OK, so you’re aware of the many mental and physical benefits of meditation – better sleep, reduced stress, greater clarity and peace, and the rest – and you want a piece of that. But how do you actually get started meditating?

For many people, the thought of meditation elicits images of people sitting on mats, legs crossed, in the lotus position, chanting “om”. The reality is you don’t need symbols to clang, incense to burn or even the latest meditation app to guide you (unless you want it to of course!); you just need to be willing to give meditation a go.

Guided meditation practitioner Maree Hollebone says breathing is the first step for beginners.

“We don’t pay enough attention to our breathing,” says Maree. “We all tend to breathe in our upper chest, or the thoracic region, which is the top half of our lungs. What we should be doing is filling up the bottom half of our lungs, and then expelling the air from there.

“I teach easy breathing techniques that you can do anywhere, anytime, like sitting at the traffic lights, waiting for the road rage to clear. Breathing is a good starting place because we all need to breathe to live!”

Here are a few pointers for meditation beginners.

How do I meditate?

For a beginner, meditation is not so much about reaching a higher plane of oneself, but more about being able to ‘turn off the background noise’.

Breathing techniques are easy and available – to anyone, anywhere. If you can’t breathe, you have bigger problems than not knowing how to meditate.

Maree’s tips for meditation beginners.

  1. Set your intention to take time out from the daily grind and calm the mind to stop that constant thinking.
  2. Find a quiet spot, where you won’t be disturbed, whether that’s a spot in the garden, your bedroom or the bathtub.
  3. Focus on the rising and falling of your breath. Breathing all the way in, at your own pace, filling the bottom of your lungs. Then exhaling to empty your lungs.
  4. If your thoughts are disrupting your focus on breathing, acknowledge them as just thoughts, mentally set them aside and return to breathing.

There are many forms of meditation – sound, walking, visualisation, candle-gazing, painting, mindfulness, and more – as well as further breathing techniques like alternate nostril breathing.

Maree says another simple technique for beginners is progressive muscle relaxation. “We work on relaxing every muscle bit by bit, starting with the toes. This technique is popular in yoga, corporate training and stress management because it works to bring down those cortisol and adrenalin in the body. It drops the heart rate, drops the blood pressure and relaxes the body.”

For how long do I meditate?

Just as you need 30 minutes of physical exercise each day, Maree says you need 20-30 minutes of mind exercise too. But it’s a process; start with 5-10 minutes and gradually build yourself up to 20-30 minutes.

“The more you do it, the better you get at it, the deeper you go, the more you get out of it.”

Maree says 5-15 minutes of deep, focused breathing and calming your mind at lunchtime can work wonders if you need a top-up.

How do I know it’s working?

“It’s like losing weight, emotional weight. You do it little by little,” says Maree. “You just need to allow it to happen. And don’t expect a drastic change overnight.

“Most people will start feeling a change in two or three days. They’ll feel a bit calmer. They’ll turn around and think, ‘Oh, last week I would have burred up at that, but I didn’t just now’. They don’t overreact like they used to.

“People with anxiety might notice they’re less tense too.”

Like anything, you get better at it with practice.

The verdict.

In Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, the author writes that meditation isn’t going to solve your problems and make life always peaceful. In his experience, meditation has made him 10% happier. Seems like a reasonable return on investment for 20 minutes of focused breathing and quiet time each day.

Simple? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. And in so many ways. (Read more about the benefits of meditation here.)

 This article is one in a four-part series. Read the rest.