Meditation is headline news these days, and for good reason: this ancient practice has major benefits for modern-day problems. Medical researchers and mindfulness experts agree that it can do everything from ward off stress to boost your physical health and increase cognitive function. Sounds great – but how do you do it? Here’s a practical introduction to meditation and our best tips for getting started.
In order to meditate, you don’t need to chant, twist yourself into a pretzel, believe in the metaphysical, or buy any products or subscriptions. By the broadest definition, meditation is simply a technique for focusing your mind in order to produce a clear mental state and a calm emotional state.
Or, as our own Kate Hannon describes it, "Meditation is the practice of learning to stay. The wandering mind often contributes to our mental suffering. When we learn to stay, we learn to have a more gentle presence with ourselves. This compassion gives way to inner peace."
Many more specific types of meditation exist (transcendental meditation, mantra meditation, Zen meditation, etc.) but you don’t need to subscribe to any one modality in order to benefit. Start with a basic practice and go on to explore specific types if they resonate with you, but feel free to stick to whatever feels good, no matter how simple or specialized.
Pause for Presence
Beginner Meditation Course
When many people are first starting out (or even if they are accomplished meditators), it’s helpful to follow along with a guided meditation. We’ve got you covered!
Kate has created Pausing for Presence, an introductory course with novice meditators in mind. The recordings are free, each course is under ten minutes long, and they’re audio-only, so you don’t need to spend any extra time staring at a screen. What have you got to lose?
We recommend bookmarking this page, starting at the beginning of the series, and listening to at least one each day until you accomplish them all. Repeat the series or individual meditations as often as you’d like.
Tips for Getting Started
Real-World Tips for Best Results
Now that you know what to do, how should you do it? The good news is, you don’t need to overthink it or do anything dramatic to prepare. Here are Kate’s tips to help ease you into the practice.
- Start small: Pick an amount of time that is realistic and achievable for you. 5 minutes may be all you can do each day, and that is enough. Work your way up to longer times.
- Daily commitment: 5 minutes a day is better than an hour once a week, as consistency is a major factor in changing how your brain perceives and responds to stress.
- Go somewhere you won't be interrupted. Find a quiet space at home or work so you can turn the attention inward.
- Sit in a comfortable position, so physical sensations don’t become a distraction. Sitting upright in a chair, with your back up against it, feet flat on the floor, and palms resting on your lap is a great place to start. An upright position allows you to maintain focus and alertness as opposed to drifting off to sleep (of course, if you’re doing a meditation meant to induce sleep, feel free to lay down in your bed).
- Focus on the breath. This is the easiest way to anchor yourself in the moment. Notice where you feel your breath the most. Notice the sensations and quality of the breath, and saying to yourself, "In on the inhale, out on the exhale" to help focus your attention.
- Be gentle, kind and patient with yourself. It is absolutely natural and common for the mind to wander.The more you meditate, the less you get lost in thought and the quicker you learn to return to your breath and stay in the present moment. In those moments of wandering, try to gently center back to the breath. Over time you will become less lost in your thoughts and more conscious in the present moment.
- Give yourself credit. Taking the time out of your day to pause is no small task. Even if the day’s practice doesn’t come naturally, you’re already doing something good for yourself just by putting in the effort. It's called a practice for a reason; keep practicing. Sure it's nice to meditate for enlightenment, but moreso, that you learn to connect with the experience of the present moment.
Further Reading and Resources
To learn more about meditation from modern-day experts, check out a few books. Kate recommends Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg, The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.
If you enjoy Kate’s guided meditations, check out Skyterra Interactive, our free mobile app. In addition to Kate’s recordings, you’ll find versions of our Skyterra Connect class focusing on breathwork meditation, workouts, recipes, and more.
Better yet, visit our wellness retreat! We are open year-round in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Our program is a well-rounded mix of fitness, nutrition, and stress management classes, along with a healthy dose of outdoor adventure and the opportunity to relax, recharge, and unplug. Our competitive weekly rates include lodging, chef-prepared meals, and our full program. Learn more from our FAQ!