Meditation for beginners: 6 dos and don’ts for first-timers

Want to decrease stress and anxiety while increasing awareness and happiness? Meditation could be the answer.

If the idea of slowing down, relaxing and taking care of yourself psychologically, physically, and spiritually, appeals to you, meditation may just be the thing.

Research shows the health benefits of regular meditation practice are plentiful and can include everything from improving sleep quality and brain function to combating depression and anxiety.

But given we’re used to being bombarded with stimulation (just look at the stream of notifications on your phone), sitting in silence and clearing your mind of distractions may be easier said than done.

To help get you started, meditation expert and Soul Alive founder Luke McLeod offers six tips for beginners.

1. Don’t take it too seriously

Meditation is often introduced to people as a type of “prescription”, e.g. “Do this and it will fix that (such lower stress levels)”.

However, approaching it in this manner won’t help, advises Luke.

“Meditation is all about opening yourself up to the present moment and if you have this ‘fix me’ mentality heading into it, it will actually work as a barrier,” he says.

“Instead, shift your approach to one of simply wanting to do it, rather than needing to – this will work wonders.”

2. Stretch and breathe

Just as you have a pre-bed routine of face washing and teeth cleaning, it’s important to develop a pre-meditation ritual.

“Just like with physical exercise, schedule time for a warm-up before you begin meditation can really help,” says Luke.

“This will allow your body to relax a bit and therefore make it easier for your mind to settle.

“I would recommend doing some simple stretching and deep breathing for a couple of minutes before you meditate.”

3. Sit comfortably

You’ll have likely seen images of blissful spiritual types sitting cross legged and pretzel-like, but don’t let that put you off.

“When starting out we often think we have to sit in the lotus position,” says Luke.

“But this isn’t the case at all. It can be quite uncomfortable for a lot of us, particularly if we’re not that flexible.

“Instead, start meditating simply sitting in a chair or laying down.”

4. Let your mind wander

Another common misconception is meditation is about stopping thoughts.

If this is your goal, you’re going to become very frustrated, says Luke.

“When you catch yourself wandering off, it’s actually a good thing,” he says.

“That’s you becoming more self-aware and is something to be celebrated not criticised.”

Given we live in such a results-oriented society, don’t get frustrated or discouraged if you don’t feel you’ve “mastered” meditation after a session.

Ditch the guilt and frustration.

5. Find your style

There’s no one-size-fits all form of meditation.

You may want to try several types until you find the one that resonates with you.

“Explore and try a variety of types of meditation when starting out,” suggests Luke.

“Once you do find a type you enjoy, stick with it for at least three months as this will allow you to go deeper with the practice.

“Progress with meditation will come in the depth of your practice, not the width.”

6. Be aware of ‘bliss’

Luke cautions against attachment to the “blissful” moment that often arrives after some time of practising.

“Eventually you’ll likely experience what is commonly known as a ‘blissful moment’,” says Luke. “This is when you feel a sense of peacefulness; where everything seems to just melt away.

“Even though this moment is wonderful, you need to be careful of it as it will also create a desire of wanting to experience it again.

“Any expectation, when it comes to meditation, will become a barrier.”

Instead, Luke advises to go into each meditation session as if it was your first.

meditation guide

5 meditation methods to try

Transcendental meditation

The goal of transcendental meditation (TCM) is to transcend your state of being through the repetition of a personally assigned mantra for 20 minutes, twice daily.

Mindfulness meditation

Put simply, mindfulness meditation is the basic act of being aware of what you are doing in the present moment, be it while you’re walking to the shops, or brushing your teeth.

Guided meditation

Perhaps the easiest for first-timers, guided meditation is led by a guide who uses their voice to encourage a deep state of relaxation. You can do this via several smartphone apps.

Breath awareness meditation

Offering many of the same benefits as mindfulness (including reduced anxiety and improved concentration), breathfulness uses the inhale and exhale of the breath as a focal point.

Body scan meditation

Focusing on consciously relaxing different parts of the body, from the feet up to the head and back again, this process is a great way of relieving physical tension in the body at the same time.

Written by Paul Ewart.