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How to meditate: A guide for beginners

Meditation can reduce anxiety and stress. Here are tips on how to meditate for beginners.
Studies have shown that practicing meditation may help reduce blood pressure, anxiety, depression and insomnia, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.TODAY illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Let’s face it: We could all use a little help to feel calm right now.

The stress of 2020 has led to skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression among Americans this year (no surprise there). While some things are out of our control, there is something we can do to help ease the tension we feel inside: learn how to meditate.

Tara Stiles, wellness expert and owner of Strala Yoga, likens meditation to a computer reset. “You’re resetting your system, kind of like a control, alt, delete for your body, your mind, your spirit,” she explained to TMRW, adding that it can provide a defense build-up from stress.

Tara Stiles Headshot
Yoga guru Tara Stiles was first introduced to meditation by her dance teacher when she was a teenager.Courtesy Tara Stiles

Not sure where to start? Try this guided meditation on TMRWxTODAY

“It’s not like you aren’t affected by things anymore,” she said. “They just don’t make a home in you and destroy you as much as they could if you’re not bringing that awareness (with meditation) to your day.”

Some studies have shown that practicing meditation may help reduce blood pressure, anxiety, depression and insomnia, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Here's how to meditate for beginners.

What is meditation?

Stiles explains meditation as the time you spend connecting with yourself and noticing what’s going on with you. “It’s the basic sense of ‘What’s happening with me? What’s going on with my thoughts, feelings and physical state?’” she said. “I think meditation is really just about that home base of listening to yourself and having this conversation so that you can know what’s going on.”

Beginning my day with meditation
Take some time out of your day — even just 5 minutes — to clear your mind and check in with your body. TE YAPR / Getty Images

Stiles, whose new self-care book “Clean Mind, Clean Body” comes out Dec. 29, said her dance teacher first introduced her to meditation when she was a teenager. “I thought, ‘This is amazing, why didn’t anyone show me this before?’” she said. Since then, she’s made it a point in her life to practice it on her own while also guiding others to do it as well.

“I really believe that if you can breathe you can meditate,” she said, adding that a lot of people might be turned off from it at first because they think you have to be a certain type of person to do it or that it requires a stiff position. “If you can just sit down, lay down or stand and connect with yourself and notice what’s happening with you and what’s happening with your breath and body, then you can do it, too.”

How do you meditate?

“The first thing to do is ask yourself why you want to meditate,” Stiles said. Come up with your motivation. It could be anything as simple as wanting to feel less stressed or more calm. But knowing your motivation is important, said Stiles. “I think if you’re just trying to meditate for the sake of meditation you’re going to not do it and get bored of it.”

For beginners, she recommends choosing a specific moment in your day to meditate for even just five minutes. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning while you’re still in bed and before you check your phone (this is when Stiles sometimes does it). Or it could be after lunch or when your kid is taking a nap.

Comfy clothes are always great, but you can even do it in your work clothes if you need to. As for the setting, Stiles recommends a quiet place, but it doesn’t have to look like something you’d picture on a meditation flyer. If you’ve got a busy house with people running around, you could even shut yourself inside the bathroom and sit on the floor.

“Sit down, soften your whole body, rolling around a little bit so you’re moveable, and then watch your breath move through you,” she said. As you breathe, your inhales should fill you up so you’re not just moving upward, but you feel like you’re moving outward in all directions — like a big ball expanding, she described. “Your exhale softens you and brings you back inward.” Notice how you feel with each breath.

What should I think about during meditation?

When you’re stressed, it’s hard not to think about what's bothering you. And if you’re so focused on trying to let go of those thoughts, it might even be harder to clear your mind during meditation. While it might sound counterintuitive at first, Stiles suggests forgetting about trying to let go of anything.

Young Woman Praying or Meditating in Home
Start by relaxing with deep breaths.Getty Images

“I think the hardest part is to allow yourself to soften a little bit,” Stiles said. She advises to focus more on what you’re doing (breathing) than thinking. “And then if I have a thought, OK cool, but then I’m choosing to just let that thought keep going.”

Where can I find guided meditations?

If you’re not sure where to begin with meditation, there are plenty of apps, podcasts and other types of media to guide you. Stiles likened these to training wheels for meditation — they will give you the tools to ultimately just do it on your own. Here are some to get you started:

  • Headspace - This app has hundreds of guided meditations including short three-minute sessions that you can squeeze into your busy day. It also has music stations that can help you focus while you work from home.
  • Calm - Along with guided meditations for beginners, this app also boasts lulling bedtime stories narrated by celebrities like Matthew McConaughey and Leona Lewis.
  • Chopra Meditation & Well-Being - Founded by author and mindfulness expert Deepak Chopra, this app includes guided meditations, personalized tracking to help you build your practice and personalized content focused on things like relationships, parenting and work.
  • The Mindful Minute Podcast - Hosted by Atlanta-based meditation teacher Meryl Arnett, this podcast has new weekly episodes that explore the teachings of a mindfulness practice, followed by a guided meditation.
  • The Daily Meditation Podcast - Each week, meditation teacher Mary Meckley soothingly talks you through a new theme like confidence, gratitude, etc. Each day, she provides a new meditation technique that deals with that theme.
  • Black Girl In Om - Founded by meditation and yoga guide Lauren Ash, this lifestyle brand aims to promote self-care, empowerment and spiritual awakening specifically to women of color.

If your first experience with meditation doesn't seem to work right away or you don’t like doing it, Stiles recommends trying a different method before completely giving up on the practice. “You know, if you get food poisoning at a restaurant, you don’t stop eating food,” she said. “Just don’t go to that restaurant anymore.”

It’s the same with meditation. Find something that works for you, not something you have to feel like you’re trying to be good at. Stiles says that’s the secret to success when it comes to meditation.