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I Want to Meditate. How & Where Do I Start?

Many people tell me they'd like to start meditating but don't know how to begin. Or maybe they tried it once and it didn't take. Here are my best tips to break through beginner's block!


When I tell folks I meditate daily or teach meditation, there’s often a story shared in response. An “I want to meditate, but…” Or an “I tried meditating, but it didn’t click because…”


If you’re trying to break through beginner’s block, here are my best tips and what I wish someone had shared with me many years ago:


START SMALL


You’re not going to build up to a marathon by starting with a 20-mile run; you start short. Similarly, when beginning a meditation practice, the best place to begin is with small practices that build your meditation muscles over time. This technique was critical to establishing my daily routine:


10 BREATHS: Try pausing throughout the day, closing your eyes, and counting just 10 deep breaths. Focus on your counting and the feeling of your breath. If your mind drifts, gently bring yourself back to your count and breath.


Do this whenever you think of it, or set a reminder on your phone a few times a day. Notice how you feel before, during and after. Try it in moments when you feel tense and notice the sensations in your body, seeing if you can release any tension each exhale.


Once this practice feels comfortable, build up 10 breaths at a time (to 20, then 30, and so on), until you’re up to a few minutes. And remember that a little often equals a lot! Even small doses of mindfulness and meditation are powerful and great for us.


TRY AN APP & LOTS OF STYLES


There so many amazing meditation apps. I’ve used, and recommend, Calm, Headspace, Unplug and Insight Timer. They each have hundreds (even thousands!) of pre-recorded meditations in varying styles, lengths and voices. Experiment and see what speaks to you! If breath-focused meditation feels too hard at first, try a body scan or guided visualization. If you don’t like having a voice guiding you, the apps also offer “unguided” meditations or meditation timers featuring calming background music.


I especially love Unplug for beginners as they choose a theme each month and feature a daily 10-ish-minute meditation on the app home screen that builds on this. There’s something so satisfying about gaining this thematic momentum and seeing checkmarks by each day as the month progresses. (And it’s so easy to just click here when you’re fumbling with your phone half-asleep in the morning!)


ATTEND A LIVE CLASS


If you’ve only ever tried meditating on your own in silence or on an app and it’s not clicking or you want to go deeper, taking a live class may be just the nudge you need.

The first time I ever meditated, it was with the incomparable Tara Brach at one of her Wednesday sessions in a beautiful, crowded Bethesda church. I didn’t know what I was doing, but she so gracefully guided us through, and her energy and that of a whole crowd vibrating with the same intention took me someplace incredibly deep. Afterwards, I knew better not only how to meditate, but also what it could feel like so I could try to replicate at home.


Ask around or Google what’s available in your area, or take a live, virtual class with Tara or other Insight Meditation Community of Washington teacher, or through a meditation studio like Unplug or The Den, my two faves.


ADD IT TO YOUR PRACTICE


Do you already practice yoga? Many studios offer classes that top off the yoga asana practice (which was actually created to prepare the body for meditation!) with meditation. See if yours has this mash-up and give it a whirl. If they don’t, after your regular yoga class, throw on a guided meditation and you might be surprised to find your brain is a bit more receptive than when you’re practicing “cold.” Build from here.


GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT!


Be sure to celebrate every small victory, and they’re all victories every time you show up and sit, every 10 breaths, no matter how many times you have to bring your focus back.

It’s normal to have thoughts during meditation, and sometimes even judgey thoughts like “I’m so bad at this, I can’t get my mind to stop racing.” Meditation helps us get better at noticing what’s there and imbuing us with a choice about identifying or engaging with it. Whatever comes up, see if you can notice, allow, and then bring your mind gently back to your chosen point of focus, without judging or tacking onto the thoughts or feelings.


When your session is over, applaud yourself for strengthening your meditation muscle! Over time, it’s going to grow and can help you in countless ways. Get ready!


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