first, you are creating new neural pathways and changing your brain.
If you can spare one minute, once per day, start there. Then you might try three minutes, then five. Ten, fifteen, twenty. Half an hour. With practice, what would have felt too long will begin to feel not quite long enough. As you train your brain to focus and experience quiet, meditation becomes a meaningful well-being practice that is also a pleasure.
Practice breath awareness with the Breathe Bubble.
When meditating, it isn’t necessary to do a particular breathing exercise or pattern, but using the Breathe Bubble below can help you to reconnect with your breath.
One especially helpful way to nurture your meditation practice is to follow guided meditations, meditations that a teacher talks you through. Many people find guided meditations help keep them on track and give them new ideas and approaches. Having a teacher’s guidance eases the return to mindfulness if you tend to have a busy mind, and having the structure of a beginning, middle, and end provides a reassuring rhythm.
Begin meditating today, right now even, with a 7-session guided meditation series in the Calm app. It’s called 7 Days of Calm, and it’s free. Each session is about 10 minutes and includes a simple mindfulness teaching from our Head of Mindfulness Tamara Levitt, as well as a guided meditation designed to help you feel more calm and to easily make a few minutes of mindfulness a daily habit.
Calm is free to download and includes a collections of meditations, Sleep Stories, mindfulness tools, nature scenes and music for focus, relaxation and sleep