When you first decide to explore meditation, the practice can seem overwhelming. The dozens of meditation styles can make the basic steps sound far more complicated than they actually are.
If you’re new, step back from all of the details and embrace these ten rules. They’ll guide the basic foundation for your meditations and answer the common questions many people have when just starting out.
Rule #1: Be Comfortable
Sitting cross-legged in tight jeans, dress pants, or a short skirt doesn’t make you want to stay put for very long. In meditation, you’re aiming to focus your mind and remove distractions. But when you’re too cold, overdressed, or sitting on rocky terrain, your comfort level can be more distracting than the punk band rehearsing next door. Wear lose-fitting clothing, sit on a pillow or cushion, and find a spot where the temperature is just right.
Rule #2: Be Alert
That’s not to say that you need a shot of espresso before your meditations, but making sure you are rested enough so you won’t fall asleep is important for your meditation to be effective. Your posture is important here, too. If you’re sitting upright, you’re more likely to remain attentive and alert. If sitting upright is not comfortable for you, refer to rule #1 and choose any body position that allows you to be comfortable.
Rule #3: Start Small
When I first started meditating, I thought that if I couldn’t sit for 30 minutes (or if I didn’t have that kind of time to dedicate,) I might as well not meditate. Guess what happened? Not much for me in the meditation department. 30 minutes of meditation intimidated me.
Once I gave myself permission to meditate for just five minutes, it propelled me into a more steady practice. I naturally wanted to increase my time after that, and soon reached my original 30-minute practice without it feeling like a chore. The key here is to find a schedule that works for you—however long or short it is—and get consistent. You can begin to enjoy the benefits with even a two-minute meditation.
Rule #4: Find a Quiet Space
You don’t have to have a meditation space with Buddha paintings and prayer candles to meditate. All you need is a quiet corner of a room (or yard, or park…) where you can sit comfortably without distraction. And if you are met with noise or interruption, consider it an opportunity to practice with more willpower and concentration, inviting you to dive further into your meditation practice. If you can meditate in the midst of distraction, you’re a pro.
Rule #5: Don’t Try to Clear Your Mind
This is probably the most commonly misunderstood myth for meditation. The goal is not to clear your mind—that would be impossible, as the human mind naturally latches onto things. Calming, quieting, relaxing, and focusing the mind are all beautiful benefits that a meditation practice can bring. But wiping it clear completely? Good luck.
Rule #6: Turn Off Your Ringer
This really should be considered part of rule #4, but it’s so important and such a common mistake, that I’m turning into its own rule. Before you slip into your meditation, turn your phone off, put it on airplane mode, or silence it (no vibrate mode!). There’s nothing more distracting than hearing a buzz indicating you have a new email or text, which—even if your willpower is strong and you don’t peek—will spin your mind into the cycle of wondering who it’s from and what it’s about. Our minds wander enough—you don’t have to add to the monkey mind by inviting your smart phone to your meditations.
Rule #7: Be Consistent
It doesn’t matter how small you start, the most important thing is that you practice. Ideally, at the same time every day so you create a habit. Consistency is more important than time spent—better to meditate every day for five minutes than once a week for an hour.
Rule #8: Be Patient
Don’t expect to reach enlightenment after one meditation. One thing the practice teaches is patience, but you won’t find that out unless you find some patience in the beginning. Release your expectations and get curious about where you’re going instead of frustrated that you haven’t reached some sort of unrealistic goal already.
Rule #9: Use a Timer
When I first started meditating, I would open my eyes to check how long it had been every few minutes, which was incredibly distracting. A timer solves this problem easily. Try the simple timer on your smart phone, or an app like insight timer. All you have to do is set it, and then trust that it will let you know when the meditation is over. Try setting your alarm to a soft chime or gentle music so you don’t get jolted out of your meditative state with a thunderbolt or an annoying “BRRRING.”
Rule #10: Don’t Judge
Go easy on yourself. It’s tempting to judge your meditations by saying things like “my mind wandered too much” or “I only meditated for seven minutes today…” Once you’re done, avoid self-sabotaging thoughts, and simply celebrate. After all, you just sat still, which is actually an incredibly difficult thing to do in our society.
If you found your mind overactive and flitting from thought to thought, that doesn’t mean you should scold yourself, it only means you’re human. Thoughts will slow and gaps between thoughts will come with practice and consistency. So stop judging yourself for being human.
Now … it’s time to meditate. Check out the simple practices at the end of this post or this post for more guidance, or try a guided meditation. I like the guided meditations led by Deepak Chopra and Oprah, and the free audio meditations on Tara Brach’s website.
Still have questions? Ask in the comments below.
*This post was adapted from the book, The Type A’s Guide to Mindfulness: Meditation for Busy Minds and Busy People. For more tips on how to get started in a meditation practice, get your copy, available on Kindle or Paperback today! Buy on Amazon>>