Starting a Meditation Practice: How to Start Meditating Daily

Daily meditation practice

Do you want to know how to start meditating? If you’d like to start a daily meditation practice, you’re in the right place! Whether you wish to meditate for help with stress and anxiety, greater emotional attunement and resilience, stronger relationships, or spiritual growth and wisdom, you’ll see these benefits most when you meditate regularly—ideally at least once each day.

Regular meditation practice brings lots of benefits, from stress relief to better relationships to spiritual growth.

The key point of how to start meditating daily is that meditation become a natural and enjoyable part of your daily rhythm. Below, we’ll explore how to start a meditation practice that you’ll enjoy and benefit from. Let’s dive in.

How to Start a Daily Meditation Practice

Below are some tips for starting to meditate daily that most people find helpful. Use them as a jumping-off point, and experiment with what works for you.

1. When: Set a Specific Time to Meditate Daily

Choose a time and place for your meditation practice that will be consistent every day. Depending on your schedule, this could be in the morning, before you start your day, or at night, just before you go to bed.

Is it better to meditate in the morning or evening? There is no one-size-fits-all answer: the best time for your meditation practice depends on your personal preferences, schedule, and energy levels.

Many people prefer to meditate in the morning—before checking their phone or email—to set a positive tone for the day.

Many people prefer to meditate in the morning, to set an positive tone for the day. By default, I’d suggest you go with meditating in the morning, before you check your phone or email. If you’re specifically working with issues sleeping or working with stress or insomnia, also try meditating in the evening to help release the stress you’ve accumulated throughout the day.

In general, experiment with meditating at different times to determine what works best for you. Then, be consistent with that time. Treat it as something real, an official time in your daily schedule that is committed just to meditation, and that small disruptions like last-minute emails cannot derail.

Treat the time you choose as real, “official,” and committed just to meditation.

You can even set a meditation alarm to remind you at the same time each day, so that you don’t miss meditation by forgetting (or by “forgetting,” when work piles up or you’re binge-watching something). These alarms don’t have to be the loud “wakeup” alarms from your phone’s default Alarm app: there are many meditation notification apps that you can customize to show up as a gentle sound or a phone alert, perhaps even displaying a favorite meditation-related quote. Have a look.

2. Where: Choose a Place for Your Daily Meditation Practice

In general, you should meditate in the same place each day. Try to have a place in your house that is clean, comfortable, quiet, and free from distractions.

You can set up a shrine (or altar) with images that inspire you. Below is a picture of the shrine in my house, which is in a room in my house dedicated to meditation (as well as to yoga or related practices) called a shrine room.

You don’t need a full room for this. Even a small table in your bedroom, which you keep clean and clutter-free, would be plenty to get started.

Daily meditation practice shrine room

Having a designated space will make it easier for you to stick to your daily meditation routine. Not only that, but over time and with consistent practice, you’ll find that the physical space itself begins to be imbued with the mind of meditation.

Having a designated space will help you get into daily practice—and over time, you’ll find that the space itself feels imbued with meditative mind.

This happens in a simple way—it’s “ordinary magic,” not as much the Harry Potter kind. You’ll simply find that, just like your kitchen reminds you of food and cooking, your meditation space reminds you of the mind you encounter during meditation. Over time, this connection between physical space and meditative mind can become a powerful support for your meditation practice and your spiritual life. It’s an element of sacred space, like you’d find if you visited the Notre-Dame de Paris.

3. How: Mindfulness Meditation Instruction

If you’d like to learn how to meditate, you’ll want instruction from an expert teacher. Below are some great options from highly esteemed Buddhist teachers.

Meditation Instruction from Pema Chödrön

Here is meditation instruction from the Shambhala and Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön:

Meditation Instruction from Thich Nhat Hanh

Here is meditation instruction from the late Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh:

Meditation Instruction from Arawana Hayashi

Here is meditation instruction from Shambhala teacher and movement artist Arawana Hayashi, from our Shambhala Online course Learn to Meditate.

You can repeat these meditation instruction videos as often as you like, and it’s good to hear instruction from a few different reputable sources to see what’s consistent and what varies.

4. How Long: Start with Short Sessions and Build

How long should you meditate daily? The answer is up to you: your schedule, your level of experience with meditation, and your goals for your meditation practice.

Start with a manageable amount of time (five or ten minutes could be good), and, if you like, slowly build from there.

However, the best and safest approach is always to start with manageable durations for your sessions and slowly build from there. Five or ten minutes per session could be a good starting place.

Prioritize consistency over duration. It’s much better to meditate for five minutes every day than for two hours once a month.

Always prioritize consistency over duration. It’s much better to sit for five minutes every day than for two hours once a month.

Go By Feel

As you continue to explore, to find a good duration for your daily meditation practice, let yourself be guided by how you feel while you meditate for different amounts of time.

To find a good duration for your daily practice, let yourself be guided by how you feel while you meditate for different amounts of time.

In general, you should give yourself some time to settle in, and expect a little bit of resistance or turbulence as this happens. Once your mind does start to settle, it can be nice to meditate for a while that way.

Over time, your body and mind will start to “request” you to end the session, in the form of restlessness, boredom, mild physical discomfort, and so on. It’s good to hang with this for a little while—not to let it “blow you off your cushion,” in other words—so that you can experience those things in an open way, and include them as part of your meditation practice itself.

At the same time, don’t push it into a test of grit or endurance: when your body and mind are ready to end the session, go ahead and close.

Avoid Tests of Endurance

Speaking from personal experience, one thing I would definitely not recommend is “powering through” long periods of very unpleasant meditation practice, whether to reach a set duration or for another reason.

Do not “power through” long periods of very unpleasant meditation practice.

You might find advice on meditation encouraging this more strong or stoic approach, perhaps especially in more traditional approaches to meditation.

My reason for not recommending it for people new to meditation is this: our bodies remember things. Whatever your reasons for subjecting yourselves to very unpleasant experiences in meditation, if your body starts associating meditation with “extreme boredom,” “physical pain,” “emotional turmoil,” and so on, then you’re going to have a very hard time meditating regularly from there on out.

If you’re finding meditation unpleasant, seek support to work with the reasons why.

If you’re finding meditation very unpleasant, you should seek additional supports to work with the reasons why. Please note, also, that almost all of us experience very unpleasant passages in our meditation practice at some point, as we get more familiar with meditation itself. Perhaps the most common culprit is “trying to stop thinking,” so you can start there as you look into the source of the challenge.

Overall, as you become more comfortable and experienced, you can gradually increase the length of your practice. Remember, consistency is more important than the duration of your meditation sessions.

Experiment with Guided Meditation Apps or Audio

Related to the topic of session length is whether or not you use a guided meditation. Guided meditation practices can be a great support for your practice, and they’ll also give your practice session a set duration, without that duration feeling like a long breath hold.

Guided meditation practices can be a great support, and they’ll also give your practice session a set duration.

Give them a try and see how they feel. See our Learn to Meditate course series, look on YouTube for guided meditations that suit you well, or try an app like Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer.

How to Start Meditating: Maintaining and Adapting Your Daily Practice

As with any other practice or discipline, maintaining a consistent daily meditation practice can be a challenge, due to common obstacles such as lack of time, distractions, and self-doubt.

Our meditation practice has distinct rhythms, and will feel very different at different times: everything from free and joyful to challenging and stuck.

Our meditation practice will feel very different at different times. We can keep a steady practice throughout this ebb and flow.

Throughout this ebb and flow, we can maintain a consistent daily meditation practice. Here are some tips to consider.

1. Tailor Your Practice to Your Needs

Your practice will change and flex with your life: your schedule, stresses, energy level, work hours, and so on. As you are setting your daily meditation routine, consider your daily schedule and responsibilities. Choose a schedule that is sustainable for your life. From there, try to be consistent, but be willing to make adjustments as needed.

This also goes for your practice each day. A big point of meditation is to experience all the rhythms of our lives, so don’t just skip meditation on days when you’re feeling “off.”

Don’t skip meditation when you’re feeling “off”—but do be gentle and flexible.

On the other hand, acknowledge that you do feel differently on different days, and don’t force yourself through long meditation experiences on days when you’re in a lot of emotional pain, exhausted, distracted, etc.

Again, prioritize quality over quantity. This is especially important when you’re starting out: You want meditation to be something you enjoy, not something you endure.

2. Experiment with Different Techniques

There are numerous meditation techniques available, each with unique benefits and approaches. As you progress in your practice, consider experimenting with different methods to find what works best for you. A few popular techniques include:

  • Mindfulness meditation practice: Place your attention on your breath or bodily sensations, observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment.
  • Loving-kindness meditation and compassion meditation: Cultivate feelings of compassion and love for yourself and others by repeating phrases such as “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe.”
  • Body scan meditation: Slowly move your attention through different parts of your body, releasing tension and promoting relaxation.

As you get into meditation, and especially if you embark on a spiritual path, you’ll discover many meditation practices, each with unique benefits.

3. Look for Meditation Community

You can always meditate on your own, based on books, videos, and other supports. In the long run, though, you’ll find that a community of fellow meditators will be among the most important supports for your meditation practice.

A community of fellow meditators is among the most important supports for your meditation practice.

Look around to see who has similar meditation interests to yours. This could be anything from a local mindfulness Meetup, to making a relationship with your local Shambhala centre or other meditation center, to finding a meditation community online.

4. Integrate Meditative Mind into Your Daily Life

In addition to formal meditation, it’s good to touch in with your practice throughout the day.

When I have a few spare moments, I like to let my body relax, and take a few long breaths in and out to let energy circulate.

When I get a few spare moments, I personally like to let my body relax, and take a few long breaths in and out. Feeling connected to my body and my breathing helps energy circulate for me—that’s usually when I can both notice how I’m feeling, and let those feelings circulate fully through my body and mind.

How to Start Meditating: Working With Common Challenges in Daily Meditation

1. Working with Wandering Attention

Wandering attention is a common challenge for both beginners and experienced meditators. Developing “calm abiding”—shamatha, the Sanskrit term for mindfulness meditation—is a process.

When your attention begins to drift during meditation, try the following:

  1. When you recognize that the attention has wandered, “let go of” the wandering thought or distracting emotion by relaxing the attention placed upon it.
  2. Return to the object of mindfulness: Bring your attention back to your breath, to the sounds around you, or to whatever experience upon which you place attention during your meditation practice.
  3. Relax: Relax with your object of mindfulness by releasing any tension you feel in your body. This might feel a bit like the way your body opens up during a sigh of relief.

One of the most important things for a daily meditation practice is being gentle with wandering attention.

One of the most important things for a daily meditation practice is being gentle with wandering attention. Our attention will wander, and if we try to control it tightly, meditation can become very difficult and unpleasant. (It’ll also make our attention more likely to wander, as holding our mindfulness too tightly creates a rebound effect.)

Noticing that your attention has been wandering can be a pleasant reminder to relax, rather than an unpleasant experience of disappointment.

Noticing that your attention has been wandering can be a pleasant reminder to relax, rather than an unpleasant experience of disappointment. See meditation as a process of simply being here, including as the attention moves about, and not as a way to “master” or “control,” and your practice will be set up for success in the long temr.

2. Working with Restlessness and Boredom

Almost all meditators experience boredom as we get deeper into the practice, and learning to rest with boredom can be a profound experience. However, “hot” restlessness and boredom is quite unpleasant, and can be a significant obstacle to maintaining a consistent meditation practice. If you find something extremely boring, it’s hard to commit to doing that thing every day!

To work with this, you can experiment with different techniques—use or don’t use a guided meditation app, for example, or use a different object of mindfulness (the breath, body sensations, sounds in your environment). See what feels best to you, and follow your instincts.

Also, if you’re getting quite bored as you meditate, you may also be sitting for too long per session. Try shorter sessions—again, don’t try to push it too much in your practice.

If you’re getting bored as you meditate, you may be sitting for too long per session.

Learning from Boredom

We might notice different types or causes of boredom in our practice.

One common cause of boredom is the effort to practice mindfulness while experiencing a lot of thoughts. This can feel like swatting away clouds of ever-buzzing insects, and is “boring” in the hot, angry way that a picnic continually interrupted by clouds of mosquitos would be.

If we are experiencing this type of hot boredom, relaxation—including physical relaxation—gentleness, and kindness to ourselves are the best approach. Try physically relaxing the muscles in your body and taking a deep breath. Don’t fight your thoughts, but try to create an open and gentle environment for them and for your other experiences.

Relaxation, gentleness, and kindness to oneself are most helpful for working with hot boredom amid clouds of thoughts.

We may also get bored because we are used to seeking out entertaining, enjoyable, or worthwhile experiences. This might be a subtle feeling that meditation is not a good use of time (not as good a use as whatever else we might want to do).

If we crave entertainment, we can experiment with appreciating the world we see and hear around us as we meditate.

To work with this, we can experiment with appreciating the world we see and hear around us as we meditate. Wood floorboards, the sound of passing cars, or the feeling of the body taking a healthy breath can be surprisingly lovely, if we experience them with a mind that notices their loveliness.

What we experience as boredom may also be fear or anxiety: fear of something we don’t want to look at, like a deeper emotional upset that our thoughts are partially obscuring.

Our boredom may also be related to fear or anxiety. Learning to feel those feelings directly in our bodies can help us be be gentle and kind with ourselves.

Learning to notice tension in our bodies can help us feel the fear directly, which can then help us relax and be gentle and kind with ourselves. You might notice a sensation like part of you (for example, your chest), is in a “force field” of buzzy, unpleasant, anxious energy, or that your upper stomach feels like it’s tensing or “holding its breath” the way you might right before you go on stage.

If you do notice these or other feelings of anxiety within your boredom, try feeling them with kindness and a willingness to open to them, and you may find that they begin to be more in communication with the rest of your system, and less static and “stuck.”

3. Working with Physical Discomfort

In my view, meditation should be physically comfortable. Of course, sitting on a cushion is new for our bodies, so we’ll have to adjust to some extent, but if meditation is causing you real physical discomfort, I’d suggest working to alleviate that.

Meditation should be physically comfortable.

Here are some things you can try:

  • Adjust your posture: Ensure your back is upright but not tight, shoulders are relaxed, and head is held high with your chin slightly tucked. Experiment with different seating options, such as cushions or chairs, to find what works best for you.
  • If you’re sitting on a cushion, make sure it’s the right height. Your knees should generally be below your hips. You can buy all different kinds of cushions and bolsters, so experiment with what feels right for you.
  • Stretch beforehand: Slightly stretching your muscles before meditation can help prevent stiffness and discomfort during your practice. You might especially want to stretch your outer hips (your IT band), as in my experience lots of sitting cross-legged can stiffen this area.
  • Listen to your body: If you experience persistent pain during meditation, adjust your posture or consider trying a different technique, such as lying down, sitting in a chair, standing up, or practicing walking meditation. Do try to have a straight back, though, whichever posture you choose.

Again, don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong if you find yourself sitting in a chair, lying on your bed, or standing up, if that’s what’s comfortable. Meditation is less about being in a specific posture, and more about working with each moment as it arises.

How to Start a Daily Meditation Practice: Get Started Today

The advice above should have you equipped with everything you need to start meditating daily. The important thing is that you start gently but consistently, and make meditation a part of your routine that you’ll look forward to. Do what works for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment freely.

Do what works for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Meditating daily is one of the best things you can do for your health, happiness, relationships, and spiritual growth. Good luck, and if there’s any further help or advice we can offer you, please let us know in the comments below!

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

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2024-04-12 17:24:14