how to meditate
(the ultimate guide)
Did you know that most people don’t make the most of their meditation practice? They sit down to meditate and hope for the best, trying to still the mind without preparation. Often it can be a frustrating and fruitless experience.
I would know because I did it this way for many years!
The reason people meditate in this way is that they have a slight misconception. They think that they need to meditate so they can become more relaxed. Of course, this is partly true. But if we start meditation in an agitated or restless state, we will often get nowhere. Or even worse, we can actually magnify our restlessness and agitation.
However, if we take steps to relax before our meditation practice, then we will be better able to meditate well and deepen that relaxation.
In this post, we’ll learn how to meditate in 4 very simple steps. The system I have laid out here will help you slow down the mind and relax before you even start your practice. The four steps are:
If you follow a structured system like this, you’ll find that you can go deeper into your practice. This system is far more powerful than most meditation techniques, and will bring you greater peace and joy.
You may feel there are a lot of steps here, but I assure you, it’s simple once you get used to it. If you want to make it really easy on yourself, download the free meditation starter pack below. It lays out this whole system in simple steps. You’ll receive a video, a guided meditation, a printout, and a calendar checklist. This will make it far easier for you to learn this powerful technique.
How to Meditate: Getting Started
Find a good chair
It’s important that you have an upright chair with a firm base, so you can sit with a straight spine. If you choose to sit on the floor, ensure that you can sit with a straight spine and that your knees are below the level of your hips (hint: sit on a cushion). I usually recommend a chair for beginners.
Set aside a space
Set up a meditation space in your home where you can go and meditate every day without needing to rearrange any furniture. Place your chair or cushion in the space. Also, add flowers, candles or incense to appeal to the senses. Make your meditation area sacred and beautiful. Do a Google Image search for more inspiration.
Decide when/how long you will sit
Consistency is the most important aspect of building your meditation practice. Choose an amount of time that you can dedicate to meditation every day, even if it’s only five minutes at the start. You can always increase later. Also, decide when you will meditate? Morning is the best time, but if that is not possible, meditate afternoon or evening. Avoid eating shortly before meditation.
Set a timer
It’s easy to lose track of time in meditation. On some days, time can disappear, and on other days it can drag. Keep a timer nearby so you can track how long you have been sitting. It will also give you a greater sense of completion when you are done. Just be sure to keep it out of sight so you are not tempted to peek every two minutes.
It’s best if we can meditate in a quiet space without distraction. Of course, this is not always possible, but we can take steps to reduce the noise. Let people know you are meditating, turn off your phone, and close the door. If distractions come up, don’t worry or react. You can even make it part of your practice by focusing on it for a short time.
How to Meditate Step 1: Preparation
Comfort is essential in meditation. If we are aching or unable to keep still as a result of our posture, it will be difficult to quiet the mind. Sitting in a chair is generally easiest for beginners, but if you are more advanced, you may find sitting on the ground more comfortable. Just make sure you are able to sit for the duration of your practice. Some discomfort is inevitable, but try to reduce it as much as you can. Learn more about sitting posture at Ananda.org.
Ensure your spine is straight
Sitting with a straight spine is important for many reasons. First of all, we need to be alert in meditation. We should not be in a passive, sleepy or drowsy state; we are relaxed but also highly aware. When the spine starts to slouch, the mind starts to wander and we may become drowsy. Also, when we are more advanced, we will start working with energies in the spine. The spine needs to be straight for the energy to flow. It’s a good practice to get into from the start.
Take a few minutes to scan your attention through the body. Start at the feet bringing your awareness to any sensations you can feel. Then allow the feet to relax and move up to the lower legs, all the way up the body to the head. You can do it in a few minutes, but if you have more time, you can spend a little longer on the body scan. Learn more about the body scan here.
Start by taking a deep breath in and out. Then inhale for a count of 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, and then exhale for a count of 4 seconds. Breathe through the nose the entire time and feel yourself going deeper into stillness. This technique helps to concentrate the mind before we begin our meditation. Repeat 6 or 7 times.
Relax and smile
Be sure to start with a smile and relax. Try to start with a positive attitude. The more joy and peace we can bring to our meditation, the deeper we will go, and the more our joy and peace will multiply. When we start with negativity or frustration, we may find that multiplied instead. Don’t force it though. If you don’t feel great, that is OK. Be where you are and try your best to feel love or appreciation in your heart.
How to Meditate Step 2: Practice
Stop controlling the breath
Now we’ll begin the actual practice of meditation. Everything up until now has been a relaxation or preparation exercise. At this point, let go of controlling the breath and simply watch the breath in the nose. Watch it without control. Become an observer of the breath.
Feel the breath in the nose
Try to pinpoint the place in the nose where you can feel the breathing most easily. Stay connected to this point throughout the meditation. Keep the mind focused at this point where the breath comes in and out. Is it in the left or right nostril, at the tip of the nose, or higher up? Notice exactly where you can feel the breath. You may find that it gets higher in the nose as you meditate. Just keep your focus there.
Bring the mind back when it wanders
The mind will wander, especially at the start. Keep calm and positive, and every time you notice, bring the mind back to the breath. Whenever the mind wanders, just bring it back, again and again. Over time, you may notice that there is more space and more silence between the thoughts. Remember what St Teresa of Avila once said: “a meditation is well done even if all you did was fight distraction.”
Be positive and kind to yourself
We should learn to be gentle but firm with ourselves in meditation. That means we should try to be disciplined and not let the mind wander too much. At the same time, we should be kind to ourselves and avoid reacting with frustration when it does wander. This becomes easier with experience. It is a bit like how you want to reprimand a child: to let them know they are in the wrong, but to do it with kindness, patience and love.
Notice the space/the gap
Between your thoughts, you will notice there is a space between the mental images and silence between the mental chatter. Try to notice that space. We can get into a cycle of only noticing when our minds are busy, and failing to notice the moments of silence. If we can notice those moments, they will grow and grow until stillness and peace fill our being.
How to Meditate Step 3: Peace
Take a deep breath
This one is pretty much self-explanatory. Take a deep breath in and out, feeling the peace that is present within you.
Stop watching the breath
We have been watching the breath in the nose, but now we will let go of noticing the breath. At this point, we can look gently upwards behind closed eyes to the point between the eyebrows. Focus at this point here.
Enjoy the feeling of peace
At this point, we will let go of any techniques and try to experience just being. Sit and enjoy the sensations of stillness that you have cultivated. You can imagine yourself swimming in an ocean of peace. Not leaving time for peace at the end of meditation is like driving all the way to the coast, then staying in the car. We should enjoy the fruits of our practice.
Mentally repeat “peace, peace, peace”
If you find that your mind is still restless, you can repeat the word “peace” on each exhalation. This will help your mind stay focused and help you stay connected to that feeling of deep peace. After a few minutes, drop this technique and enjoy the stillness.
How to Meditate Step 4: Post-practice
Come back gently
When you are finished your meditation, come out of it peacefully. Bring your attention back to your body and when you are ready, gently open your eyes. Look at the room around you before you get up and continue with your day.
Before you rise, take a moment to bring someone to mind, someone you love or someone who is in need of healing. Bring them to mind and wish for their happiness, health and wellbeing. Share the joy and peace of meditation with others. Paramahansa Yogananda taught a similar healing technique which is worth exploring as well.
Bring your meditation with you
Stay connected to your meditation. Many people meditate, and then jump up and leave their practice behind. Try to remain in an inward state, keeping your focus on the breath or the body. It is tempting to check your email or Facebook, but try to resist the temptation.
Do something mindfully
Washing the dishes, tidying up, or making a cup of tea are great ways of staying in that meditative space. You can be aware of your body and your breath as you do these activities. Certain activities tend to bring us out more quickly, such as checking our phone or getting straight into a conversation. Stay in that peaceful space as long as you can.
How to Meditate: Final Tips
Build the habit
Consistency is king in meditation. If you can put all your attention on building the habit rather than worrying about whether you are doing it right, you will progress much faster. I have created the 30-day calendar checklist that you can see above to help you build this consistency. It comes with the free meditation starter pack below.
In the early days, we can be very serious in our meditation practice and get annoyed when it does not go to plan. Try not to be a perfectionist. Allow yourself to fail. How else will you grow? I have been meditating for 7 years and it still takes me a long time to quiet the mind on some days. The mind is not an easy thing to control. It takes time, patience and practice. The more joyful you can be, the more you will get from your practice.
Contact people who know how to meditate, join group meditations, and find people in your local area. Also continue to check out the blog here for more guidance. Trying to do it alone is a mistake that many people make. You will advance much faster if you receive support from more experienced practitioners. Check out meetup.com or a similar website for your area.
Enjoy your meditation
Try as much as you can to enjoy your meditation practice. Make it fun; make it something you look forward to. See it as a reward for a hard day as opposed to another chore to add to the long list. Don’t force yourself to sit for longer than is comfortable and remember to bring that smile with you as you sit.
Never give up
Meditation brings us so many benefits, helping us overcome the challenges that pop up throughout our lives. It helps us grow and evolve, as we should, instead of getting stuck, as so many people do. Never give up, never lose hope, and eventually, this practice will become the most important thing you do each day. It will bring you ever-deeper peace and joy with each new day that comes.
If you want to learn about this system in more detail, download the free meditation starter pack. It lays out this exact process but with a video, guided meditation, printout and a calendar checklist.