The Beginner's Guide to Meditation (start now for less than the price of a latte)
Meditation has exploded in popularity due to the widespread acceptance of benefits like lowered stress and anxiety levels and improved well-being
You don't need to achieve "monk-level" status to enjoy meditation's benefits: These three things will set you on the right path
There are a number of options out there for the beginner meditator: Try any of our (free) recommendations to start practicing meditation
Some vendors may pay a small commission for purchases made through links on this post. Commissions are paid with no extra cost to you. See our disclosure statement for full details.
Meditation Has Exploded in Popularity: Here's Why
Meditation has exploded in popularity, due in large part to widespread acceptance of its benefits including lower stress and anxiety levels, and improved well-being, focus, and attention. In fact, the number of Americans practicing meditation has more than tripled in recent years. Today, almost everyone knows someone that swears by meditation or mindfulness exercises.
The good news is that meditation is more accessible than ever and making meditation part of your overall approach to well-being doesn't have to be hard.
There is a large body of evidence from the last 30 or so years that demonstrates the benefits of meditation. A review of 47 studies involving more than 3500 participants, and a large scale study on meditation concluded that practicing meditation can result in significant changes in our brains, behaviors, bodies and stress levels.
Although more and more people are trying meditation, many people who try it don't stick with it long enough to reap its benefits. Many people find meditation exercises hard, or they struggle to fit meditation into their schedules. The good news is that meditation is more accessible than ever and making meditation part of your overall approach to well-being doesn't have to be hard. It can even be done for less than the price of a latte.
Demystifying the Secrets of Meditation
Think of the word ‘meditation’ as a general term that covers many types of mental training activities. It's just like how the word ‘sports’ includes many types of athletic activities. Just like you don't need to be an expert in sports to exercise, you don't need to be an expert on the various types of meditation to meditate. That said, it’s good to know a little about the different concepts. A simple way to think about meditation by breaking it down into two broad and popular categories: mindfulness and goal-oriented meditation.
Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness is about maintaining an awareness of your thoughts and feelings. Practicing mindfulness involves practicing paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, impulses, and sensations without judging them as either good or bad. Mindfulness is a mental state. Practicing mindfulness meditation helps cultivate the skills to be more mindful. With practice, and over time, we become more tuned into the present moment, more balanced, and less prone to rehashing past thoughts and experiences or thinking and worrying about the future. Increased mindfulness has been shown to reduce suffering and distress and increase overall well-being. There is also significant research around mindfulness for PTSD, and several veterans organizations promote its use to their members.
Goal-oriented meditation: Meditation can focus on specific goals like becoming more compassionate, grateful or loving, for example. Goal-oriented meditation includes methods of creative visualization and also guided meditation. In these methods, the intention is to be aware of and focus on a desired future state. Compassion-based and emotional practices are powerful ways to develop many beneficial skills like self-acceptance, compassion, general well-being, and lower social stress, according to the large scale study mentioned above.
Meditate Like a Buddhist Monk
The trick to benefiting from meditation is finding a way to carve out a little time in your schedule to practice it regularly. Some Buddhist monks go into intensive meditation “retreats” during which they meditate during all their waking hours. If you're up for it, you can book a vacation in any of these top meditation retreats and give it a shot!
Fortunately, you don't really need to achieve "monk-level" meditation to enjoy its benefits. Doing these three things will set you on the right path to your meditation journey:
Start now, and make it part of your routine:We recommend jumping into mediation by practicing simple exercises that provide guidance and positive reinforcement. Following a simple daily program is a great way to begin practicing. A daily program provides the right level of structure to ease you into mediation. There are hundreds of programs to choose from, and we've listed a few of our favorites below. Starting now is the best way to accelerate the benefits of mediation. Why wait?
Create a quiet and comfortable place to practice: Don't over complicate things when looking for a place to meditate. You don't need to seek out the perfect peace and tranquility of a mountain top or Buddhist monastery. But, you do want to avoid major distractions like loud noises or family members interrupting you. A relatively quiet spot (a little background noise is fine) where you can sit uninterrupted is ideal. If you're meditating at home, it's good to let those know around you that you don't want to be bothered for the period you've set aside (e.g. 15 - 30 minutes). Also, it's important to be comfortable, so what you wear and where you sit are considerations. If finding a quiet spot is next to impossible, you might want to try some noise cancelling headphones like these ones. You can sit anywhere that’s comfortable, but some people swear by meditation cushions like this one, which promotes good posture and relaxation. Sitting on a meditation cushion may also send a clear "do not disturb" message to your family!
Be patient with yourself: Meditating can be challenging at first. It's very natural for our minds to jump from one thought to another, and many people find "quieting the mind" hard, if not impossible in the beginning. Progress is gradual and requires that you stay with your program, even if you don't initially perceive any benefits. We suggest completing a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks of regular practice, especially if the concept is totally new to you. Even if you find it challenging to settle your mind, it's important to give yourself credit when you see minor shifts in your ability to quiet your mind or see changes to your mood and overall stress levels. Like with everything, change takes time and it’s important to recognize progress.
Start Meditating Now (For Less than the Price of a Latte)
One of the great things about the exploding popularity of meditation is the number of good options available to anyone who wants to try meditation. Today, the beginner meditator can choose from any number of options to begin a guided meditation journey, and start enjoying the benefits.
Here are a few of our favourites:
Real Happiness.The Power of Meditation: Try this 28-day program from New York Times bestselling author and meditation pioneer, Sharon Saltzberg. Learn the basics of posture, breathing, and the finer points of calming the mind, distraction, dealing and stress and anxiety. Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation is a complete guide that explains how and why meditation works, provides an extensive selection of FAQs and provides guided meditations to start you on your journey. We much prefer the kindle (or paper back) format of this book, but you can get the audiobook free from Audible if you sign up for their free trial membership.
Everyday Meditation: Be guided by certified meditation expert Ceasar Barajas through 20 days of meditation over the course of four weeks. Work on breathing, visualization, and mindfulness for energy and stress relief. Start off slowly and build toward the ability to meditate for a full 20 minutes. This is a perfect introduction for newcomers to meditation, especially those that enjoy audiobooks already. This audiobook is included part of audible.com's guided wellness collection, and is free for existing audible members and also free with audible's free trial membership (see banner)
Little Book of Mindfulness: If you're not ready to jump into a program, then the Little Book of Mindfulness may be perfect for you. Short, 10 minute exercises allow you to take "bite sized" approach to meditation and mindfulness practice. Don't let the small size of the book fool you, author Patrizia Collard, a renowned psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher provide readers with more than 30 short exercises that you can pick and choose from to insert a bit of relaxation into your busy day. The kindle edition is available for less than $3.