How to (actually) learn to meditate and start enjoying the benefits

woman meditating in an apartment that turns into a forest

We’ve all heard of the benefits of meditation.

From decreasing stress and anxiety, increasing focus, combating insomnia, and even preventing cardiovascular disease, the science behind meditation is fascinating—and demonstrates the amazing potential for this practice to improve our daily lives.

So why aren’t more of us meditating?

For starters, while many of us know that we should be meditating, there’s quite a difference between what you should do and how to actually do it.

We all know we should be taking care of our physical and mental health — from staying active, eating our fruit and veg, and getting enough sleep at night — but it’s harder to put these things into practice even when we’re fully aware they’re good for us.

So how can you actually build a meditation practice that works?

Ditch your expectations

When many of us think about meditation, we’re often met with visions of sitting in silence for hours on end, burning incense, and finding the ultimate inner peace.

In reality, the practice of meditation can look very different from what we’ve seen on television and in the cinema.

Personally, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to meditate, so forget what you think you know and be willing to experiment.

Start small and build from there

If you want to give meditation a go, it’s important to start small. You wouldn’t expect to walk outside and run a marathon without any prior training or practice, so why would meditation be any different? Don’t push yourself to be a meditation master overnight.

Instead of forcing yourself to commit to a long meditation session, it’s okay to start with a more manageable time frame. Even meditating for a few minutes can be beneficial, and it’s a great way to sneak meditation into a busy schedule without needing to commit to something more.

Prefer making big changes over smaller shifts? That’s fine too. Meditation is a personal practice, which means you should do whatever works for you, your personality, and your lifestyle.

Try different types of meditation.

One of the biggest obstacles most people have when considering meditation is that the idea of sitting in silence for long periods of time doesn’t exactly sound like fun.

Even if meditation is as beneficial as everyone says (which it definitely is), your perception of meditation can sometimes stop you from wanting to try it out for yourself.

This is why I’m a huge advocate for experimenting with different types of meditation. Some people prefer meditating at home, while others might enjoy going outside or even joining a group class.

You can meditate using an app such as Headspace, try guided meditation videos on YouTube, or even listen to your favorite meditations on Spotify during your commute.

There are also different types of unguided meditation practices you can try. Maybe you’re someone who likes the idea of sitting in silence for a few minutes, but maybe that sounds like your own personal nightmare. Meditation can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for five minutes, visualizing sitting on a beach watching the sunset, or even floating amongst the stars—some people even use sex and masturbation as a form of meditation.

You might even find that you prefer different types of meditation in different situations. Learn to embrace flexibility with your meditation practice. The more rules you have, the harder it can be to stick with it over the long term.

Learn to accept (and redirect) thoughts and distractions.

As someone who struggles with anxiety, my mind tends to wander while meditating—even after months of practice. It can be hard to empty your mind in today’s hyper-connected world, which is why I like to say the phrase ‘not right now’ when I’m meditating.

This helps me acknowledge that a thought or worry exists while allowing me to put it to the side until my meditation session is over, and — as a result — I’ve been able to cultivate a little more peace in my life.

Living in the city means I’m constantly on the go, so learning to be less reactive to stressors has been incredible for my overall mental health and wellbeing.

It’s not about pretending like negative thoughts, worries, or anxieties don’t exist, it’s about learning how to handle them.

And if you need to take this a step further? Try meditating with a notepad next to you, or spend a few minutes journaling prior to meditating. This allows you to jot down whatever thoughts you’re struggling to let go of, so you no longer need to worry about forgetting them later.

Be patient

Change rarely happens overnight. While meditation touts a massive list of benefits, you might not notice any of them right away.

Much like maintaining a healthy diet and exercising, meditation is a practice that produces results over the course of a longer period of time. It’s not about instantaneous results, it’s about compounding benefits that become more evident the longer you do it.

Cultivating mindfulness through meditation is difficult but doable. It may take a few days or even weeks for you to notice a difference from your meditation practice, and it might be subtle at first. That’s okay!

With patience and practice, however, you can reap all of the benefits meditation has to offer.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll even fall in love with the process too.

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