How to start meditating if you've never done it before, and the tools you need to do it

How to meditate

Learning to meditate is not difficult, but mastering meditation takes a lifetime of practice. Even the Dalai Lama, who spends hours meditating each day, admits that his mind sometimes wanders, rather than remaining focused. And that's okay.

Everyone has a "monkey mind," according to Buddha, who used the term to describe the way our mind tends to drift from subject to subject and is easily distracted - just like a monkey jumping from branch to branch while swinging through the trees.

The point of meditation is not to end monkey mind - that can't be done - but rather, to slowly learn to gain control over it so that life is lived appreciating the present moment, instead of dwelling on the what-ifs or I-should-haves.

How to meditate for beginners

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Here's how to begin meditating. Remember, you practice meditation, you never become perfect at it, so don't get discouraged when your mind makes those inevitable leaps.

  1. Find a spot that's relatively quiet where you'll be undisturbed.
  2. Sit with your back straight, your head aligned with your spine, and your hands resting comfortably on your thighs.
  3. If sitting in a chair, your feet should be flat on the floor. If you prefer a cross-legged position on the floor, make sure your knees and ankles are comfortably positioned so they don't go numb during your meditation session. If you want to sit, you may like a traditional meditation cushion like a zabuton or a stuffed meditation mat like a zafu. If you are uncomfortable sitting on the floor for long periods of time, a meditation bench is an excellent choice. We break down the differences between these three types of seats at the end of this piece.
  4. Close your eyes, or if you prefer to keep them open, lower your lids slightly, direct your gaze toward the floor in front of you, and don't try to focus on anything in particular.
  5. Take a minute or two to settle yourself, scanning your body for any areas of tension or discomfort. Adjust your position if necessary.
  6. Bring your attention to your breath. Don't try to control your breathing; just observe the flow of air in and out of your nose. Notice the sensation of air temperature and movement through your nostrils.
  7. After a couple of minutes, it's time to truly begin meditating. The simplest form of mindfulness meditation is to count your breath. On your next exhalation, mentally count, "One." With your next inhalation, count two. Continue to focus on your breathing, counting each inhalation and exhalation, until you reach 10. At this point, start over again at one.
  8. Each time you catch your mind wandering during the counting - and it absolutely will - bring your attention back to your breathing, and start over again on one. Don't judge yourself, get annoyed, or give up just because monkey mind came into play; everyone experiences this during meditation no matter how long they have been practicing.
  9. Don't worry about the length of your meditation session in the beginning. Just sit and count your breaths until you feel relaxed. However, as your practice deepens, you'll want to start timing your sessions, and perhaps slowly increasing them. A good goal is 20 minutes of meditation each day, but if you only have the time or desire for 10 minutes, five minutes, or even three minutes, that's perfectly okay.
  10. Gently open your eyes when your session is complete, and stand up slowly. Give your entire body a stretch, and enjoy the feeling of focused calm.

What type of meditation cushion or bench should I use?

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Many meditators like to use a traditional meditation cushion called a zabuton. The zabuton makes it far easier to sit for extended periods with legs crossed. If you prefer a meditation support that's somewhere between a traditional chair and a flat mat, you might find that a zafu is better for your needs. Zafus are round, firm pillows that are stuffed with buckwheat hulls. They're the traditional prop for meditation in the Zen tradition.

If sitting in any type of cross-legged position draws complaints from your knees, but you still prefer to meditate in a traditional pose, rather than in a chair, you may prefer a meditation bench. Below, we've listed a few great options.

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