14 Benefits of Meditation that Rewire Your Brain for Happiness & Success

I stand on stage in front of a packed room. My heart is pounding in my ears.

Thump. Thump.

In twenty seconds, I have to walk up to the microphone and give an introduction to the audience. A horrible feeling is rising in my chest.

Terror. I feel terror.

I am an introvert. “I don’t do crowded venues,” I told myself after I was asked to give this introduction. I would rather take a plunge into the Arctic Sea than speak to a room full of people. But I pushed my fear away. “Sure. I’ll do it.”

Now that fear is bubbling up again. I need an escape. A safe place.

I close my eyes for a brief few seconds and focus only on my breath.

Breathe in. Breath out. The air tickles my nostrils.

Immediately, calm overtakes me. My heart rate slows. My nervousness turns to excitement. I step up to the microphone and open my mouth, and my voice is calm and powerful. I can do this.

For the past three years, I have been meditating every day. In this short time, meditation has profoundly transformed my life in ways I never thought possible. Whenever I am scared or nervous or anxious, I simply close my eyes and breathe and within seconds I enter a state of calm. This ability alone is worth more than anything money could buy. And this is just one of the countless life-changing benefits of meditation.

Why Meditate?

If you’ve ever read the book Bridge to Terabithia (or seen the movie), then you are familiar with Terabithia – an imaginary world that the main characters, Jesse and Leslie, create as a safe haven. It is somewhere they can go to be free from the cares and worries of the world.

Meditation has given me a Terabithia. I have created a clearing of calm and tranquility that I can enter into within seconds whenever I feel the need. I have a refuge no matter where I am or what I am doing. The worries of the world no longer threaten me.

Except this mental place isn’t imaginary, and it isn’t populated with trolls and wild creatures – it is as real as the world we live in.

Since starting my meditation habit, my brain has literally been rewired for happiness, peace and success. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • I rarely become angry.
  • I find happiness in unexpected places.
  • I form deeper relationships and build friendships more easily.

By far the largest benefit, however, is that a deep, serene calm and peace is slowly permeating into every area of my life.

At first meditating felt unusual – like I was stepping out of normal life and doing something that most people find strange. I soon realized, however, that this wasn’t true – millions of people meditate and many successful people attribute part of their success to meditation.

Here’s proof that meditation isn’t just for monks.

I could go on, but you get the point. The most successful people in the world meditate and there is a reason why. Science backs up the effectiveness of meditation and has revealed an incredible array of benefits.

The Mind-Blowing Science of How Meditation Rewires Your Brain

At first, I couldn’t believe that a simple daily meditation practice affected my life so powerfully. So, I started doing research and devoured all of the scientific studies on meditation that I could find. I was amazed at what I found – it turns out meditation can transform nearly every area of your life.

Here are fourteen scientifically proven ways meditation rewires your brain for happiness, peace and success.

#1: Meditation reduces stress

Feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Meditation is incredibly effective at reducing stress and anxiety. One study found that mindfulness and zen type meditations significantly reduce stress when practiced over a period of three months. Another study revealed that meditation literally reduces the density of brain tissue associated with anxiety and worrying. If you want your stress levels to plummet, meditation may be the answer.

#2: Meditation increases your sense of well-being

Want to fill your life with happiness and energy? Mindfulness meditation increases your psychological functioning and in the process improves your sense of well-being. Yoga and tai chi have been found to do this also – according to studies, they have significant therapeutic effects and increase quality of life when practiced regularly.

#3: Meditation increases your sense of connectedness and empathy

Feeling a little disconnected from those around you? Try compassion meditation. Lovingkindess meditation (sometimes called Metta) is a compassion-based meditation that enhances brain areas associated with mental processing and empathy. It also increases your sense of social connectedness. Not a hugging person? You just might become one after trying metta!

#4: Meditation improves focus

Would you love to add razor-edge focus to your life? Research shows that meditation improves cognition and increases your ability to perform tasks requiring focus. One study tested a variety of different meditation types, including Transcendental Meditation, Vipassana, Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, Sufi Meditation and Hindu Meditation, and found that they all improve focus by varying degrees. I used to think coffee was the best way to get focused – now I just meditate.

#5: Meditation improves relationships

Want to strengthen your relationships? Meditation has been shown to better your ability to relate to others. How? It improves your ability to empathize, and it hones your ability to pick up on cues indicating how others are feeling. Meditation also increases your emotional stability, making you less likely to be influenced by any negative people in your life.

#6: Meditation makes you more creative

Ever feel like you could use some more inspiration? Meditation increases your creativity, according to various studies. It’s no wonder that famous creatives like Yoko Ono, David Lynch and Marina Abramović make meditation a major part of their life.

#7: Meditation improves memory

Whether you want to become a memory champion or you simply want to remember the name of that guy who works down the hall, meditation can help. Research has shown that it improves your ability to memorize things and to store and consolidate new information.

#8: Meditation improve your ability to make decisions

There’s a reason high powered executives turn to meditation to help them do their jobs better. Studies have found that both mindfulness meditation and Transcendental Meditation help you make better decisions by improving the functioning of your brain’s decision-making centers. If you want to start cultivating your inner executive, give meditation a try.

#9: Meditation helps people overcome addictions

Do you know someone who has struggled with addiction? One of the most beautiful effects of meditation is that it can help people overcome powerful addictions. One fascinating study found that Vipassana meditation can be incredibly effective at helping people overcoming alcohol and drug related addictions, and similar effects have been found for various types of meditation.

#10: Meditation improves cardiovascular health

Want to get some of the benefits of exercise by sitting in one place? Researchers have found that both mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease.

#11: Meditation enhances your immune system

Do you get sick more often than you would like? Believe it or not, a variety of different types of meditation, from mindfulness to yoga, have been shown to strengthen the human immune system and make you more resistant to viruses and infections. Take that, cold season.

#12: Meditation helps you find “flow”

Have you ever felt totally, utterly absorbed in the moment? Maybe you were playing a sport or painting a picture, and the world around you just seemed to vanish. This is called “flow,” and is a rare state where the human mind is operating in complete harmony with itself, when you reach a challenge perfectly suited to your abilities. Meditation can help you reach this amazing state of mind, according to some fascinating research.

#13: Meditation reduces physical and emotional pain (better than morphine)

Perhaps the most amazing benefit of meditation is that it has the capability to reduce mental and physical pain better than morphine. Yep, you read that right. That’s a pretty incredibly scientific finding.

Source:  Read this awesome Huffington Post research summary

#14: Meditation takes you towards enlightenment?

Traditionally, the goal of meditation is to reach Enlightenment, or a state of perfect happiness and understanding. Can you reach enlightenment by meditating? Who’s to say? Many people say yes, although science still doesn’t have an answer. If you’re curious, there is a podcast dedicated to interviewing people who claim to have reached some stage of enlightenment called Buddha at the Gas Pump. Check it out here.

Want to read about even more benefits of meditation? Here is a fantastic article published on the site Live and Dare that recaps 76 benefits of meditation, and here is an amazing research summary put together by the app Headspace. 

How Do I Start?

With so many different types of meditation, it can be hard to decide how to get started. To help, I’ve provided a short list of popular types of meditation, plus a method to help you find one that suits your personality.

11 Surprising Benefits Of Meditation

Health benefits of meditation include relief from stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndromeand acute respiratory infection. It increases IQ, pain tolerance and helps in weight loss. It is also beneficial in maintaining blood pressure.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a mind-body practice in CAM or complementary and alternative medicine. [1] It can be of many types, most of which have originated from traditions, religion etc. There are certain techniques used by those who practice meditation. These techniques include focused attention, a specific body posture and no attention or openness to distractions without much of a response or reaction.

People all over the world practice meditation for a variety of reasons. Some meditate as a part of culture or traditions that may have been followed in the families or society since many years. Some meditate to increase focus, improve health etc. It has been beneficial in maintaining good health and also reducing the risk of many health ailments.

Types of Meditation

When taken from the religion concept it may involve the use of prayer beads or any other item that is considered sacred to a particular religion. Meditation can be practiced when standing, sitting or in the active way that is common among the Buddhists. [2] Physical fitness incorporates its use alongside other exercises such as Yoga. This process is considered to be able to generate various forms of emotional state or alternatively encourage the development of a given mental reflex to various occurrences in the surrounding environment such as compassion, anger, and hatred. It has a calming and relieving result that helps to direct self-awareness inwardly until pure and controlled awareness is realized.

One major advantage of practicing meditation is that it is safe and so far there are no injuries that are associated with it. A person does not require any kind of equipment to meditate; all that is needed is enough space. This is why physicians recommend this practice to patients suffering from stress-related conditions.

It can be practiced under the supervision of doctors, health specialists, and yoga and meditation teachers. One can also self-direct and practice it however it is suggested to first learn the technique under the guidance of teachers or doctors and then practice it on your own. There are various schools of meditation or arts such as Zen, Tibetan, Transcendental, tai chi and martial arts who teach the correct techniques of meditation.

Fifteen to twenty minutes of meditation every day is good and helps to relax body, mind, and soul. Studies have been carried out to ascertain the various health benefits of meditation and its impact on day to day life.

Few things common across types [1] of meditation include

Location: A quiet location is always preferred for meditating as that helps in minimizing the distractions.

Body posture: Depending on the type of meditation the position is decided. It could be sitting in one place, standing or lying down.

Focus: Different types of meditations use different things to focus. One may focus on a mantra or object or breathe sensation while meditating.

Open attitude: Distracting thoughts may keep coming while practicing meditation. It is important for the meditator to try and not lose focus. One may just observe the thoughts and slowly bring back the attention to focus. This may take some time but with regular practice, it is possible to not get affected by distracting thoughts.

Health Benefits of Meditation

The health benefits of Meditation include a relief from stress, regulated blood pressure, prevention of anemia and many others.

Relieves Stress

Beginning with ten minutes meditation session daily may help to lower stress levels. Many people suffer from this condition especially due to the lifestyle and challenges that exist in the modern society. It may not be easy to notice the level of stress that one is wallowing in and without precautionary measures, it is possible for one to slip into advance stages that could lead to serious health issues. A good remedy to this condition is relaxation which is easily achieved through meditation. The finding of researchers suggests that transcendental meditation may reduce the risk of psychological distress and hypertension amongst young adults. [3]

Lowers Blood pressure

Meditation is also beneficial for managing blood pressure levels. A research study suggests that practicing transcendental meditation may be beneficial in decreasing blood pressure of those who face a high risk of hypertension or psychological stress. [3]

Treats Insomnia

Lack of sleep can lead to serious health implications including fatigue and lack of appetite. Persons suffering from insomnia rely on sleeping pills to assist them in sleeping. Some have even tried sticking to a regular sleeping pattern but still, the condition persists. Studies have been conducted to test the effect of meditation on sleep patterns and the results suggest that regular practice of mindfulness meditation may help in developing ways to work with nocturnal symptoms and waking consequences of chronic insomnia. [4]

Prevents Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI)

Health benefits of meditation include reduced risk of acute respiratory infections. ARI caused by viruses and influenza is one of the common illnesses that affect many. Good health and strong immune system may protect the body from ARI. Exercise and meditation are some of the activities that have proven to be useful. A research study suggests that regular meditation may help in reducing ARI illness. [5]

Treats Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Mindfulness meditation training helps in maintaining good health and providing relief from irritable bowel syndrome. [6] A study conducted on women with IBS suggests that it is effective in reducing the severity of IBS.

Reduces Anxiety

Meditation helps in reducing anxiety. Findings of a study suggest that meditation reduces anxiety, blood pressure and helps in improving quality of life. [7]

Increases Pain Tolerance

Meditation has been used as a therapy to increase pain tolerance. A research study suggests that there was an increase in pain tolerance of people post-meditation and the pain ratings provided by the subjects also decreased significantly. [8]

Improves Sexual Health

An inclusion of meditation is effective in sex therapy for treating women with sexual arousal disorder. Results of a study conducted in 2008 showed that there was a significant improvement in sexual distress and sexual desire. [9] It also showed a trend of improvement in depressionscores of women who had a sexual abuse history.

Aids Weight loss

So far emotional eating is one of the factors that contribute largely to the increase of obesity cases both in adults and teenagers as well. This kind of eating disorder pushes a person into consuming large quantities of food even when not hungry. It is mainly caused by unmanageable stress, anxiety, boredom, and sadness. The inclusion of meditation helps in controlling weight loss and the conditions associated with a poor eating habit. Control of the portions eaten directly translates to a reduction in the overall body weight.

Boosts Memory

Meditation cultivates and promotes the alertness of the mind and this matters a lot when it comes to the intelligence level that is considered high or of the appropriate percentage. There are different ways of improving a person’s IQ such as regular meditation. Meditation helps in improving cognitive functions and reducing psychological stress responses. It also helps in reducing rate of forgetfulness.

Treats Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

CFS refers to severe tiredness that may be caused due to inflammation of nervous system or human herpes virus. Meditation may also be useful in reducing pain and treating anxiety and depression. [10]

Conclusion

The process of meditation involves some level of training that acts as guidance. All the above results can only be achieved by learning from an expert how to perform this practice in the right manner. Finding those who have mastered different variations of meditation is no longer a difficult task especially with the existence of the internet. There are various information sources that offer free/paid lessons on how to commence the meditation. Alternatively one can source for information from those who have been into meditation practice for a long time in order to obtain information on where to find a trainer. Staying healthy is very important and this is made possible through meditation.

Meditation Tips for Beginners

The popularity of meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, has exploded in recent years. Because of this, huge waves of people are just beginning their meditation practice, or still working out the kinks, and could use some simple guidance.

I don’t pretend to know everything, but I have uncovered a number of tips and tricks from my own meditation practice over the years which I’d like to share here for everyone. I’m sure just about everyone can find at least a few tips from the 50 below which will help them move their practice forward or deepen their practice in general.

Below are 50 meditation tips for beginners starting their own meditation practice (centered around mindfulness meditation practices). The title says meditation tips for beginners, but the reality is even if you’ve practiced for a while there’s probably at least few points here you can use to take your practice to the “next level” so to speak.

I hope you find them useful. Here are 50 meditation tips for beginners: _____________________________________

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50 Meditation Tips for Beginners

1. You can meditate anywhere

Meditation isn’t just sitting in a crazy difficult folded leg position (the lotus position) with your eyes closed.

You can meditate anywhere, any time of day, and in multiple positions with multiple forms.

Expand your practice to your entire day and utilize multiple forms to see the real power of meditation. To learn how to meditate, or for ideas on where to start your practice, you can read How to Meditate for Beginners.

2. You don’t have to close your eyes

It’s a common misconception that you have to do meditate with your eyes closed, and while this is perfectly acceptable (for sitting meditation at least…), it’s highly beneficial especially in the beginning to meditate with your eyes partly open to help you maintain alertness and avoid dozing off.

Many traditions and backgrounds meditate exclusively with eyes partly open, never closed.

3. Start simple

Don’t jump right into walking meditation or mindful eating, start with breathing meditations. The most basic, most common, and most useful of which is mindful breathing.

This is essentially the same as sitting in meditation (with mindfulness of breath), so whether you sit or take a minute or two throughout your day to practice mindful breathing, whatever works for you is fine.

4. Walk it off

There’s an exception to the last point. Whether you’ve just begun or have meditated for some time, if you feel a strong energy in your body, or are extra restless, you shouldn’t force sitting in meditation, you should get up and walk slowly with mindfulness (walking meditation).

This is a common practice that helps the practitioner calm their nerves so that they can sit more successfully.

In the beginning, you should sit despite this restlessness, but if you’ve sat for a few weeks and still find yourself moderately restless it can be beneficial to do walking meditation for a moment and then sit after.

This is also a valuable advanced meditation tip for those who are experiencing an abnormal level of restlessness.

5. Find what works best for you

Once you’ve practiced mindful breathing for a few weeks I’d suggest you start trying out the various other forms of meditation. This usually begins with walking meditation and expands out to eating meditation, driving meditation, and so forth.

It’s limitless really, and I wouldn’t just dive into them without some instruction, but you’re free to experiment, find what works best for you, and structure your meditation practice accordingly once you’re passed the initial phase of practicing mindful breathing.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying don’t sit in meditation, but I am saying that you can sit for half a day in meditation or you can sit for 30 minutes and do other meditative forms, like do walking meditation, and focus on simply living your everyday life as it is in mindfulness.

For anyone living a halfway “normal” life, this is generally much more effective and far more natural.

Even with regards to sitting meditation, there’s no one way to do it. You can sit and be mindful of your breath, or you could mix it up and be mindful of the many sights and sounds within your field of awareness as well. Or you could even meditate on compassion from time to time.

The choice is up to you, so find what works best for you.

6. It usually takes practice (but not always)

Some people get the idea, that is, how to be mindful, almost immediately. But most people take a while to get the hang of it.

I was the latter, so if you’re having some difficulty in your practice don’t worry, it’s only natural. There’s no rhyme or reason to this, and those more proficient at first don’t go on to be better at mindfulness, they just get it faster.

So don’t be discouraged by this and think it “isn’t for you” or something else discouraging. The challenges you’re facing will actually help to strengthen your practice.

7. Soft focus, not hard

While mindful, it should feel as though you have a soft, but constant, focus on your object of meditation (your breath, steps, etc.) and of anything else that comes into your field of awareness, rather than a hard focus that makes you strain your eyeballs and hurt your brain.

If this is what you’re doing simply relax a bit and remind yourself that you’re not forcing your awareness, or focus, on one point.

Your object of meditation works more like an anchor helping you stay in the present moment, rather than a laser target that’s concentrating your focus.

If you become drawn away, by a thought or sensation, this isn’t a bad thing, it’s only bad if you don’t acknowledge it with your mindfulness.

These thoughts and sensations coming into your field of awareness are totally natural, and should be welcomed (of course after acknowledging them, come back to your object of meditation- breath, steps, etc.).

8. Don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right or not

I didn’t get the hang of mindfulness right away, it took me some time. Get a good resource with instruction on how to meditate and simply follow it as best you can, practicing at least a little each day.

As long as you’re doing that, don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right or not. With time, provided you’re doing you best to follow the instruction, you’ll get the hang of it.

9. Don’t worry about your hands

I know you’ve probably seen pictures before of people meditating (who hasn’t?). In those pictures, they were usually doing something specific with their hands, right? That specific hand placement is called a mudra (Sanskrit for “sign”), and it’s generally meant to symbolize some important principle in the particular meditation or spiritual tradition that it originated from.

Mudras can be used to enhance your practice specifically while sitting in meditation, so feel free to use them, but in no way think that they’re required.

10. Wake up

In a very literal sense, you should be wide awake when you attempt to meditate, especially sitting in meditation, as otherwise, it becomes very easy to doze off. If you’re not, you might need to wait until a better time or find a way to wake yourself up beforehand.

This could be something simple like caffeine or something more complex like only meditating during a specific time in the day (such as an hour into your morning, when your energy is full and the sleepiness of the morning has worn off).

11. Stretch

While meditation isn’t about rejecting anything or quieting your mind to the point where you stop thinking (an impossible and useless feat), the beginnings of meditation are about bringing the mind to rest.

This is because, before you do this, your mind will be too active to sit back and observe, which is the entire point.

A simple trick you can do to help this along is simply to stretch a bit before you begin meditating, as this will help to not only relax you but activate your body to some degree. It doesn’t matter what you do, just pick a few simple stretches that relax you and do them for a minute or two before meditating.

12. Posture is important

Your ability to stay focused while meditating is directly connected to your posture.

Without proper posture, you’re more likely to doze off and improper posture is usually an obstruction to your breathing.

To some degree, this isn’t something you have to worry all that much about, as often just becoming fully present will make you realize you’re slouching and stand up straight. But in any case, make sure while sitting in meditation that your back and neck are straight.

13. You don’t have to sit in the lotus position

If you don’t know it, the lotus position is that position which involves sitting cross-legged and then placing each leg on top of the opposite thigh.

The lotus position is not something that everyone is capable of doing (or should try doing) even with practice.

Feel free to sit in a chair, it really doesn’t matter. Keep the main thing the main thing, and that’s the actual act of meditating. Everything else is there simply to help support your practice, even physical positioning.

14. Don’t sit and meditate on a full stomach

Zen students avoid meditating on a full stomach, as this generally leads to an increased tendency to doze off. Of course, it can be equally bad to meditate while you’re starving, so I’d suggest against that too.

It’s not as difficult as it sounds, just something to stay mindful of as it can affect your sitting meditation specifically.

15. Half-smile

In the beginning of your practice, or even if you’ve practiced for some time and just had a tough day, the stress and general restlessness you’re feeling can make it really difficult to meditate.

To combat this, adopt a simple half-smile. We hold a huge amount of tension and stress in our facial muscles, and a light smile (a half-smile) can relieve much of that tension and stress. It’s a simple act with a powerful effect.

16. When questions arise, stay focused and mindful

In the beginning, it’s natural to become frustrated with your practice and wonder what you’re doing, why it isn’t working, or just feel like quitting.

During this time you need to meditate more than ever. Stay focused and know that it’s just a part of the process (largely, just the process of removing the jitters and stress from your body).

With time, your mind will calm and you’ll find a great sense of peace from your practice again, often even more than before the ordeal.

17. Count

Don’t just breathe (or walk, chew, etc.), while being mindful it’s highly useful to count while doing so. Counting to yourself helps keep you awake to the moment and helps you notice when you’ve become distracted.

You can simply count from 1-10, one number for each inhale or exhale. So: inhale (one), exhale (two), inhale (three), and exhale (four). If you notice yourself slip, start the 10 count over.

If you have a heavily productivity centered mindset you might find yourself trying to cheat here. Don’t, there’s no point. All you’ll end up doing is fooling yourself and hurting your own practice.

The quality of your practice is dependent upon your willingness to be honest with yourself. This technique can really help you improve your practice, so don’t get in the way of your own ability to get the most from your practice.

18. Set a timer

If you don’t set a timer, you’ll have no idea when to stop and often end up pausing your meditation to glance at a clock constantly, interrupting your practice and making yourself even more uncomfortable and distracted.

By setting a timer you can relax and focus on your meditation practice, knowing you won’t go over your time and miss what you have to do afterward.

19. Don’t set a timer

OK, a timer isn’t always a good idea. In general, my rule with a timer is that it’s good to use one, but keep it in a place where you can’t see it or get to it, such as up on your desk while you sit several feet away on the floor, and with your chair blocking your computer screen for good measure.

This way there’s no way for you to find out what time it is during your meditation, but you still know your timer is set, and so can rest comfortably knowing that you should just stay focused since your timer will tell you when you’re done.

But even after doing this, sometimes just knowing there’s a timer set can be the very cause of your restlessness. If you find that happening, just don’t set a timer.

Sitting without a timer can be really pleasant, and is the way I almost always meditate. It feels more natural, like I’m free to just float off as long as I please. Of course this is a luxury I’m not always afforded, and the likelihood is neither will you, but when possible it can be really nice.

20. Don’t sit longer than you can

Even so, after calming yourself before meditating and using a timer in the proper way, in the beginning at least, you’ll grow increasingly more restless as time goes on.

Maybe that time is 5 minutes, maybe it’s 10, or maybe it’s 20. Whatever it is, if you’ve only been meditating for a week, a month, or even a few months, there’s a time period you’ll get to where you just can’t sit any longer before feeling like you’re crawling out of your skin.

Once you get to that point, just stop sitting. It’s as simple as that. There’s no reason to push it. If you do this consistently, each day, you’ll gradually be able to sit down for longer and longer periods until the point where you feel as though you could sit forever peacefully without this feeling ever arising.

Guide: Everything you need to start meditating

Meditation will make you more productive. It might sound strange that sitting still and doing nothing for a period of time will make you more productive, but it’s true. Before diving into what to do, it’s worth going over why you should meditate in the first place.

I’ve combined benefits observed by neurological research with my own personal observations over the three years I’ve been meditating (which are slightly less scientific). Some benefits of meditation include:

  • Meditation has great calming effects. Research has shown that EEG activity actually decreases during meditation.1 Meditation also helps you to recharge so you have more energy throughout the day.
  • The practice increases the blood flow in your brain, and according to one neurophysiologist, “rewires the circuitry in your brain”. ((Source: Zen and the Brain book))
  • It’s been proven that people who meditate need less sleep.2
  • Meditation makes your brain age slower and increases the amount of grey matter in your brain.3 Grey matter is responsible for muscle control, seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, and speech.4
  • Meditation makes it much easier to focus and achieve flow, that feeling of being completely immersed and energized by something. It also allows you to procrastinate less, and get more done in the same amount of time.
  • The practice has been even shown to boost students’ test scores (by 11% in one study)!5
  • Meditation helps your mind defragment your thoughts so you can make better sense of them, and step away from them to gain perspective.

Needless to say, there are a ton of benefits to adopting a regular meditation practice, and these are just a few of them.

Meditation is a very simple practice that people overcomplicate. This article focuses on breathing meditation, where you focus on your breath. (Imagine that!)

The basic idea of meditation is simple. Every time your mind begins to shift its spotlight away from your breath and you get lost in thought, you simply bring your attention back to your breath. And then you repeat this again and again until your meditation timer sounds. The point is that every time you bring your attention back to your breath, you work out your “attention muscle”, if you want to call it that. Then, over time your focus, concentration, and attention span improve, in addition to the plethora of other benefits mentioned above.

That’s the basic idea of meditation.

You will need two things to get started, but you should have both of them already.

You don’t need much to meditate, but you should have two things:

  1. Something to sit on. There is such thing as standing meditation and walking meditation, but sitting meditation is the most common and the best place to start.
  2. A timer. Since meditation is all about working out your “attention muscle”, having to check a clock would somewhat defeat the purpose of meditation, since it would constantly distract your attention away from your breath.

1. Something to sit on

There are three options for something to sit on during meditation.

A chair (good if you’re starting out or have back problems)

Chairs are great for if you’re just starting to meditate, or if you have back problems and find sitting on a meditation cushion uncomfortable. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend using a chair the first few times instead of going out and buying a meditation cushion. Once you routinize meditation and become more comfortable with it, then I would recommend purchasing a meditation cushion; using a chair at first will help you ease your way into practice.

A meditation cushion (most common)

A meditation cushion (named a “zafu”, pictured right) is the most popular thing people sit on during meditation. The great thing about a meditation cushion is it is easiest to sit in an upright position when you’re on one, which improves your alertness and the quality of your meditation (and hence, how productive your sit is). With a chair or a meditation bench, you may be tempted to slump, which can cause you to lose focus.

A meditation bench (more comfortable than a cushion)

If you’re taller or find a meditation cushion too uncomfortable, it’s worth giving a meditation bench a shot. It will still force you to sit upright, and you won’t have the urge to slump as much as you do on a chair. Meditation benches also absorb a lot of the weight you would have otherwise applied to your legs, which makes meditation much more comfortable.

Recommendation

I recommend that you sit on a chair the first several times you meditate, and then switch to a meditation cushion (zafu) after you become more comfortable with your practice.

A meditation cushion will keep you the most alert during your meditation, but you likely don’t have one lying around your house already. It also takes your body a while to adapt to sitting on one, which will make you sore when you first start out. If you’re relatively fit and healthy, though, I recommend using a cushion for the alertness it will give you.

If you have leg problems, or are just looking for something a little more comfortable than a meditation cushion, I recommend using a bench. If you have back problems, I recommend using a chair – but be careful, because though chairs are more comfortable, it’s easier to lose focus on one.

2. A timer

The second thing you’ll need is a timer.

I recommend that you simply use your phone, but just make sure to turn your phone’s radio off before you begin meditating. Pretty much every phone has a timer built-in, and if you have a smartphone, chances are there is a great meditation app for it too.

  • Insight Timer is a good pick, and there’s a free version of it available for iPhone and Android. You can even see who around the world is meditating when you are!
  • If you’re willing to pony up a few bucks ($3.99), Meditate for iPhone is a good pick, and it’s the one I use. It’s dead-simple, and displays a simple page of stats after you finish.

I wouldn’t recommend buying an actual, physical meditation timer. When a free app that works on your phone accomplishes the exact same thing, I don’t personally see a point.

When I first started to meditate, I remember being dumbfounded at what exactly I had to do after I sat down. Two things especially confused me: how do I sit, and what do I think about? Those are essentially the only things you need to worry about when it comes to meditation.

How to sit

  • The biggest thing to remember is to keep your back straight. Keep your back erect (if you’re in a chair it’s best not to rest your back on the back of the chair), and keep an upright posture. This keeps you alert, and allows you to concentrate more easily on your breath.
  • Your eyes can be either closed or open. Again, the goal of this whole “meditation” thing is to work out your attention muscle. If you find you can concentrate better on your breath with your eyes closed, as many people do, then it’s probably best to keep them closed. If you’re tired and find yourself dozing off when you close your eyes, try opening them slightly and focusing your gaze softly on a space on the floor in front of you. For me, this becomes distracting, so I keep them closed and only open them if I’m tired.
  • Don’t worry about your hands. Some people like to form circles with their thumb and another finger, but that doesn’t really matter, in my opinion. I usually just rest my hands, palm down, on my legs, wherever they feel the most comfortable.
  • Cross your legs however you want. I usually cross my legs in front of me, and I think that works fine for most people. If you want to fold your feet like a pretzel you can, but if you use meditation to strengthen your attention muscle, it may be easiest to keep to a simple, cross-legged pose.
  • Look slightly downward, even if your eyes are closed. This opens up your chest. Again, though, find a place that’s comfortable – one that keeps you upright and opens up your chest at the same time.
  • The biggest point I can make about how to sit is to find a pose and posture that’s both comfortable and keeps you upright. The guidelines above work best for me and most of the people I know, but they may not work for you. The most comfortable meditation pose will give you so little alertness that it will put you to sleep, and the least comfortable pose will keep you alert, but at the expense of your comfort. The best advice I can give is to try to find a place in between that works the best for you.

What to do

The attention you give the different things around you is a spotlight, and all day you move it around and point it at different things, usually without thinking too much about the fact that you’re doing this. As you move it around, you point it at everything you give attention to in your life, from your smartphone, to a conversation you’re having, to a report you’re writing. And a lot of the time, you direct it at more than one thing at a time. Actually, most of the time you do.6

Meditation takes that “spotlight” that is your attention and it points it directly at your breath.

So that’s all well and good, but what do you do, exactly? Six things.

  1. Get comfortable. Open the timer on your phone, and get into an upright and comfortable posture. Dim the lights a bit, or shut them off completely to help you focus better.
  2. Start your timer.
  3. Bring your attention/focus to your breath. This is what meditation is all about, and this is what makes meditation both difficult and worthwhile. In this third step, close your mouth and focus entirely on your breath as it enters and leaves your nose. You can focus on any element of your breath that you want – from how the air feels as it enters and exists your nose, to how the air feels as you inflate and deflate your lungs, to the sensation under your nose as you breathe in and out, to the sound you make as you breathe. Don’t force your breathing here – just breathe naturally and observe your breath without thinking too much about it.
  4. Don’t think. This is the hard part. Don’t analyze your breath; just bring your attention and focus to your breath, without thinking about it or analyzing it.
  5. Bring your attention back to your mind when it wanders. And it will. I’ve been meditating for 3-4 years for 30 minutes a day, and my mind still wanders sometimes. When your mind wanders, and it will, gently bring your attention back to your breath once you realize that your mind has wandered. You may not clue in at first that your mind has started thinking again, but when you do, gently bring your attention back. Don’t be hard on yourself during this stage. Just gently bring your attention back.
  6. Again, bring your mind back when it wanders. When your mind begins to think, gently bring your attention back to only your breath. When your mind begins to think about how boring meditation is, gently bring your attention back to your breath. When your mind becomes restless, bring in your attention again. Keep doing this until your meditation timer sounds.
  • Meditating for 10 minutes a day is infinitely better than meditating for 70 minutes once a week. Try to meditate frequently (every day if possible), even if that just means sitting for a few minutes.
  • Start small. If you try to meditate for 30 minutes right from the start, I can almost guarantee that you will get frustrated and discouraged. I recommend starting with five minutes, and only increasing that time when you’re comfortable. Even if you sit for five minutes, and you find that your mind wanders the whole time, you will still receive incredible benefits from meditation.
  • Pick a gentle alarm. If your timer is loud and jarring, anticipating the alarm will distract your attention during meditation.
  • Meditate in a quiet place. Having less distractions around you will naturally allow you to concentrate better, and will make your meditation much more productive.
  • It’s easiest to lose your attention during your out-breath. Your in-breath is very pronounced and easy to concentrate on, and most people’s minds wander on their out-breaths (me included). This is worth keeping in mind.
  • Be easy on yourself when your mind wanders. It’s easy to become frustrated with yourself when your mind wanders, but don’t. Your meditations will be much more productive when you gently bring your attention back.
  • If you can’t concentrate, try counting. Count your breaths, until you reach five, and then start again. I use this trick when I’m having a tough time concentrating.

My goal with this guide was to give you everything you need to start up a meditation practice. Meditation is a simple practice, but it’s one that seems intimidating on the surface. If you are have questions about breathing meditation, please post a comment below, or tweet at me! There is also a twitter hashtag, #OMCru (which stands for Online Meditation Crew). I know of a lot of people that follow this hashtag, so if you post a meditation question with it, you are bound to get an answer.