A Beginner's Guide to Meditation
Think about the practice as zoning in, not spacing out, says our expert.
During these stressful times, many people are turning to meditation to help them relax. For first timers, learning a new skill (albeit, a relaxing one) can feel overwhelming—or even daunting. However, Susie Levan, a life coach and meditation teacher, doesn't believe that practicing meditation should feel overly complicated. "Anyone can meditate regardless of age, schooling, or income," she explains, noting that "there are many myths and misconceptions that keep people from meditating." Ahead, she debunks those myths and explains exactly how to begin your own practice.
Think meditation is a mysterious, hard-to-master exercise? Think again, says Levan. "People assume that it's complicated and time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be," she says. Before getting started, redefine your expectations: Think about the practice of meditation as "zoning in," as opposed to spacing out. "In other words, meditation is a formal practice of setting time aside to train the mind through connecting with your breath—and there are countless ways to do so," adds Levan. Don't get hung up on the idea that you need to quiet your mind completely the first time, she notes. There are many ways to meditate, and whichever way works for you is the right way to do it.
It's impossible to fail.
The most important thing those new to meditation need to know, explains Levan, is that you can't do anything wrong, and you certainly can't fail. "Meditation is about connecting with your breath," she explains. "It's about being present and disengaging from the mental chatter in your head—those distracting, incessant, and uncontrollable daily thoughts."
Begin with your breath, then get comfortable.
Start your practice by minding your breathing. "Your breath awareness is your main focus," she says. "It will help you become grounded, centered, and present." Before you sit down, however, Levan suggests changing into loose and comfortable clothing and finding a quiet environment where you won't be disturbed or distracted. "Find a comfortable, ordinary chair, sit in an upright position, relax your shoulders, and settle your body. Close your eyes and bring your full attention to your breath."
Gentle, rhythmic breathing is key.
Begin by taking three full, conscious breaths. Levan suggests inhaling deeply and holding that breath for a moment before exhaling through your mouth. "Keep your breathing easy and slow at first—gentle and rhythmic," she says. "Allow your breath to settle into its own natural flow." During this part, try not to think about the past or the future; instead, be present in the moment.
Timing is everything.
Don't expect to be able to do marathon meditation sessions immediately. "I recommend that you meditate for no more than three to five minutes at the beginning and then increase the time weekly to a maximum of 20 minutes," she says. To get the most out of your sessions, Levan advises setting a kitchen timer or an alarm. This removes the temptation to continually check the clock to find out how long you've been meditating or how long you have left.