Barbara Markway Ph.D.

Living the Questions

8 Easy Meditation Tips for Beginners

Here's how to make meditation work for you.

Posted Aug 22, 2014

Many people have tried meditating, but give up, thinking, “I can’t do it” or, “This isn’t for me.” Until recently, I’ve been one of those people. It's perfectly normal to try meditation and give up several times, before the practice "sticks." I’m beginning to find ways to make meditation work for me in my daily life. Here are some suggestions I’ve found useful.

Find your style. There are many different types of meditation such as concentration meditation, open-focused meditation and even walking meditation. You may need to try a variety of styles and see what feels right for you. While some people practice primarily one type, it’s perfectly okay to switch it up from time to time. Here's how meditation techniques compare.

Try five to ten minutes. Don't wait until you have 30 or 45 minutes to meditate. Even five to ten minutes can make a difference in your state of mind. Sure, it's nice to sometimes have longer stretches, but just like any exercise program, the effects are cumulative. You could even try short sessions a couple times a day.

Track your practice. Research shows that when you monitor a behavior, it moves in the desired direction. You can simply jot down notes in a journal, or you can try an app like Insight Timer. You’ll find that the simple act of tracking will make you more accountable and more likely to stick with your practice.

Be flexible. Some people suffer from chronic pain or other health conditons, and prolonged sitting is difficult. Meditation teacher and writer, Sharon Salzberg notes that the Buddha taught meditation in four poses: sitting, lying down, walking, or standing. Listen to your body, and meditate in whatever pose works for you (which may vary from session to session).

Learn your own way. There are many ways to learn meditation. You can learn from a book--a very practical one is Sharon Salzberg's Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-day progam. Or you can learn on-line. Whether it’s an e-course from a pro like Susan Piver, or an app like Headspace, you’ll find plenty on the Internet if you want to learn remotely. If you live in a medium or large sized city, you can find places to learn in person.

Make YouTube your friend. When I can’t do a regular meditation practice, or sometimes to supplement my practice, I listen to a lot of podcasts on the Internet. Tara Brach’s site offers each of her weekly talks online. They're wonderful!   

Keep your expectations realistic. One of my favorite new meditation books is Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier. He says that meditation isn’t going to solve all your problems and make your life always peaceful. From his own experience, he’s found that meditation makes him 10% happier. As he notes, when you think about it, that’s not a bad return on your investment.

Go informal. I participated in a continuing education workshop with Kristin Neff, Ph.D. a leading researcher on self-compassion and a long-time meditation practitioner. She noted that her research indicates that informal mindfulness practice proves quite powerful in increasing people’s self-compassion. So if you can’t get in a regular meditation practice for some reason, do an informal mindfulness session. Here are some benefits of practicing informal mindfulness outside of a meditation practice.

Know that you can't do it wrong. If you’re like most people, it’s not long before you’re going to think you’re doing it wrong. You become distracted by thoughts and emotions.  You don't practice every day. You sometimes fall asleep. None of this means you’re doing it wrong. I’m continually reminded by teachers that the purpose of meditating isn’t to get really good at meditating. The purpose of meditation is to live a skillful life with an open and forgiving heart.

Ditch the myth of 21-day habit formation: We've all heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but it's a set up for failure to buy into that myth. Here's how long it really takes to form a habit.    Give yourself credit and remind yourself of the steps you’ve taken, regardless of how small they might seem to you. Even if you’ve meditated three days, and then stopped for five. That’s okay. Just recommit yourself to your goal, and start again. No problem. 

Don't worry if you need to take a break. There are times when practicing meditation may not be the best thing to do. Perhaps you’re too tired, physically ill, or emotionally raw. If any mindfulness or meditation exercise does not feel safe, please stop and take care of yourself in another way. I heard meditation teacher Susan Piver say that “the best practice of all is gentleness.” You might want to check out this list of 80+ self-care ideas.

Photos via Unsplash with universal copyright.

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I also write at The Self-Compassion Project.

I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People. Greg and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.