I’ve struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember. My “monkey mind” just never seems to calm down, keeping me awake and in a state of needless anxiety. One of the things that helped me tremendously to dial down my anxious thought spirals at night is my daily meditation practice. However, meditating wasn’t easy to learn for this overthinker. It took me a long time to feel comfortable sitting down for a few minutes every day and focusing my mind on the nothingness around me.
Meditation takes practice, but it can be difficult for a newbie to even know where and how to begin practicing. At first glance, meditating seems to be the simplest thing imaginable: Just sit down and empty your thoughts, sit in silence, and—ah, but then, the “sit in silence” part is of course exactly why the people who need a meditation practice the most are also the most likely to recoil from the idea. Because being alone with your monkey mind, with the collective sum of all your fears, worries, anxieties, or overwhelmingly long mental to-do lists can be near unbearable.
Meditating seems to be the simplest thing imaginable: Just sit in silence. But that’s exactly why the people who need it the most are also the most likely to recoil from the idea.
I am not going to lie to you: Starting a meditation routine is quite daunting, and for me at least the whole thing felt severely uncomfortable. It took me weeks of persistent practice before I started to ease more quickly into that coveted state of presence, of feeling like I could connect with the here and now without having my monkey mind give its usual, near-constant scathing commentary of why I should really worry about everything.
But I persisted and learned more and more helpful tricks to keep going. After those rough first weeks I started to actually look forward to my meditations, and I felt much more at peace straight after. And yes, my sleep also improved, as it became easier to calm down before bed and fall asleep faster. I still have bouts of insomnia, but they do not send me into a frenzied panic when I can’t sleep instantly or wake up in the middle of the night.
Meditation is no miracle cure-all, and it won’t magically better your life overnight. But if you keep at it, I promise you will start seeing benefits. Having a hard time getting started with meditation? Here are five beginner tips to help you start your meditation practice.
1. Establish a Routine That Suits Your Personal Needs
Consistency really is key when it comes to meditation, so establishing a routine and committing to it is super important. Now, if you feel daunted by the idea of meditating every day, start out by committing to maybe once a week—say, on Sunday evenings to get mentally ready for the new week. You will still begin to see and feel benefits even from such a small lifestyle change.
Another mental obstacle to starting a meditation practice is the idea that it takes a long time, which isn’t the case at all. I usually only meditate for 15 minutes tops, and started out with shorter meditations, sometimes as short as two to three minutes.
If you feel daunted by the idea of meditating every day, start by committing to once a week. You will still begin to see benefits even from such a small lifestyle change.
Another thing that helps beginners ease into a new meditation routine is to have a designated space for the practice. This doesn’t have to be an extra room or fancily decorated area of your home at all. I usually just sit on my bed to be honest, but at the opposite corner from where I sleep. This little trick alone has made my brain connect the space with quieting down more easily even before I set my timer. You can sit on the floor, on a comfy cushion, lie down somewhere comfortable, or sit in your favorite chair, whatever works for you.
2. You Don’t Need Any Gimmicks to Start
I don’t know about you, but I have this tendency to—literally—buy into the capitalistic takeover of activities that actually do not need any equipment, special outfits, or expensive gimmicks at all. When I think about taking up a new hobby, my brain just instantly goes into what sort of stuff I would need to buy to do it “right,” and then I get overwhelmed quickly, thinking I cannot afford the new hobby. You know, I can’t start getting into yoga seriously because I need a good yoga mat, fancy yoga pants that probably don’t come in my size, and those foam blocks you apparently need to do the forward bend without hurting your back. But of course this is all nonsense, because most yoga poses can be done equipment-free and wearing simple, comfortable clothes. The same is true for meditation, maybe even more so because there is absolutely no need for gimmicks of any kind.
I’m not saying it is silly or frivolous to buy the cute props and the stylish yet comfy clothes—if you like to accessorize for your meditation practice, more power to you. One day I, too, might get myself a pile of gorgeous meditation cushions and download a bunch of fancy meditation music, and maybe also get those plus-sized yoga pants I’ve been eyeing after all. But just in case your brain uses the idea of needing stuff to be serious about meditating as an excuse to not actually do it, be assured that all you need is a few minutes of your time and the courage to sit with your thoughts for a few minutes.
3. Try Guided Meditations and Meditation Music
Some days the idea of sitting in absolute silence is just too scary for me. On those days, I usually opt for a guided meditation to help me feel less pressured and overwhelmed by my persistent thought spirals. Guided meditations are so helpful because they offer prompts to meditate on, reminders to stay present, or sometimes they can also contain breathing techniques to support relaxation. I’ve found some wonderful guided meditations on YouTube that I always go back to, most of them with very simple body relaxation exercises and soothing voice-overs.
Meditation music is also a great tool to calm down and feel less frightened by the silence around you. Especially if you are anxious, soothing music can be a godsend during meditation. You could also try out binaural beats, certain sound frequencies which are said to connect the two parts of your brain in a way that promotes deep relaxation. They don’t work for everyone though, as some people find them uncomfortable, so just experiment a bit to find the right fit for you.
If you are happy to invest a bit of money, I can also highly recommend the Headspace app, which offers guided meditations for beginner and advanced levels, plus a ton of resources on how to meditate. I’ve also heard good things about the Calm app, and the Insight Timer app is another great resource for free guided meditations and meditation music.
Guided meditations are helpful because they offer prompts to meditate on, reminders to stay present, or breathing techniques to support relaxation.
4. Try the “Noting” Technique
The noting technique is a fantastic meditation tool for beginners to learn how to be present. Especially anxious minds will benefit greatly from the noting method, and it is very simple to learn indeed. In its essence, this is simply about taking note of your thoughts and emotions that arise while you settle into your meditation. When I started meditating, I had this idea that I did it wrong because I couldn’t stop myself from thinking all sorts of crazy thoughts, similar to when I try to settle down to sleep. You know, those weird intrusive thought spirals where your mind really wants to remind you of that embarrassing thing you said to your crush in 10th grade.
The thing is—this is not only fine, it is actually very much a normal part of the meditation process. This “brain dump” is just your ego trying to distract you from the seemingly scary nothingness that is the aim of meditation, that wonderful space of simply being in the present. Here is where the noting technique comes to the rescue: Instead of trying to suppress those thoughts and emotions coming up, you simply note them, without any type of judgment. Focusing on your breath, you basically just put a neutral label on whatever arises from your subconscious, noting it as “thought” or “emotion” before you gently let it go. This feels strange at first and does take some practice, but I had wonderful ah-ha moments doing this technique, realizing for the first time in my life that there is actually no need to focus my attention on every single thought and emotion I have. Note them, and then let them go without judgment—that is when stillness happens.
Instead of trying to suppress those weird thought spirals, you simply note them, without any type of judgment. You just put a neutral label on them before you gently let it go.
5. Be Patient With Yourself
I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, which tends to make trying out new things hard for me. In my mind, I should already be good at whatever I’m doing for the first time. Thus, as a beginner, my biggest obstacle to getting into meditation was my own critical self. I agonized over how long it would take me to slip into stillness, and I hated how fidgety I was. So, when I tell you that patience is key for establishing a regular meditation practice, I do not mean it to sound patronizing at all because hey, I get it—easier said than done, right?
But the truth is that meditation is all about letting go of your ego and trusting the process. The less perfectionist you are, the more readily you will achieve your meditation goals. The noting technique is a great starting point here, as you can use it to notice judgmental thoughts without giving them a distracting emotional charge. My own tendencies to constantly self-flagellate have improved so much thanks to this.
I would advise you to go into each meditation session free from expectations beyond simply setting that timer and sitting or lying down for the designated amount of time. Aim to just be present until your timer goes off, no other goals needed—you can fidget, think about your chores for the day, it doesn’t matter because there is no right or wrong with meditation. And, I promise, after a while, you will suddenly reach that glorious state of mental nothingness.