Next time you’re on your way home from work, take a look at the people around you…
Does that man juggling two smart phones and a briefcase on the subway look relaxed?
Does that woman weaving through traffic and swearing seem happy?
Modern life has plenty of comfort and convenience, but it’s also stressful. A lot of us feel scatterbrained and overwhelmed. Sometimes it seems impossible just to focus, much less relax.
Meditation can help. You can do it anywhere and at any time. And it has incredible (and far-ranging) benefits — everything from decreasing anxiety and stress to improving your memory and even decreasing inflammation on a cellular level.
You might know this already; you know you should give meditation a shot, but life keeps getting in the way.
If you can remove the common obstacles that keep people from meditating, you can embrace a long-term practice and enjoy a more relaxed and focused life.
So let’s start there. Keep reading to find out how to meditate in five simple steps.
Meditation Doesn’t Have to be Complicated (Despite What You’ve Heard)
Meditation reminds me a lot of healthy eating and exercise. People have been overcomplicating it for decades, but the principles of what it takes to pull it off are actually pretty straightforward.
When you think “meditation,” you might have an image in your mind of a Buddhist monk sitting silently for hours in a temple or on a mountaintop.
But meditation doesn’t have to be like that. All the tools to try it — and make it a regular part of your life — are available to you wherever you’re reading this right now.
In reality, starting a medication practice is like starting any other habit like waking up early or cutting out sugar.
Here’s a basic five-step framework you can follow to start meditating and (more importantly) keep meditating:
Step 1. Commit to Short, Manageable Sessions Every Day
One of the most formidable obstacles that keeps people from establishing a regular meditation practice is going at it too hard.
You get excited about something, and you want to dive in headfirst (I’m raising my hand here). So you try to sit down for an hour a day and “just focus on your breathing.”
You burn out after two or three days! Then you beat yourself up for not having the discipline to stick to your meditation routine.
A far more sane (and sustainable) approach: commit a few minutes to meditation each and every day. Small, consistent steps trump marathon sessions.
Set a daily time quota—around 5 or 10 minutes — that’s easy to hit. B.J. Fogg, a professor and founder of Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab, used this strategy to help people build a regular flossing habit. He had them start by flossing just one tooth a day.
Once you are hitting your daily quota comfortably, you can start increasing your meditation time gradually. It’s like lifting weights; put on a little more weight than before, and keep pushing yourself.
It’s tempting to want to go at this intensely to see faster results, but resist. Set yourself up to meditate months and years down the line — and reap all the awesome benefits.
(Related: 5 Yoga Poses to De-Stress)
Step 2. Get the Logistics in Place
Starting any new habit takes conscious effort. You don’t have to think about rolling out of bed and brushing your teeth because you’ve been doing it for years. But you’ll have to work a little to make meditation a self-sustaining part of your life.
Willing yourself to meditate can work for a while, but willpower is a limited resource. You might not have enough left in the tank to force yourself to meditate after a crazy day at work. Good intentions are there, but you just can’t force yourself to follow through.
Instead of relying on willpower alone, you can change your environment to make the transition from conscious effort to habit as smooth as possible.
Carve out a regular time of your day to meditate. The morning is usually a great opportunity because things tend to be quieter and you’re more alert.
Where you meditate can also make a big difference. Find a quiet space to sit down and get away from the world. Cluttered areas can make it harder to focus, so it’s best to find somewhere where things are in order.
The person who meditates for 10 minutes every morning alone in a quiet bedroom has a much better chance of making it routine than someone who squeezes it in “whenever they can” during TV commercial breaks.
Get your logistics set up, and it’s a lot easier to build the meditation habit.
Step 3. Practice
Okay. So you’ve committed to meditate for a few minutes every day and got all your logistics in place…
Now you’re probably wondering how to do it.
People have been practicing and refining meditation for thousands of years. With such a rich history, countless meditation techniques have emerged. There’s seated meditation, walking meditation, chanting mantras, and on and on.
You can (and should!) explore different ways to meditate once you’ve made it a habit. But let’s stick to the basics for now. Keeping things simple gives you the best chance to start a practice without getting overwhelmed.
First, set a timer for the amount of time you plan to meditate. You don’t want to be obsessing about when you should end your session once you’ve begun.
Then sit down in a quiet place. You can sit cross-legged on the floor (a pad or pillow helps) or in a chair with your feet on the floor. If you have back problems, you can lie down. The key is to keep your spine straight and the rest of your body relaxed. Close your eyes if you like.
Breathe. Inhale deeply through your nose, pause for a moment, and then exhale through your mouth. You want your breathing to be slow and deep. There’s no need to force anything here.
Watch. The “goal” of this basic style of meditation is to simply pay attention to your breathing. Follow the inhales, pauses, and exhales. You’ll be able to focus on your breathing for a bit, but it’s only a matter of time before random thoughts enter your mind and throw you off.
Check yourself and refocus. Don’t freak out when you notice your thoughts are wandering; getting angry or fighting your thoughts isn’t helpful. Just keep breathing and refocus your mind on that. It’s a constant process of noticing stray thoughts and checking yourself.
Keep going until the timer goes off. You’re done. Adopting a basic meditation practice is straightforward, but you’ll probably be shocked how difficult it is to stay focused at first. Just keep at it; you’ll only get more focused and aware over time.
(Related: How To Deal With Stress)
Step 4. Cultivate the Right Attitude
Another thing that keeps people from sticking with meditation is their attitude. They get frustrated when they feel like they aren’t “doing it right” or noticing results.
But meditation is a bit different than other healthy habits like eating right or going to the gym. It’s easy to find out if you lost weight; you just have to hop on the scale. But it’s harder to define a meditation “success.”
This can be frustrating, especially if you’re a goal-oriented person. That’s why it’s crucial to change your expectations. You “succeed” at meditation by sitting down and doing it when you committed to do it and gradually lengthening your sessions.
Some days it’ll be easy to fall into a state of perfect awareness. Others might feel like pulling teeth. It’s all part of the process. The key is to keep at it.
And be kind to yourself. Beating yourself up after (or during) the inevitable difficult sessions is counterproductive. There’s no reason to discourage yourself. You should congratulate yourself instead; you’ve already “won” just by showing up.
It’s called a “meditation practice” for a reason…
Show up when you plan to show up. And give it your best. The results might be hard to see sometimes, but they’re piling up.
Step 5. Expand Your Practice into Other Areas of Your Life
One of the coolest things about starting a meditation practice is you can take the principle — total awareness of what you’re doing in the present moment — and carry it over into other aspects of your life.
“Meditation” isn’t limited to strictly the sessions you set aside for it. Throughout the day, you’ll find plenty of sessions for little mini-meditation sessions if you just pay attention.
Working on the computer? Take a second to check in and focus on your breathing.
Riding the train home? Instead of thinking about all the chores you have to do later, pull your mind back into the present moment.
Every dull, mundane part of your day (like washing the dishes) is another opportunity to bring your awareness into the present moment.
If you practice carrying this focus on the present moment into other parts of your day, you’ll find yourself calmer and less overwhelmed.
Almost everyone has heard about the incredible benefits of meditation.
A lot of people have tried it, but most struggle to stick with it and make it a regular part of their lives.
By following the five steps laid out above, you can remove the obstacles that tripped them up. You can enjoy a happier, more fulfilling life for months and years to come.
Have you tried meditation? What are some of the benefits you’ve seen? Leave a comment and share your experience!