June 20, 2024


Science It Works

A beginner’s guide to meditation and mindfulness

To meditate, all you need is a place where you can focus.
To meditate, all you need is a place where you can focus.

Zdenka Darula/Shutterstock

In the US, the amount of people practicing meditation more than tripled from 2012 to 2017. 

While meditation has a rich cultural history in countries like India, China, and Japan, it’s becoming increasingly popular in the Western world — and with good reason. 

Meditation can have extensive mental and physical health benefits, and you need less than 10 minutes alone each day to do it. It might seem difficult to get started and keep up a routine, but the following guide breaks it down for beginners. 

Table of Contents

Meditation for beginners

Meditation isn’t about learning how to empty your mind or stop your thoughts. Instead, meditation is the practice of training your attention and focus from a place of non-judgement.

Mindfulness meditation is the most common type of meditation in the West — and perhaps the easiest one to start. Mindfulness has to do with paying attention to what you’re feeling and observing in the present moment. 

It’s important to recognize that meditation and mindfulness are not one in the same. 

If the main idea of meditation is to be present and aware of your thoughts and feelings, mindfulness is the ongoing practice of honing that awareness and reconnecting to what we do and why we do it.

For example, if you’re totally immersed in a single task, and not thinking about the past or imagining the future, you’re being mindful. Or, if you go for a walk and feel lost in nature, becoming attuned to the chirping birds or falling leaves, you’re also being mindful. In other words: meditation isn’t the only way to be mindful.

On the other hand, meditation is the intentional practice of mindfulness. Instead of focusing on nature or a specific task, you’re focusing on each inhale and exhale of your breathing. This type of mindful breathing is an important and useful way to anchor your focus in the present moment.

How to meditate 

To learn how to meditate effectively, it’s helpful to have some guidance. Click to play our audio meditation guides in the background as you start your practice. Try the two-minute meditation first, and once you feel comfortable, try the five-minute and ten-minute meditations. 

2-minute guided meditation 

5-minute guided meditation 

10-minute guided meditation 

Editor’s note: These guided meditations were created exclusively for Business Insider by Diana Winston, the director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. To access more free guided meditations from UCLA, visit the website or download the UCLA Mindful App.

Mindfulness meditation can be done anywhere that you can focus. Here are a few steps to help you meditate: 

  1. Find a quiet space. Make sure there is nothing to disturb you before you start meditation. Turn your phone on silent and go into a room away from others. 

  2. Sit in a comfortable position. You can sit on top of a cushion or blanket, on the floor or in a chair. Sit upright, but don’t tense up — your body should feel relaxed. 

  3. Breathe gently. Focus your attention on each inhale and exhale. Alternatively, you can begin with a body scan: focus on each part of the body, down from your toes and up to your head, pausing to notice the sensations.

  4. Let distractions come and go. If your mind wanders, acknowledge the thought that has distracted you, but do not dwell on it. Then, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Getting distracted when meditating is inevitable and one of the biggest worries for beginners — but learning how to manage distraction is a vital part of the process.  

Meditating for just five to 10 minutes each day is an achievement to be proud of. Some people like to meditate for as long as 30 minutes to 45 minutes once they become more experienced, but there are benefits even with short amounts of practice. 

If possible, try to meditate at the same time every day, as this will help you build a habit so you build meditation into your daily schedule. And if you have to skip a day for whatever reason, don’t be too hard on yourself — just try to get back to your routine the next day. 

Some people choose to meditate every morning, right after they wake up. Morning meditation is a staple of some successful entrepreneurs’ schedules, and it can help improve your focus and clarity for the day ahead. 

Others choose to meditate right before they go to sleep, as it can promote relaxation and help your drift off easier. Meditation for sleep is a bit different than in the day, as you normally wouldn’t want to fall asleep as a result of your practice. 

You may prefer a specific posture for meditation, depending on the time of day or your physical condition. While most people sit for meditation, you can also lie down, kneel, or stand — just make sure your position is comfortable and you’re able to stay focused. 

Overall, to get started on the right foot and develop an effective practice, it can be helpful to know these meditation tips for beginners.

mindfulness meditation infographic
mindfulness meditation infographic

Skye Gould/Business Insider

Meditation types and techniques

On top of your basic mindfulness practice, there are many other different types of meditation you can try. 

While all these forms of meditation incorporate some aspects of mindfulness, they also offer participants an alternative anchor of focus during meditation. Here’s how: 

Loving kindness meditation 

With loving kindness meditation, the aim is to direct feelings of compassion towards yourself and others. 

It’s easy to add this on to any basic mindfulness meditation. For example, instead of just focusing on your breath, try thinking about someone else in your head. Then, say this phrase aloud: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe.”

You can direct these positive thoughts toward yourself, someone you love, or someone you don’t particularly like at the moment. In fact, loving kindness meditation has been found to help improve self-esteem and even resolve conflicts. 

Body scan meditation 

During a body scan meditation, you’ll be focusing on bodily sensations, as opposed to just your breath. 

For example, you can start at your toes, and take a few moments to focus on how they feel when they’re grounded on the floor. Then, move through your legs, chest, arms, shoulders, neck, and head, slowly noticing the sensations of each body part. 

Body scan meditation can be especially useful for reducing chronic pain or dealing with tension, stress, or trauma. 

Walking meditation  

During walking meditation, you’ll focus on each step as you mindfully lift and place your foot on the ground. You can walk anywhere — a hallway inside, a sidewalk in the city, or out in a park. 

Walking meditation may be worth trying if you don’t like sitting still for a traditional mindfulness meditation. It offers the same advantages of meditation — plus the health benefits of walking. 

Benefits of meditation

Research has found that meditation can improve your mental and physical health in a variety of ways. 

Here are seven science-backed benefits of meditation

  • Better focus and concentration. Studies have found that meditation can increase grey matter in parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning. 

  • Improve self-esteem and self-awareness. Self-observation without judgement is one of the core tenets of meditation, and it can help you see yourself in a new way.  

  • Reduce stress. Meditation can lower levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — and help you feel more calm and relaxed. 

  • Help manage anxiety or depression. Daily meditation is one of the best natural treatment methods for anxiety disorders, as well as other mental illnesses. 

  • Fight addiction. Research has found that mindfulness training can help prevent future relapses for those with substance use disorders. 

  • Control pain. Many doctors recommend meditation – especially
    body scans — to help manage chronic pain. 

  • Promote altruistic behavior. Some studies have found that meditation may even reduce implicit bias and fight against racial prejudice. 

Best meditation apps

To help you get started with meditation, our colleagues at Insider Reviews have put together a list of the best meditation apps.

Some of these guided apps are well-suited for specific purposes, such as: 

This article was reviewed by Erin Woo, MEd, assistant director of mindfulness in education at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University. 

Read the original article on Insider