How to Meditate

woman practicing meditation

As you’re probably aware, I’ve been writing about finding deeper fulfillment in our lives by nourishing our hearts and spirits. One practice that I want to mention is meditation. There are many ways of meditating. Breathing, mindfulness and savoring, which I’ve discussed recently, are all forms of meditation. In fact, meditation is any practice in which you quiet your mind and body by focusing your attention on something specific such as breathing, an object, or mantra.

The purpose is to bring greater calm, peace, relaxation, and balance into your life. A regular practice can help you gain better perspective, increase your self-awareness and ability to respond to stressful events, reduce negative emotions, lower your heart rate, blood pressure and even improve the quality of your sleep. And the good news is that you don’t have to practice for hours or years to realize these benefits. Although you’ll get better over time, you can begin to experience the benefits of meditation in just minutes a day.

So in the remainder of this article (and for those of you who don’t regularly practice meditation), I want to walk you through a common, traditional way of practicing meditation. I’ll then introduce you to some alternative forms of meditating which you may want to consider.  

Mantra Meditation

Sit Straight

Begin by finding a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Early morning is best, but do it at any time of the day that you find convenient, usually not following a meal.

Choose a comfortable sitting position in which you can hold your neck and back straight. If you are in a chair, make sure your hips are slightly higher than your knees. If needed, use a cushion to support your lower back, but your head should be unsupported. Place your hands, palms up, on your thighs. Twenty minutes is an ideal time for a substantive meditation. If that is too long, start with five or ten minutes and then work up to twenty. As you get better at it you may want to increase the time to 30 minutes or more.

Center Yourself

You then close your eyes and take a moment to center. Some people offer a short prayer expressing their intent to commune with God or their higher power.


Begin by bringing your awareness to your breath. Notice the inhale and the exhale. Take a few slow deep breaths so that your belly expands when you inhale and recedes when you exhale. After just a few cycles of deep breathing, let your breath find its own pace and let your attention follow your breath without trying to alter it.

Choose a Mantra

Then choose a word or short phrase that has meaning to you that you repeat with your inbreaths and outbreaths. “Om,” “One,” and “Love” are examples of one-word mantras. “Be still” is a two-word mantra. I often repeat “I’m home.” “Peace in all I do” is a longer mantra. A two- or four-word mantra is easily divided between the “ins” and “outs” of your breath. A longer phrase should have a natural break.  If you’d prefer, just count your inbreaths and outbreaths. You don’t have to use a mantra. Most important is to have something on which to focus your attention, something to help focus your mind.

Expect Thoughts to Intrude

Thoughts are going to intrude. I don’t care how experienced you are. As they do so, gently and without distress return to noticing your breath or mantra. Remember that meditation is not about letting go of all thoughts (an impossibility) but rather becoming more aware of the intrusion of thoughts and returning again to your breathing or mantra. Although your thoughts may calm down with some practice (along with your nervous system and blood pressure), they will still intrude.

Find Stillness

After your practice for a time, you’ll likely notice a state of silence and stillness that is healing and transforming. Even before this occurs, you will experience many physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual benefits. Each person develops at a different pace. Meditate without expectation. Be patient. If you need to time yourself, use an alarm with a gentle tone.

Get on with your Day

After your meditation, you might do some spiritual reading and/or pray. And then you want to bring the peace, love or divine presence you feel during your meditation into your daily activities and personal interactions.

Many Forms of Meditation

What I’ve just shared with you is a common form of meditation although there are many others. Let me offer a brief overview of some other practices that you may want to consider.

Progressive Relaxation

This form of meditation, sometimes called body scan, is a meditation in which you progressively relax different parts of your body. One practice is to tense (5 seconds) and then relax (30 seconds) different groups of muscles, working from the feet to the head. Another way of doing it is to simply direct your attention to different parts of your body for several sessions. The goal is to notice tension and then release. Progressive relaxation can help to promote generalized feelings of calmness and relaxation. It may also help with chronic pain. Because it slowly and steadily relaxes the body, some people use this form of meditation to help them sleep.

Loving Kindness Meditation

You may have heard of loving-kindness meditation. It’s a meditation you can do for other people, but also for yourself. It’s something you may do when agitated but it’s also a great way to begin your day. Start by taking a few minutes to be by yourself and quiet your mind. Then pay attention to your breathing. Take in a deep breath through the nose and exhale completely through the mouth. Do this three times and then let your breath return to normal and simply notice as you breathe in and out for just a minute or so. And now you can repeat these phrases or similar phrases to yourself a number of times. “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.”

If you like, imagine yourself being bathed by a golden light from above as you repeat such phrases. Notice how repeating the phrases softens your experience and restores you to a grounded state of loving kindness.

Mindfulness Meditation

As I’ve defined it in the past, mindfulness is a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, something that can be practiced throughout the day. However, some people practice it as a more formal mediation practice. You begin by getting into a comfortable position and taking a few minutes to quite the mind and body by focusing on your breath. You continue by paying attention to the physical sensations of your body, often from head to toe. The object isn’t to alter them but simply be aware of them. After noticing your physical sensations for a few minutes, you turn your attention to your emotions (boredom, irritation, anxiety, etc.) And, finally, pay attention to the real-time flow of your thoughts, observing them objectively and non-judgmentally, just noticing them and letting them go.

Mindfulness meditation is something you can do almost anywhere, not just during your formal meditation practice. For example, you’re standing in line at a grocery store. You may look around at your surroundings, including the sights, sounds, and smells. Or, you may go inside your body to pay attention to your physical sensations, emotions and thoughts. Or you may do it as you’re doing the dishes or getting ready for your day, anytime you don’t have to direct more concentrated attention to a task at hand.

            Alternate Nostril Breathing

This is a form of Yogic meditation to relax your body and mind, reduce anxiety and promote overall well-being. Like so many practices, you find a comfortable sitting position and focus on your breath, keeping it slow, smooth and continuous. After a few minutes, you rest your left hand in your lap and then lift your right hand towards your nose. Exhale completely and then use the right thumb to close the right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril and then close the left nostril with a middle finger. Open the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril and then close the right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left nostril.

You continue this process for approximately five minutes. Always complete the practice by finishing with an exhale on the left side and then sit quietly for a few minutes to notice how you feel.

Or Find a Good App

If you’re a beginner and yet want to develop a practice, there are lots of good apps on the market such as “Calm,” “Headspace,” and “Insight Timer” that will guide you through meditations of different types and lengths. I recommend them for people who understand the value of meditation but are not sure how to get started or go about it.

Just Do It

The important thing about meditation is to get started. Lots of people are hesitant to do so because they are afraid that it will be too difficult or that they will do it wrong. In truth, you can’t do it wrong if you remember that the purpose is to calm your body and mind. Remember that meditation is not a results-focused undertaking. As a matter of fact, focusing too much on results will increase your anxiety and undermine the benefits of your practice.

So, I encourage you to find some practice that works for you. Remember, it need not be a long practice. Just five to ten minutes a day can make a difference.

And please share a thought. Do you already have a practice? What are the benefits? Do you see value in getting started? What might you try?


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