Meditation has changed my life for the better in so many ways.
It has helped me become more relaxed, peaceful, loving, and accepting of myself. I’m less inclined to fret about the past or worry about the future. I’m less likely to create suffering for myself and others by engaging in storms of fantastic emotion.
More and more, I’m able to see, understand, and change my habitual patterns of thought and emotion, the ones that bring unhappiness and suffering. This isn’t all due to meditation, but meditation has played a significant role.
I’m not perfect, of course. I still get waylaid by my beliefs and emotions from time to time, but less often. I still have plenty of fears to deal with, but I’m less afraid of them.
Having taught mindfulness meditation for more than ten years, I’ve witnessed the remarkable shifts hundreds of people have made as they’ve learned to meditate as well.
- An incredible sense of freedom that arrives when you’re no longer the victim of your thoughts and emotions.
- A spaciousness of mind that makes you less perturbed by all that’s going on around you.
- A deep feeling for the fullness of the present moment, when one’s senses come fully alive.
- A warmth of heart that makes loving themselves and others a natural expression of their truest self.
This is what I would like for you too. So I’ve gathered together my best tips on mindfulness meditation to help you get started. Or to help you get started again if you’ve hit a roadblock in your meditation practice.
Mediation Means Mindfulness
As you probably have gathered so far, when I speak of meditation, I mean mindfulness, which is also know as calm abiding or peacefully remaining. I don’t mean guided meditations to help you relax, build your self-esteem, or love yourself more. Those are fine, but they’re not necessarily mindfulness meditation.
Here’s the thing, meditation is simple, but not necessarily easy.
Why? Because you’ve been conditioned your entire life to think, feel, and react in specific ways. So when you set out to learn meditation, your habitual patterns will happily join you and try to interfere with the process.
Because of this, it’s easy to get frustrated and drop your practice of meditation. But if you know what to expect, you can ride the waves with greater ease.
21 Important Meditation Tips
The tips I’ve gathered for you are the most important things you need to know about meditation. There’s a lot here, so don’t try to implement every tip at once. Start with just a few. When you have them under your belt, come back for more.
Or look through my suggestions and find the ones that will help you overcome any stumbling blocks you’ve encountered in meditation. If you have a question about meditation that isn’t answered in these tips, you can ask it in the comments.
1. Relax. Many people contract when they’re learning something new and different. You might feel like there are so many things to remember about how to meditate that you tense up.
However, in mindfulness meditation, you want to achieve a delicate balance of alertness and relaxation. If you’re too tight, it will be difficult to experience a spacious state of mind, which is essential in meditation. If you’re too loose, you’ll space out or fall asleep.
If you find yourself tensing up in meditation, take a moment to consciously relax. Bring your mind home to your body, take a few breaths, and let your muscles soften. Do this as often as you need to and you’ll find yourself more relaxed as you practice.
Sometimes tension can come from trying too hard. I know it might not be easy at first, but whenever you catch yourself trying too hard, remind yourself to relax.
2. The mind and body are interconnected. Posture matters, but don’t get uptight about it.
Sit comfortably on a cushion, chair, couch, or bed. You can cross your legs or place your feet flat on the floor if you’re in a chair. Your back should be straight, but not rigid. Be sure to allow for its natural curve. When the back is straight, the inner air or energy (“prana”) will flow more easily through the subtle channels of the body. This helps your mind to relax.
That’s the most important point of the posture, so start by sitting up straight, but in a relaxed way.
Place your palms on your knees or facing upwards, one on top of the other, on your lap.
I recommend meditating with your eyes open. The way the subtle channels are constructed, this can also help your mind calm down. Either look downward, along the tip of your nose, at an angle of about 45 degrees, or place your gaze softly in the space directly in front of you. If you find it difficult to keep your eyes open, try it for a few moments at a time until you get used to it.
Breathe naturally. Don’t force your breath in any way.
There’s more that could be said about posture, but this will get you started.
If you would like to know more about posture and the mechanics of meditation, watch this series of very short videos: Dare to Meditate. You’ll also find many excellent videos on what meditation really is there.
3. Give the mind something to do. In the first stage of mindfulness meditation, we place our attention gently on an object. The mind likes to be busy. This gives it something to do, but in the process you’re gradually gaining the ability to direct your mind instead of allowing it to constantly control you.
People often begin meditation by learning to be aware of the breath as the object. Alternatively, you could use a form like a rock, a flower, or a sacred image. Or you could use one of the senses and place your attention on sound, physical sensations, or taste. These are all good possibilities for beginners. Later on, once you have a good foundation in mindfulness, you can actually use thoughts and emotions as objects as well.
The key is to rest your attention lightly on whatever object you use. Not too tight and not too loose.
You can start your session by focusing on the breath for a short while and then spend the remainder of the session on the object of your choice. But if you find it difficult or claustrophobic to use the breath, use another object for your full session.
Don’t jump around from one object to another in the same session at this stage. Use just one so you can get a handle on taming your mind.
4. Your mind will wander. When you try to meditate, naturally your mind will wander off in distraction. You’ll suddenly find yourself thinking about a problem at work, remembering your last vacation, or spacing out. When that happens, just bring your mind back to the object, and begin again.
Don’t reprimand yourself. That moment of awareness, when you realize you’re distracted, is the essence of meditation, precisely what we want to stabilize.
Beginning meditators often express frustration because they’re not able to remain undistracted for very long. At this stage of the practice, what’s important isn’t how long you can stay undistracted, but how often you realize you’re distracted and bring your mind back.
Those moments of awareness – when you notice you’re distracted – will start to add up so that awareness, rather than distraction, becomes your natural way of being.
5. Too many thoughts? At first, when you try to meditate, it will probably seem like you’re having many more thoughts than usual. That may not be the case. It’s more likely you’re just noticing the usual volume for the first time.
So don’t lose heart! This is a good sign. It means you’re aware of what’s occurring in your mind, which is the whole point of mindfulness meditation.
In the ancient meditation instructions, it is said that at the beginning thoughts will arrive one on top of another, uninterrupted, like a steep mountain waterfall. Gradually, as you perfect meditation, thoughts become like the water in a deep, narrow gorge; then a great river slowly winding its way down to the sea; finally the mind becomes like a still and placid ocean, ruffled by only the occasional ripple or wave.
If you’re noticing your thoughts, however many, you’re on your way.
6. Meditation is not the absence of thoughts. People often think meditation means trying to rid the mind of thoughts. That single misconception leads to a tremendous amount of frustration for people new to meditation. When you try to force your mind to be quiet, it never works.
Thinking is the natural activity of the mind. Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. Meditation is simply a process of resting the mind in its natural sate, which is open to and naturally aware of thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they occur. – Mingyur Rinpoche
This is so crucial to understand. If you think mindfulness means stopping thoughts, you’ll constantly feel frustrated and like a failure.
Mindfulness is being aware of whatever occurs in the mind — stillness or movement. You may have moments when all your thoughts dissolve. Enjoy those. But remember, the absence of thoughts is transitory and not the main goal of meditation.
Meditation will indeed help your mind to settle down, but it’s not through forcefully trying to stop your thoughts.
When you’re simply aware of whatever occurs in the mind without following after it, and practice bringing your mind back to the present moment whenever you feel distracted, your mind will naturally calm down. Your thoughts give up in a sense when you don’t pay too much attention to them. Gradually, you start to feel more space between you and the thoughts. You feel more relaxed, whether there’s a thought arising or your mind is empty for a moment.
7. Who is noticing? There are two aspects of mind: the awareness of mind and the projections of mind, the latter meaning thoughts and emotions.
Your task in meditation is to remain in the awareness of mind rather than going off on a date with a beautiful thought or destructive emotion. When you notice a thought or emotion, you return your mind to the object of your meditation: the breath, a form, sounds, or sensation without further ado.
However, you don’t suppress thoughts or emotions. You allow them to appear, stay as long as they stay, and then pass on without attaching to them. Through this process, you come to recognize how transitory thoughts and emotions actually are and so they feel less compelling. This is when emotional freedom begins.
Most people think they are their thoughts and emotions. When you learn to identify with the awareness, rather than the projections of mind, you realize that’s not the case. You become the ruler of your life rather than subject to the whim of any false thought or turbulent emotion that happens to come up.
8. Ego wants to come along! As soon as you decide to meditate, your ego eagerly wants to come along too and bring all its neurotic and habitual patterns to the meditation cushion (or chair) as well. Whatever patterns typically dominate your life will show up in your meditation. For example:
- Trying too hard
- Feeling afraid your mind will never relax.
- Trying to meet the external expectations of a teacher or guide.
- Giving up because it’s too hard.
- Checking out
I know, you thought meditation was going to be about finding a calm, peaceful space where thoughts and emotions aren’t allowed. Even if you could create that ideal space, it wouldn’t last very long. I have a better option for you.
Meditation will bring calm, but it happens in a different, more sustainable way.
Because you’re paying attention, you will notice when an unhappy pattern tries to take over. Instead of blindly following it, you now have a choice. Every time you don’t respond in your habitual way, you gradually free yourself from unwise patterns. Eventually, they melt away and you feel calmer, clearer, and more centered.
Perfectionism? No problem! You just notice it arise, but don’t follow its command.
This is how meditation fuels positive change.
9. Painful memories and emotions may rise. When you’re in a state of relaxed awareness, painful memories may arise and trigger difficult emotional states. Through your own experience in meditation, you know that thoughts and emotions are transitory if you leave them alone. This is how healing can occur.
As best you can, quietly be with the memory and witness the tug of emotions trying to draw you in. When you acknowledge them but let them be, these memories and emotions will slowly lose their painful hold on you.
The secret is to lean into the difficult emotions instead of pulling away from them. Be willing to feel and experience them without embodying them or holding onto them.
You won’t heal emotional wounds in one shot. Be prepared for similar emotional themes to surface again and again. And know, if you hold your ground of awareness, in time, the pattern will shift.
Here’s an example from my own life: In the Silent Spaces, That’s Where Wholeness Lies.
At the same time, don’t torture yourself with overwhelming emotions. Apply the process with discernment. If the emotions are too strong, wild, and overwhelming, end your meditation session. Soothe yourself, do something you enjoy, or seek support.
Meditation can open the door to the unconscious so healing can occur. But you have to feel ready for this. You definitely don’t want to traumatize or re-traumatize yourself. If you’re a trauma survivor or live with mental illness, check with your therapist before exploring emotional wounds in meditation.
10. Don’t concentrate too intently. Meditation is not a heightened state of concentration, excluding everything but your desired object whether it’s the breath, an image, or thoughts.
There are three aspects to mindfulness meditation: mindfulness, watchful awareness, and spaciously abiding. You’re mindful of the object, you’re aware that you’re mindful and you’re cognizant of the environment around you, and you’re abiding spaciously.
For example, as I type these words, the computer screen is my main object, but I can hear the birds cooing in the background. I’m not so fixated on the screen that I’m oblivious to what’s going on around me. That could be dangerous. Instead, I’m abiding spaciously – relaxed with space in my mind for anything to appear and dissolve and cognizant of what’s happening while I rest my attention on my object.
11. Do you feel agitated when you try to meditate? There are two main obstacles in meditation. The first one is called agitation, that’s when your mind is all over the place. And, you may feel the impulse to get up.
Here are some practical steps you can take to reduce agitation:
- If you practice with your eyes open, lower your gaze rather than gazing directly into the space in front of you.
- Practice in a room that is warm and dark.
- Wear thicker clothing.
- Eat heavier food.
When the agitation in your mind isn’t too strong, it’s advised to draw in the scattered attention and place it on the object of your practice – the breath, an image, or whatever object you are using. So whenever you find yourself agitated, simply gather your mind and bring it back to the object.
There may be times however, when agitation seems to have a stronghold on you. Let’s take a moment to look at the cause of agitation.
Traditionally, it’s said that agitation arises from attachment. In other words, we have a lot on our mind because we have quite a lot of attachment to people, places, possessions, ideas, and outcomes.
Trying to bring the mind back to the object of your meditation can backfire when the mind is too wild. So when the agitation is strong, it’s advised to reflect on impermanence to counter the attachment at the root of your frenetic mind. Instead of trying to pull your mind back to the object, simply relax the mind and cultivate a sense of disenchantment with all the impermanent affairs of this life.
Recall how thoughts and emotions are constantly coming and going. There’s nothing permanent or solid about them. They’re just fabrications of our mind. Are all these thoughts and emotions really so important? Is that phone call so critical? Will the world end if your to-do list waits five minutes?
Would any of this be at the foremost of you mind if you knew you were going to die in a week?
When, through this reflection on impermanence, your mind has settled, return to the original method and place your attention on the object of your meditation once again.
12. Or do you check out? Dullness is the second main obstacle in meditation. That means feeling drowsy, spaced out, or dreamy.
To reduce dullness, you can try these strategies:
- If you practice with your eyes closed, open them up. Or if you eyes are open, but gazing downward, lift your gaze and direct it into the space in front of you.
- Open the window to let in some fresh air or keep the room temperature cooler.
- Wear lighter clothing.
- Eat lighter food.
Dudjom Rinpoche calls dullness “a blurred and mindless stagnation.” He advises:
How do you get out of that state? Alert yourself, straighten your back, breathe the stale air out of our lungs, and direct your awareness into the clear space to freshen your mind. If you remain in this stagnant state, you will not evolve, so whenever this setback arises, clear it again and again. It is important to be as watchful as possible, and to stay as vigilant as you can.
Remember to aim for a balance of relaxation and alertness in your practice of meditation.
13. Get to know your mind. Meditation isn’t just about calming the mind or reducing stress. It’s an opportunity to get to know the patterns of your mind and heart. By creating more space in your life and in your heart, you can more easily observe the patterns of thoughts and emotions that bring you unease.
Are you prone to jealousy? Do you compare yourself to others? Are you constantly criticizing yourself? Do small things trigger big waves of anger? By getting to know your conditioned responses, you’re empowered to change them and thus can live a happier life.
Also notice your good qualities, positive actions, and the progress you’re making, both in mediation and in all the ways you’re gradually becoming a better human being.
14. Let the love flow. Meditation is an opportunity to practice loving-kindness for yourself.
Your mind will wander in meditation, everyone’s does. You might fall asleep. Or you might miss your session altogether.
You’ll find many opportunities to accept and love yourself, mistakes and all. So never criticize yourself in meditation. Instead, make a commitment to always be loving and kind to yourself.
As you get to know your own mind and see all the suffering you create for yourself through the way you think and your habitual emotional reactions, you’ll naturally feel love and compassion for everyone else too. Because everyone is struggling with their own version of the same temptations, aren’t they?
15. Build up your practice time slowly. If you set unrealistic expectations, like sitting for 30 minutes off the bat, chances are, you’ll fail.
Start with five or ten minutes and then gradually build up to more time in meditation. You want to do enough so you begin to feel the positive benefits of meditation, but don’t start out trying to do way too much. The key to success is regularity. Try to sit every day, if possible or at least 4-5 times a week.
16. When is the best time to meditate? The best time to meditate is the time that works for you, a time that you can set aside regularly.
Traditionally, it’s recommended to meditate first thing in the morning when the mind and the energetic air waves are clear. Serious meditators would get up at three or four in the morning.
Understandably, that might not work if you have to be at work early or have children to attend to first thing in the morning. Find the time that works for you and then do your best to stick with it.
17. You can be mindful anywhere. Formal practice is important. Without a strong foundation, it’s difficult to sustain mindfulness in daily life. But the main point of meditation practice is to develop the ability to be mindful all the time, anywhere and everywhere.
So when your meditation session ends, don’t jump up and launch into life at rocket speed. Take a moment to feel the benefit of your practice, then get up mindfully and do your best to engage with awareness in daily life. During the day, whenever you find your mind wandering, bring it back to the present moment.
You can set a timer on your SMART phone or electronic device to gently ring once an hour as a reminder to come back to the present moment. Or use specific triggers, like answering the phone, brushing your teeth, or eating a meal, to remind you to be present. Through repetition like this, it will gradually become second nature.
18. Your understanding of meditation will change. Your understanding and practice of meditation will change and mature as you study and practice more.
Whatever you think meditation is now, it’s not. But you are where you need to be to get to the next step. So don’t worry so much about whether you have it all right. Just follow the instructions as best you can. More will be revealed to you as you gain stability in your practice.
19. Learning to meditate takes time. Most of us have a long-held bad habit of thinking too. That means our brain is hardwired to fire off thoughts, and these thoughts give birth to a habitual pattern of well-worn emotional responses.
That’s just how it is, so unless you’re an extremely rare exception, it will take time to learn to meditate. But you’ll have more and more positive experiences as you move along.
As a mindfulness teacher, I’ve seen how most people struggle with a busy mind or another obstacle when they start to meditate. But after a few weeks, they start to get the hang of it, and they feel a discernible difference after practicing for a month. The very same people have a completely different experience of and relationship to mediation after practicing for a year.
So don’t be impatient. Instead of feeling in a rush to achieve inner calm, enjoy the process of coming to know your own mind. Trust that in time, your mind will settle down and actually be remarkably different the longer you practice meditation.
20. Need support? If you have a hard time sustaining your meditation practice on your own, find a community of people who meditate regularly and sit with them.
There are Buddhist meditation groups in most major cities. You’ll also find secular meditation studios with names like “unplug” or “the den” in many urban areas. Just make sure they’re teaching the authentic practice of mindfulness. You can find meditation groups online too if you’re not close to a city.
Sitting once a week with a group might be just what you need to stay accountable.
21. Stay inspired. I created this list of free meditation resources – articles, audios, and videos – to help you stay inspired. Inspiration is one of the best fuels on the path of meditation. Listening, watching, and reading are three ways you can keep the spark alive and feel eager to get your tush on the cushion again.
If you’d like to know how to set up your meditation space, read this:
There are so many practical benefits to meditation from reducing stress to increasing focus to managing chronic pain. These are significant in and of themselves.
But most importantly, meditation puts you in touch with your true nature, whatever you might call it – spirit, soul, or consciousness. When you begin to identify with your essence instead of all the thoughts and emotions, you will know peace, compassion, and true freedom.
Do you have any questions about meditation? Please ask them in your comments or share your thoughts.
Sources and Resources
Note: These are affiliate links. If you make a purchase using these links, I will make a small commission. Thank you so much for supporting my writing in this way.
- The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness
- The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free resources in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra