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Meditation is one of the best ways to start living more mindfully. However, for many people, starting this habit can be intimidating with so many unclear questions like how long to meditate, what’s the best time to meditate, and, overall, actually how to meditate! This mindfulness for beginners guide aims to answer those questions and more.
My relationship with meditation has been rocky, to say the least.
One of the eight limbs of yoga, I’ve long been aware of the supposed benefits of meditation – but in reality, sitting in stillness is one of the hardest things to do.
Ever a perfectionist, I would become frustrated with my seeming inability to find ‘stillness’ in my mind – instead, my thoughts would skip from the breath to this to the breath to that – and soon, I would get up and stop because I felt like I had better things to do than sit and do nothing.
If I’m honest, it wasn’t until my yoga teacher training that I began to have a deeper understanding of meditation.
We had a wonderful teacher, Dada, a monk with a permanent smile on his face as sunny as the bright orange robes he wore every single day.
He would lead us through 30 minutes of meditation every morning at 7 am, and it was through him that I began to understand that even after months, years, even, everyone deals with that wandering mind (known as the ‘monkey mind’) in meditation – and that you shouldn’t consider yourself a failure and give up because of that alone.
I realised that everyone struggles to find stillness in their mind, and that the practice of meditation is noticing when your mind wanders and simply bringing it back, without judgement.
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I also realised that my failure to give myself that time, each day, to dedicate totally to my mind, was a total failure to put myself and my well-being first.
That meditation is like a physical yoga practice for the mind – it needs to be worked at, every day, in order to see results.
I still struggle with meditation (I expect to for a long time – you can’t expect to suddenly reach enlightenment just because you sit with stillness for 10 minutes a day!), but it is becoming easier, and something I can really see the benefits of as time passes.
When we talk about meditation, it goes hand in hand with this ‘buzzword’ that’s really grown in popularity lately: mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be defined as the practice of living intentionally, maintaining awareness of our present feelings, thoughts, and emotions, and actively living in the present, rather than focusing on the past or the future.
Meditation helps you to be more mindful, more aware of your thoughts and intentions, and in turn, can help you to recognise negative thoughts for what they are: simply fluctuations of the mind.
Mindfulness for beginners:
If like me, you’ve read enough about the benefits of meditation and want to try this practice for yourself, this guide may be a good place to start.
What is meditation?
Meditation is the act of turning the mind inwards: when you meditate you are fully awake, but you are channelling your thoughts deliberately on a specific mantra or focus (often the breath) and attempting to find stillness of the mind. Essentially, meditation is to quieten the mind.
How to meditate:
For many of us, simply sitting in silence without any focus will quickly lead to our thoughts completely overwhelming our mind, rather than silencing it all together.
One of the most common ways to meditate, therefore, is to focus the mind on one thing: whether that’s repeating a mantra (for example, repeating om in your head), opening your eyes and fixing your gaze on an object, or simply focusing on the breath.
Another popular form of meditation for beginners is to follow a guided meditation. There are many different types of guided meditation you could try, from meditation for sleep, meditation for anxiety, to meditation for gratitude or happiness, so it helps to know what you are looking to get out of your practice.
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I really like the features the Calm app has to offer: loads of guided meditations, with plenty of ‘7 days of calm/happiness/meditation for stress etc’ options to choose from and mindfulness for beginners courses. It has lots of sleep stories perfect for sleep meditation and relaxation, and nature soundscapes which are just the most perfect way to drift into a deep sleep.
That being said, the Insight app offers a lot of the same features, plus an entire section of talks, lectures, and songs/poems on yoga and meditation that I find very interesting. Insight Timer also has (duh) a timer, allowing you to set a timer for your own independent meditation practice, listening to a soothing soundscape as you do, and being alerted to the end of your meditation by a gong sound. Insight does have a paid version to give you access to more features, but I haven’t used this.
Here are a few other tips to help you learn how to meditate and prepare yourself to get the most out of your session:
- Find a quiet place free from distractions and interruptions, and try to meditate in the same place every day if you can
- If it helps, light candles, burn incense or play music such as nature soundscapes or gongs to help you relax and find stillness and calm
- Sit comfortably, ideally cross-legged or in lotus pose, using as many bolsters or pillows as you need to (alternatively, you can lie down – but this is best for meditation used for deep relaxation or sleep)
- Try to maintain good posture – keep your spine long and shoulders rolled back with no tension or stiffness in the body.
- Set a timer so you don’t have to worry about meditating for too long, or how long you’ve been meditating for during your practice.
- Let your hands lie loosely in your lap or on your knees, and lower your gaze before gently closing your eyes.
- Focus on the breath – inhale…exhale…inhale…exhale – to help you still the mind
- If your thoughts wander, simply bring some awareness to that, and then return your attention to the breath or your mantra
- Be consistent – meditation is like a workout for the mind and needs consistent practice in order to see results, much like you need to exercise the body consistently to see any real improvements.
- Stay open-minded, and try different forms of meditation if the first one doesn’t suit you.
How long to meditate for?
How long you should meditate for really depends entirely on you and your lifestyle. When first starting out, trying to meditate for 5 – 10 minutes a day should be an amount of time suitable for most people. As you progress, you may find that you wan to meditate for 10 minutes twice a day, or for longer. See what works best for you.
During my yoga teacher training, we would meditate for 30 minutes every morning, but that doesn’t really suit my day-to-day lifestyle right now so I’ve definitely cut back the time I meditate for (and I definitely don’t always manage to meditate every day!).
What’s the best time to meditate?
The best time to meditate is usually first thing in the morning – or, last thing at night. However, once again, it totally depends on what works best for you. Find a time where you won’t be disturbed or interrupted, or worrying about an urgent task you need to get done.
The only reason meditating late at night isn’t always recommended is because you might find yourself falling asleep, which isn’t the true purpose of meditation!
Can you meditate lying down?
Yes, you meditate in whatever position you feel most comfortable! However, it is more commonly recommended that you meditate in a crossed-legged position as it will keep you more alert and prevent you from falling asleep while meditating.
What about sleep meditation?
Sleep meditation is often a guided meditation that aims to help you relax your body and let go of thoughts before going to sleep. This can be an extremely effective tool for people who struggle to get to sleep at night, and who find their minds are often too full of the day to fully relax. Here, you can meditate lying down, listening to a guided meditation before you go to sleep.
A similar alternative is listening to a sleep story, available on apps such a Calm, which aims to help you relax and fall to sleep while listening to the story. I rarely ever make it to the end of the stories before I’m fast asleep!
Yoga Nidra – also known as yogic sleep – is a state of consciousness between sleeping and waking, typically reached by a guided meditation for deep relaxation of the mind and body. It’s considered an extremely powerful meditation technique to relax the mind and achieve a sense of wholeness.
While it’s not conventional to fall asleep during Yoga Nidra, many people do find it an effective technique for achieving a deeply relaxed, peaceful state that can help them drift off to sleep.
Meditation, Mindfulness, & Minimalism
When I first started adopting a more minimalist life, I didn’t instantly make the connection with yoga or mindfulness.
However, the more I’ve adapted to living a life with minimalism and frugal living as core elements to my lifestyle, the more I’ve realised how essential knowing what you value – what makes you happy – is to create a life that focuses on the things that ‘bring you joy’ and disregarding all the rest.
Living mindfully enables you to act with intention – to become aware of your thoughts and emotions, and recognise the triggers for your happiness, anxiety, sadness, and frustration, and re-organize your life as you want, with more of the good and less of the bad.
Meditation, finally, can be fundamental to finding that intentional mindset. For helping you to still your mind, find a sense of ‘self’, quiet, and calm, allowing you to move forward in the rest of your life with mindfulness and an awareness of the things that you truly value.
So when we talk about mindfulness for beginners, I see it as an over-arching umbrella for meditation, minimalism, living with intention, and any other tactics that help you bring your mind into the present.
They are all connected.