Tips for Starting Meditation?
October 7, 2020 5:58 AM   Subscribe

I have never done any meditation in the past, and its something that I would like to try. Looking for suggestions/tips for a beginner.

With COVID19 happening, I think this is a good time and I would love to learn more. I live in a small City, so there isn't a lot of options for in-person meditation now with COVID19 (and there wasn't before, I did some Google searching), so if someone was looking to get into some mediation, are there any good online beginner resources to check these out (books, guides, videos, apps, etc).

I know there are different 'types' of meditation (I really don't know the differences between them, but I have heard of Transcendental (?) mediation - I don't know what that is), but I think I would like more "mindful" and relaxed and at peace (not 100% sure what 'mindfulness' means, but that's my interpretation). I would love a calm mind and don't think I would be interested in chanting or mantras, etc, if that's possible.

Just looking for some suggestions/resources/recommendations for a total beginner (without getting frustrated at the beginning...)
posted by konaStFr to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I really liked the Diana Winston meditations available from the UCLA meditation center app. No woo, free, approachable. Maybe I'll go do one...
posted by johngoren at 6:03 AM on October 7, 2020

I really, really like headspace, the app. It's got a lot of great ways to start slowly and work your way up. I started meditating daily with it about 2 years ago and it's made a huge difference for me. I still use it nearly daily but also it's helped me work mindfulness into my daily life. I also have taken a few meditation courses with a mindfulness coach IRL, and a virtual meditation class at a local meditation center.

Another thing that's nice to try is the yoga nidra, it's a guided relaxation technique that I find very pleasant. Try searching for it on YouTube. I think its helpful to start with the exercises that provide immediate benefits so that you don't get discouraged.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:07 AM on October 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

I enjoyed The Headspace Guide by Andy Puddicombe. The related Headspace App is very popular but I personally found it much more useful to buy and read the book and keep reading bits of it again over time. It enabled me to meditate for first 10, then 20, then 30 minutes at a time, without any audio guidance. But first it explained to me in simple, clear terms what mindfulness is, exactly, and why it's so important, which really inspired me.
posted by guessthis at 6:08 AM on October 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I like the Insight Timer app. I pay for it but they have a lot of free content. They have courses in there about meditation for beginners. I used it for a long time just listening to short guided meditations specific to what I needed (sleep meditation, anxiety, wellness, whatever). I've also done some courses. Now I'm actually on to meditating with just the timer, so I feel like I've come a long way. Enjoy!
posted by beyond_pink at 6:08 AM on October 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

There are so many paths to finding what works for you. I'm up to 30 minutes a day and it's been huge for my mental health and overall happiness.

The book 10% Happier by Dan Harris is a great memoir on it's own but also did a whole lot to "sell" me on the concept of making meditation into a habit. The app 10% happier has a free beginner course with meditations led by Joseph Goldstein -- his approach really worked for me.

If you try one of these suggestions and it doesn't click with you, everyone seems to have a slightly different approach.

Be kind to yourself if you find it frustrating at first. I'm maybe 8 months in and still have difficult days when it just doesn't feel like it's doing anything. When this happens, just let it go and begin again.
posted by sewellcm at 6:29 AM on October 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Transcendental Meditation involves silently repeating a mantra. It's popular among celebrities because the Transcendental Meditation organization works hard to attract them. They charge a couple hundred dollars to teach you how to do it. From what I understand, there's nothing wrong with the technique itself, but the organization seems to have some strange aspects -- I would probably look other places first.

A good place to start might be the book Mindfulness in Plain English, which gives very clear and practical instructions for total beginners in vipassana ("insight") meditation -- which involves mindfulness of the breath.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:42 AM on October 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Meditation is big business right now so there's loads of apps and books and stuff. However, the core of it all is tuning your mind to focus on the now. It's that easy and also that hard.

There are three main ways to meditate - sitting, lying and moving. Lying is easiest on the body. Try to lie down with your head slightly supported (cushion, folded blanket or towel) and your arms and legs away from your body. Close your eyes.

I panic about time with meditation, thinking that 30 seconds is hours, or that hours will go by and I won't notice. Put your phone on airplane mode and set a short timer. I would start with 1 minute.

Pick one of the two following things to focus on: a) your breath as it exits your body b) imagining you're lying on the beach, and each in-breath is the wave gently breaking and each out-breath is the waters gently receding, taking your stress and tension with it. I'll call this "Focus".

Each time you notice you're no longer thinking about Focus, forgive yourself and return your attention to Focus. That's meditation. It's so easy to go off down the garden path of thoughts. Noticing and returning, that's how you train your mind.

Good luck!
posted by london explorer girl at 7:10 AM on October 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

Dan Harris, mentioned above for his book 10% Happier, also has a book called Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, which I really liked. It helped me to shift my thinking about meditation from "meditation is sitting still with a perfectly clear mind" to "meditation is the practice of returning to a quiet mind over and over, every time you notice your thoughts drifting."
posted by SeedStitch at 7:28 AM on October 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

The Calm app works really well for me personally.
posted by medusa at 7:50 AM on October 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Each time you notice you're no longer thinking about Focus, forgive yourself and return your attention to Focus. That's meditation. It's so easy to go off down the garden path of thoughts. Noticing and returning, that's how you train your mind.

Seconding this. The meditation experts call those thoughts that distract you from your meditation focus "monkey mind"; I like to think of monkey mind as being like a little kid at the playground who's shouting over to their mother "mom, watch me! Watch me swing! Watch me on the jungle gym! Mom! Watch! Watch this!" You know? That constant pestering for acknowledgement?

The thing is, ignoring it just makes the kids try harder to get attention: "Mom! Mom! Mom! Watch me!" and they get more persistent until Mom looks. Some mothers handle this by over-effusively responding: "Wow, you're swinging so high!" or "Wow, you are hanging so high up on the jungle gym!" But really all the kid needs is an acknowledgement - "Yep, I see you."

The thoughts that may try to distract you are the same way - if you try to ignore them they'll just get more persistent, and if you try to figure out why you're thinking of such stuff now it'll make things worse ("Why am i thinking about sundaes right now, I'm trying to meditate! Maybe i'm hungry? Argh, I'm supposed to be meditating, I should stop thinking of sundaes....ack, now I'm thinking of bunnies. What the heck do bunnies and sundaes have to do with each other? And now I'm thinking of The Big Bang Theory, this is nuts, I'm trying to meditate here!!!!") All those monkey-mind thoughts that come up while you're meditating - and they will come up - can just ben dismissed with a simple acknowledgement: "Yep, that's a sundae. Back to focus." ..."Yep, bunnies are cute. Back to meditating." "Yep, Sheldon said that. Back to meditating." This monkey-mind thing can frustrate people new to meditation and they beat themselves up unnecessarily; it is very common though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on October 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would also add: you don't necessarily feel a sense of calm immediately after meditating. Some days you will, and some days you might end up feeling more agitated and frustrated. The positive effects are over the long term.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:09 AM on October 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

My only tip is that there is no "true" way to do it. You have to find what works for you. It's ok if you feel like you "can't do it." It's ok to feel that way. It's ok for it to be difficult. It's ok to have "worries" that you aren't doing it right. You just have to try. It's ok to "fail."

In other words, you simply have to do it. I don't mean to be trite about it. Just saying that you have to find your own way and even if you think "it doesn't work" — that in itself is OK.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:16 AM on October 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Loads of good advice above, so one thing I'd just add. It's easy to find yourself setting goals for yourself in meditation, like

I think I would like more "mindful" and relaxed and at peace

And some of these might indeed transpire. But if you can, the best thing to do is to just go into it with an open, enquiring mind, and see what happens. For me, even after years of meditating, monkey mind is still very prevalent during my meditation (and that's not unusual - the brain is designed to think and that's what it does). I do often feel a little more relaxed and focused after meditating despite the monkey mind, and I value having a space each day to notice what my mind is returning to repeatedly that day and getting hung up on.

But actually I think the bigger change I've noticed is off the mat. I don't think I've become noticeably more mindful or relaxed as I might have expected. But I've surprised myself by becoming somewhat better at noticing the signs, both physical and mental, that I'm not doing so well in myself. Being able to notice that, non-judgementally, and stepping in with solutions like self-compassion and practical actions that I know are good for me, helps me to resteer the boat and recover my mental health before it's gone too far awry.

YMMV, so I'd say just give it a go, and plenty of time, and see what transpires.
posted by penguin pie at 8:31 AM on October 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

I found that the Headspace App free trial taught me how to do a lo of the basics of meditation and then I could go on and do it in a way that was the most useful for me. So you learn to

- do a body scan and just see how you're doing
- learn to focus on your breath
- learn to "notice" intruding thoughts without getting attached to them or having to do anything about them
- learn to return to your breathing

I meditate every morning now, just a simple guided (i.e. with someone talking) meditation I got off of the Insight App that is a "rededication to the doing of good" it helps me start the day right and then if I am having a frazzly day or something, sometimes I just run a short all-music meditation to get my brain a little back on track, going from "monkey mind" (a ton of racing thoughts all battling for attention) to... I don't remember what it is, lion mind, where you are calm and focused and can do one thing at a time again.

It's kind of like a lot of therapy or AA or something, it's worth poking around a little until you find one that "clicks" for you. To me mindfulness just means having some space between your thoughts/feelings and what you feel you need to do about them, to be able to observe thoughts/feelings without immediate reaction so you can think through what a "better" response might be. Getting a little space between "I feel irritated" and "I am going to be crabby with the person who irritated me" can be a really useful skill that some people naturally have, and others (me!) need to work on a lot.
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 AM on October 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Because I think it really is about finding what works for you, I enjoyed this 3 week podcast by Hemant Bhanoo. Guided meditation starts out just a minute or two, moves along to about 15 by the end of the 3 weeks. Details at
posted by unlapsing at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Beginning meditators often get frustrated that they cannot hold a calm state of mind and keep having to remind themselves to count breaths or focus on the mandala or their mantra or whatever thing you're using. You will get frustrated sometimes.

This, in some ways, is the entire point. Its nice to sustain that focus, but learning to be in a not-focused or frustrated state and pulling your mind to a calm state is the tool you will be able to use in day to day life to find that sense of peace and relaxation you seek. And the more you practice, the easier it gets and the longer you can maintain. But that first step of going from frustrated or not-calm to calm, even if just for a few seconds? SUPERPOWER UNLOCKED
posted by ananci at 1:10 PM on October 7, 2020

I want to echo what Seedspace said above. Most people who start meditation figure that it is all about the calm mind, focused on breathing. And that's part of it and it's good when you can do it. But there is another big part of it which is to learn to notice when your thoughts have wandered and bring them back to the breath. The noticing and then letting go of the thoughts to come back to the present moment is a tremendously powerful skill that will bleed over into every day life. When you can notice your thoughts and feelings then instead of 100% of the mind being caught up in whatever it is, there is this small growing part is noticing. And once that part notices, it opens up the opportunity to make a choice of what to do about it.

So while it is nicer to be able to stay focused, when your mind wanders, and it will (sometimes many, many, many times) that's OK too because it is giving you practice with this other half of what mediation is teaching you - noticing, choosing and refocusing.
posted by metahawk at 4:07 PM on October 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

For shifting into awareness, presence and into your heart, Loch Kelly really is the best.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:14 PM on October 7, 2020

Best answer: Meditation for Beginner's by Jack Kornfield. It's a slim book and it covers the basics very well.

As others mention, meditation isn't about any particular mental state, it's about being present with your current mental state and being okay with it, whatever it is. If you feel shitty, you're okay with that. Not that you embrace it or wallow in it but you acknowledge that this is how it is right now and that's perfectly okay. Wait a bit and it'll be different because change is the only constant. The idea being to avoid making yourself miserable by telling stories about how miserable you are and how this will never end. Relax and roll with it.

The actual cushion-time of meditation is really just repetition. It's noticing that your mind has wandered and bringing it back, without judging, and doing that over and over until it starts to happen spontaneously when you're off the cushion. Then you add the philosophy that I touched on above. For me that combination is what made a difference.

Best Wishes on your meditation journey.
posted by Awfki at 5:00 AM on October 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you ALL so much for the responses! I have read them all (many times) and got many suggestions from them!
posted by konaStFr at 3:31 PM on October 15, 2020

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