I was first introduced to meditation through a book on martial arts. Kneeling on the floor of my bedroom as a teenager, I did my best to follow the book’s instructions, closing my eyes and attempting to visualize a bright, perfect sphere of light. I was only able to do it for a minute or two before getting distracted, however, and I later learned why: visualizations are generally not the easiest way to start. If you want to learn how to meditate, I highly recommend you begin by focusing your attention on something a little more concrete: your breath.
So here’s how to do that. Just follow this simple 3-step introduction, and you’ll be meditating in minutes and on your way to establishing a daily meditation practice.
Meditation for Beginners: 3 Steps to Success
- Find a quiet place to sit.
- Count every breath you take.
- Stay awake while remaining deeply relaxed.
Step 1: Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit.
Try to find the quietest place you can to meditate. The less distractions, the better. If you’re just trying it for the first time, you can sit on a chair or grab a pillow or a cushion and sit cross-legged on the floor. Your posture is important, so don’t slouch–maintaining a straight spine is key–and be sure that you can sit in the same position without moving for the full length of your meditation session. As your experience grows, you’ll be able to sit still for longer and longer periods of time.
Step 2: Count every breath you take.
Once you are settled and seated comfortably, you can either close your eyes or leave them slightly open, gazing at a point on the floor in front of you. Now you’re ready to begin practicing the art of attention. As you breathe in, pay attention to your inhalation, feeling it fill your lungs, and then exhale, easily and naturally, counting “One” in your mind as you do so. Do this with your next breath, counting “Two” as you exhale, and with the next, “Three,” and so on. When you get to “Five,” begin again with the next breath at “One.” 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. If you get distracted and lose count, no problem–just start again at “One.” Don’t force your breathing, but allow yourself to completely relax while remaining fully alert, focused only on your breathing as you count silently in your mind, one breath at a time.
Step 3: Stay awake while remaining deeply relaxed.
The trick to meditation is finding the delicate balance between being really alert and really relaxed. Usually when we try to focus our attention, we tend to tense up, however slightly. And when we allow ourselves to deeply relax, we usually get drowsy and may even fall asleep. But by counting your breathing, you combine alert, focused attention (counting numbers in your mind) with deep, soothing relaxation (doing nothing but sitting perfectly still and breathing in and out, in and out).
If you get good at it, repeating smooth breathing counts of 1-5 without getting distracted, sooner or later you’re going to find that you’re in a different state of consciousness–one that feels awake, at ease, free, peaceful, and calm. It’s like the silent depths of a vast, mysterious ocean, forever untouched by ripples or waves on the surface. Everything that you were previously worried about or preoccupied with gradually falls away, and there is only the beautiful simplicity of your breathing, here and now.
That’s meditation for beginners.
Note: When you’re finished, open your eyes, and take a minute or two to adjust to the end of the session. If you end and stand up too abruptly, it can be jarring. But if you can transition slowly and smoothly, you are more likely to feel the “aftereffects” of your meditation session carry over into the next activity of your day.