At first, meditation may seem intimidating. Luckily, once you know the basics, you can practice it essentially anywhere and at any time.
Meditation is the practice of training one's attention or focusing the mind for a period of time. There are many forms of meditation, and they often bring about feelings of relaxation and inner peace.
Meditation comes with numerous researched health benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic, including decreased stress, improved mood, and increased focus and concentration. Research has suggested that, over time, meditation is useful as a tool to manage a number of chronic health problems, such as mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
Here are seven tips to getting started on your practice.
1. Explore Different Forms of Meditation
Various forms of meditation have arisen in religious and spiritual traditions around the world, including mindfulness meditation, guided imagery meditation, mantra meditation, loving kindness meditation, transcendental meditation, and yoga meditation, among others.
“What I tell my patients is that meditation is like sports. You have to find the type that resonates with you, that you are likely to engage with,” says Mladen Golubic, MD, the medical director for the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine’s center for integrative health. “If you like to play soccer and I ask you to play tennis, you will not sustain playing tennis. It’s the same thing with meditation.”
Dr. Golubic suggests reading up on the different styles of meditation and trying a couple that appeal to you. Once you find the style you prefer, pick a time to try it out.
2. Consider Finding a Certified Instructor
For first-time meditators, Golubic suggests finding an instructor to help you feel comfortable with the practice.
“I think a good idea is to go to medical centers in your community and check with their integrative medicine or psychology department to see if they have [a meditation instructor] on staff or one they could recommend,” he says.
If you decide to go to a local meditation center, Golubic advises doing your research and making sure the instructors are certified.
“No matter what style of meditation you’re teaching, you need to have some sort of trail of your education and why you are qualified to be a teacher in that particular style,” he says.
3. Practice Meditation on Your Own
If you prefer not to go to an instructor or if there are no certified teachers in your community, you can practice meditation on your own.
To get started, find a quiet place to sit comfortably or lie down. “Make sure your phone is off and nothing is going to disturb you,” he says.
Focus on your breathing and take a few moments to settle in. From there, you can either continue to pay attention to your breath, repeat a mantra, or listen to a guided meditation, depending on which style you choose.
If your mind starts to wander, Golubic notes that there’s no reason to be hard on yourself.
“Whether you’ve been meditating for five days or five years, sooner or later you start thinking about something, or something in the body will disrupt you,” he says. “When that happens, you just recognize that you’ve been distracted, and now I’m once again paying attention to my breath. It can be as simple as that.”
Once you get the hang of it, you can bring mindfulness to your activities whenever you want.
“Taking out the trash to the curbside, washing the dishes, or brushing your teeth — you can be mindful in any activity and pay attention to what’s happening right here and now,” Golubic says.
4. Create a Meditation Space at Home
If you have a space in your home dedicated to meditation, you have one less obstacle when you want to practice, says Michelle Walsh, PhD, a licensed professional counselor and meditation teacher.
“Creating a ‘container’ of sorts allows you to settle the mind more quickly, as your body and mind recognize when you sit in this space that it is now time to train the mind and let go of other tasks or activities,” she says.
It’s best to choose a quiet spot in your home, such as a spare room or a corner of your bedroom where you won’t feel distracted. Dr. Walsh recommends placing calming images and soothing or uplifting colors in the space. “Whatever you find pleasant and inspiring to motivate you to practice,” she says.
Some people choose to burn candles, sage, or incense or place crystals to set up an altar of sorts. Others prefer to be in the company of greenery while meditating and adorn their spaces with plants or colorful flowers. It’s a personal choice, and if none of these sound appealing to you, certainly feel free to skip these suggestions. “The key is that you practice,” Golubic says.
And if you can’t find a space in your home to dedicate to meditation, don’t sweat that either.
“Even if you do not have a separate space you can designate for meditation, try to avoid areas that feel stressful or cluttered, as your mind will be more easily distracted,” Walsh says. “As you gain more experience and strengthen your concentration, you won't be so bothered by external stimuli.”
5. Be Consistent With Your Practice
For many people trying to establish a new habit, a consistent time and place can be important.
“This can be even more valuable for meditation practice when you are trying to help your mind settle,” Walsh says. “So choosing a time of day when you are most likely to be able to do that is a good way to begin.” She suggests trying meditation early in the morning before you get engaged in the busyness of the day.
For people just starting out with meditation, Walsh recommends short sessions of 5 or 10 minutes each day. Once you've been able to do that consistently, you can add another 5 or 10 minutes.
“However long you choose, remember that it is more beneficial for the mind to do a short meditation practice consistently, such as five minutes each day, rather than one longer session such as 30 minutes once a week,” Walsh says. “This will help you build a routine and get better results.”
6. Use Tools to Support Your Practice
There are a number of tools to help you get started with your meditation practice. Golubic suggests visiting your local library for books on meditation or searching YouTube for meditation videos.
Apps like Calm and Headspace provide a variety of guided meditations and other resources, such as 30-day meditation challenges, to help you stay motivated. Some people find it useful to keep a meditation journal or practice meditation with a friend, which may also hold you accountable to your goals.
Additionally, it can be helpful for beginners to use a meditation timer when practicing, as it eliminates the need to think about time. Simply start the timer on your phone, or check to see if the app you use has one available. Additionally, Insight Timer has many free resources if you want to build and support a meditation practice, including a built-in timer.
“Getting distracted is the most challenging piece of meditation, so eliminating the concern of paying attention to time and instead focusing your attention on whatever [intention] you are using for the meditation provides practical support,” Walsh says. “And when the timer goes off, you can celebrate that you accomplished your goal, which generates motivation for building a consistent practice.”
7. Be Kind to Yourself
The most important thing to remember when starting out with a meditation practice is to be gentle with yourself.
“While instructions for beginning meditation are generally very simple, the practice itself can feel very challenging,” Walsh says.
Remember that it’s completely normal for your mind to wander, so instead of getting frustrated with yourself when this happens, be kind and gently refocus your attention.
“The goal is not to have no thoughts, but rather to recognize when we get lost in thoughts, and train the mind to return to the object of meditation,” says Walsh.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress. Mayo Clinic. April 29, 2022.
- Simpson J, Mapel T. An Investigation Into the Health Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for People Living With a Range of Chronic Physical Illnesses in New Zealand. The New Zealand Medical Journal [PDF]. July 8, 2011.