Meditation for beginners: 3 things people usually get wrong

Woman meditating

What is meditation? 


Welcome to the wonderful world of meditation! 

It’s a kind and non-judgmental observation of your feelings and emotions. A way to reconnect with yourself and be present. 

I am writing about meditation because it truly changed my life when I was going through a hard time. It’s taught me self-compassion, self-acceptance and patience. And I can say that I am happier since I started meditating. Appealing, right? 

But it didn’t come overnight… 

…most of us start meditation with misconceptions about what we should or shouldn’t do during the practice.


1. Do I need to sit down to meditate?


When it comes to meditation, we all have the image in our head of a peaceful person sitting on a meditation pillow. But in fact, there are many ways you can practice meditation. 

The most important thing is to feel comfortable in your position, have a straight back (without being too rigid) and stay alert. You can sit on a chair, on a pillow or lay down in bed (especially if you are meditating to help you sleep at night!). 

It may happen that you choose a position and start to feel uncomfortable in it after a while. That’s fine, you can decide to change position during the meditation. If you have to move, be mindful about it and do it slowly. There is a difference between compulsively scratching your ear and slowly moving to a different position 🙂

A fact that often surprises people is that there are lots of other forms of meditation which are less traditional: Mindful eating, walking meditation and even dancing meditation! We will talk about some of them in other articles.

You just need to find the form that works best for you.


2. Am I supposed to not think of anything?


This is the most common misconception about meditation. Every time I have a conversation about meditation with someone who doesn’t know meditation, they always say the same thing: “Oh, I can’t imagine myself sitting in a room and not thinking about anything for 10 minutes”.

It makes me laugh because, unless you are not human, there is no way anyone would be able to do that. 

Usually people think that when we meditate we don’t “do” anything. It’s not exactly how it works… Meditation is like a gym for your brain. 

So what do we actually do when we meditate? 

We connect our mind with our body by focusing our attention on our breath. 

What often happens when someone meditates for the first time is that they get anxious about the idea of not thinking of anything. Their mind gets busy with “I shouldn’t think right now” and they spend their time thinking about not thinking. No panic! It happens to all of us.

Be kind to yourself. Meditating doesn’t come overnight, it’s the regular practice which makes you good at it (it’s like anything!). Don’t try to make it “perfect” and don’t panic about whether or not you are doing things correctly. 

Be aware of it when it happens and just refocus your attention on your breath. 

How do you focus your attention on your breath? 

  • Try to feel your chest coming up and down
  • Which areas of your body can you feel moving as you breathe? Can you feel your belly moving? Your chest? Your nostrils? 
  • As you breathe in, imagine that the air coming through your nostrils is soft blue or pink. Follow it going up your nostrils and going out of your throat and mouth. 

3. Do I need to meditate for a long time?


If you think you can meditate for 30 minutes right away as a beginner, you might be slightly disappointed. You will see, the first time you try, you will find it really hard to stay focused for more than 5 minutes. And that’s a common beginner’s frustration. 

But the first time you went to the gym, did you lift 150kg weights right away? I don’t think so, even Arnold Schwarzenegger started small! 

Be gentle to yourself, step by step, you will get more comfortable and meditation will seem easier. 

For the first few times I recommend practicing for just 5 minutes, being guided by an App or video if possible (I am suggesting resources at the end of the article). As soon as you start feeling more comfortable with 5 minutes, push it to 10, then to 15 and to 20… Be aware of the progress you make each time and don’t rush into something not achieving 30 minutes overnight. It’s not a competition and there is no one to impress. The risk of rushing into “performance” is to make yourself very frustrated about meditating and you won’t want to do it again. It shouldn’t require too much effort to meditate, it should be simple. 

4 years ago when I started meditating, I was seriously struggling to do it for more than 5 minutes. Today, I meditate on average twice a day for 40 minutes in total. Anything is possible!


4. Your first meditation exercise: The Body Scan


There are lots of different exercises you can do when you meditate, but I have chosen the “Body Scan” for you because I think it’s one of the easiest to do:

Start by finding a comfortable place to sit or lay down. Straight back but a relaxed body.

Keep your eyes open and take four deep breaths. 

Then, gently close your eyes and keep breathing deeply. 

Focus your attention on the air flowing through your nose and going out through your mouth.

After a few deep breaths, breath normally and effortlessly. 

Once you feel calm and relaxed, focus your attention on the top of your head: Your forehead, then your eyes, your noise, your mouth, your jaw and teeth… Do you feel any tension? If so, can you bring relaxation? Try to feel each area of your body as much as possible. 

Continue the body scan at your own pace, analysing your neck, back, belly, etc.

—— 

With my job at BetterSpace, I have discovered a lot of resources connected to mindful meditation. I always used Headspace and Calm, which are both amazing apps, but I discovered other resources which I definitely recommend especially for beginners: 

  • Beeja App and courses
  • Be Mindful online courses
  • Sleep meditation with Jason Stephenson

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