Meditation for Beginners: How to Start Practicing Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation for beginners

In this guide to mindfulness meditation for beginners, we will introduce you to meditation, and we’ll share meditation tips for beginners to help you get started on your meditation journey.

Mindfulness meditation is a simple practice that, done regularly, is also life-changing. Through meditation, we can discover and make friends with our own minds. Let’s get started!

Meditation for Beginners: What Meditation Is

Meditation is a practice that works with our minds, to bring out their natural qualities: at rest, open, and alert. When we meditate regularly, these qualities emerge.

Of the many types of meditation, we recommend you begin with mindfulness meditation.

There are many types of meditation, and we recommend you begin with mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation (Sanskrit shamatha, “calm abiding”) is common across Buddhist traditions, as well as widely used in secular traditions like the Mindfulness-Based Stress Relief practice developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

If you practice mindfulness meditation regularly, you will begin to find the calm, relief from stress and anxiety, and clarity that most people associate with meditation practice. From there, meditation is an endless journey, and can have all kinds of helpful effects.

If you are specifically interested in heart-oriented meditation practices for beginners, please see our article on meditation for self-love.

Guided Meditation for Beginners: How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Here is senior meditation teacher Arawana Hayashi leading a guided meditation practice for beginners, which explains the practice of mindfulness meditation:

If you enjoyed this video, the full five-part series is available to watch at your own pace.

As a complement, here is meditation instruction from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, given to early students in 1974.

How to Meditate for Beginners: Simple Instructions

In this section, we’ll talk through general meditation steps for beginners. They’ll match what you’ll find in the videos above.

1. Take a Comfortable Meditation Posture

First, before you begin meditating, find a quiet and comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted. You can sit on a chair or cushion, or even lie down if that’s more comfortable for you.

Meditation posture varies by tradition, and there are numerous kinds of seated (most common), lying, and standing postures. Here are a few possibilities:

Shambhala meditation posture
Shambhala-style seated meditation posture on meditation cushions.
Chair meditation posture
Chair meditation posture (source)
Lying down meditation posture (source)

To start with, I recommend finding a seated posture that is simple and comfortable. Starting in a chair could be good, as this will minimize physical distractions as you’re beginning to meditate. If you do wish to meditate on a cushion, consult an in-depth guide on posture or speak with an experienced meditation instructor. Don’t try lotus position or complicated hand poses to start out, unless you are within a specific tradition that emphasizes these.

Whichever posture you choose, make sure your spine is straight, as this supports a settled and wakeful mind.

Whichever posture you choose, make sure your spine is straight.

2. Mindfulness of Breathing

The next element is mindfulness of your breathing. This means to place simple attention on the sensation of each breath moving in and out of your body.

Place simple attention on your breathing.

This should be gentle. You don’t have to focus hard or “concentrate” on your breathing, the way you might concentrate to take a test.

Instead of “concentration,” mindfulness is more like how we pay attention to riding a bike: we notice riding the bike in a simple way, while also having space for relaxation and appreciation of our body, mind, and environment.

3. Let Thoughts Arise Naturally

As you are sitting (or standing or lying down) with a good posture and noticing your breathing, thoughts will arise continually in mind. You can simply let them come and go, without trying to push them away and also without engaging with them.

For example, if you wonder what you’ll have for lunch, simply notice the thought—without trying to stop it, and also without going into a further visualization of the food you have at home, restaurants in the area, and so on.

Simply let thoughts come and go, without trying to push them away and without engaging with them.

4. Return to the Breath When the Mind Wanders

This leads into one of the most important meditation tips for beginner practitioners: expect your mind to wander, and don’t be upset or discouraged when this happens.

As you meditate, you will find that your mind starts to wander and you become distracted by thoughts. (An example would be noticing that your attention has been occupied by imagining the restaurants in the area.) This is completely normal! Simply notice when your mind has wandered, and gently bring your attention back to your breath.

When you notice that your mind has wandered, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

Do this for as long as you like. As you’re getting familiar with meditation, consider keeping your sessions short and enjoyable. You might especially want to end your session if you find yourself starting to become bored or agitated (which is also completely normal!): you want to prioritize enjoying your meditation practice, rather than pushing through discomfort.

7 Meditation Tips for Beginners

Here are some key tips for beginners to help you set out on your meditation journey:

1. Start with small sessions

Start with small meditation sessions of just a few minutes each. As you get more comfortable with the practice, you can gradually increase the length of your sessions. Again, think twice about “pushing through” difficulty (such as intense boredom or impatience) when you’re starting out, as forming unpleasant associations with meditation early on can make maintaining a regular practice difficult.

2. Make it a daily habit

Like any other practice, meditation will benefit you most if you practice regularly. Try to meditate every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. One way to do this is to make meditation a part of your daily routine; for example, try meditating for a few minutes first thing in the morning or last thing at night. By making it a part of your routine, you’ll have an easier time sticking with the practice.

To learn how to begin meditating daily, look through this in-depth guide:

3. Always be physically comfortable

Find a comfortable position that allows you to sit, stand, or lie down with a straight spine. Always make sure you are physically comfortable, and do not be afraid to try different kinds of meditation cushions or meditating in a chair to achieve this. Don’t worry about sitting in the lotus position or any other way you “should” meditate, as physical discomfort may make you reluctant to continue.

4. Don’t try to stop thinking

This one needs to be emphasized. Mindfulness meditation is not about clearing your mind completely or being without thoughts. It’s normal for thoughts to come and go, and we can acknowledge them and let them pass without getting caught up in them. It’s also normal for the mind to wander—when you notice it’s been wandering, simply return to gently noticing the breath.

5. Don’t judge yourself

Again, meditation is not a contest with ourselves to clear our minds, remain completely undistracted, or otherwise have what we might imagine a “perfect” meditation experience to be. Meditation is about being gentle—to ourselves and others—and we can start this early by being gentle about our meditation practice itself, and relaxing our sense of how it “should” be going.

6. Pay attention to setting

The place where you meditate can greatly affect your experience. A quiet and peaceful environment can help to create a sense of calm and serenity, allowing you to let go of distractions and focus on your meditation practice. Do your best at home, and consider finding a meditation center near you, which can also carry the added support of a community of other practitioners.

7. Use guided meditations

Guided meditations can be a great way to get started with meditation, especially if you’re new to the practice. Guided meditations are recordings that lead you through a meditation session, providing guidance and instruction along the way. They can be found online or in meditation apps such as Calm or Insight Timer, and can help you relax and open.

If you’re looking for more resources to help you get started with meditation, there are many online resources available such as websites, apps, and videos. We have many beginner-friendly meditation courses available online, including the full Learn to Meditate series with Arawana Hayashi, of which the guided meditation above is a part.

How to Meditate for Beginners: Closing Thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed these meditation tips for beginners, and that the free guided meditations for beginners I shared above helps you set off on the right foot.

The key, starting out, is to make sure you are physically and mentally comfortable.

The key, starting out, is to make sure you are physically and mentally comfortable, and experiment to find how meditation best fits into your daily routine.

Meditation can be foundational to a happy life. I hope you have a wonderful first experience with it!

This article is part of the Community Blog, which offers reflections by Shambhala community members on their individual journeys in meditation and spirituality.

One thought on “Meditation for Beginners: How to Start Practicing Mindfulness Meditation

  1. Thank you for this helpful article on guided meditation for beginners. It's great to see, how simple and accessible mindfulness meditation is presented, especially for those, who are just starting their practice. The steps, Find a comfortable position and choose a quiet place, are basic, but essential aspects, which are often overlooked. This article reminds us of that, how important it is, to create the right conditions for successful meditation practice.

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2024-05-26 12:45:05