Walking Meditation

5 Easy Meditation Techniques for Beginners (and How to Know Where to Start)

5 Easy Meditation Techniques for Beginners (and How to Know Where to Start)

Years ago, meditation and mindfulness practice changed my life in ways I had never imagined were possible.

I'm not talking about increased productivity, the ability to make more money in my business, or some sort of mind-altering evolution, though. These are all things we chase in hopes of feeding our ego so that we can solve the "real" problem- that we feel a "void" within ourselves and we think we need something to "fill it up".

What mindfulness and meditation did do for me was:

  • Teach me how to become friends with myself and handle the inner dialogue that brings us down
  • Show me how to more skillfully manage the challenges of everyday life including my once heavy stress and anxiety
  • Give me the ability to tap into a deep sense of joy through cultivating a sense of gratitude and appreciation for life
  • And come in touch with a basic sense of peace that's beyond the ebbs and flows of daily life.

Mindfulness is the first form of meditation I suggest someone start with because it's the most fundamental of meditation practices and easy to learn (although not always easy to practice, particularly in the beginning).

In a basic sense, it's really just us becoming more aware, more present, in our daily life. However, when done with a sense of intent focus in a ritualized manner, any discursive mindfulness practice can become a deeply nourishing form of meditation.

You can do anything in mindfulness. And it's because you can do anything in mindfulness that it’s those things which we do most often, each and every day, that make up the core mindfulness practices: breathing, walking, eating, and really anything else to do with the body.

However, there’s more to it than that. These foundational exercises also happen to be some of the best mindfulness and meditation techniques for beginners as well. They're simple, straightforward and relatively easy to learn and each has its own unique property which means there is a practice that fits essentially every type of beginner.

How to Meditate for Beginners

How to Meditate for Beginners via Buddhaimonia

"Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It's like the ultimate rest. It's better than the best sleep you've ever had. It's a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh."

-Hugh Jackman

 

"There are techniques of Buddhism, such as meditation, that anyone can adopt."

- The Dalai Lama

 

"Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work."

- Thich Nhat Hanh

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  1. What is Meditation?
  2. Why Should I Meditate?
  3. How to Meditate
  4. Walking Meditation
  5. Other Forms of Meditation
  6. What's the Difference between Mindfulness and Meditation?
  7. Frequently Asked Questions
  8. Additional Resources

What is Meditation?

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and by people all across the world. There are many different forms of meditation and so it can seem difficult to nail down exactly what meditation really is. But, ultimately, they all come down to one major idea:

A mental technique characterized by absorption of the mind on an object (either mental or physical) and used to develop or maintain a state of mind. 

When I say absorption, I mean primarily the mind becoming completely and utterly concentrated or focused on that particular object or objects. It's that absorption which is the central characteristic of meditation. No matter what form of meditation, this complete absorption of the mind on something is there.

Also, you don't even have to be sitting down to meditate. Mindfulness, the central component nearly of all Buddhist meditation techniques and schools, particularly Zen and Vipassana, is essentially keeping one's attention alive to the present moment.

For that reason, mindfulness can be done anywhere and at any time. Sitting, walking, driving, eating, and cleaning are all great examples of effective mindfulness activities. Simply practicing mindfulness is itself a form of meditation.

That isn't to say that anything can replace sitting in meditation though. "Sitting meditation", as the simple practice of sitting and practicing meditation is typically called, is the most concentrated of meditative exercises. Sitting meditation allows the practitioner to attain the highest state of absorption, or the deepest states of meditation (simply put, it's more effective), and is therefore practiced more than anything else.

How to Meditate for Beginners will cover the most basic and fundamental of all meditation practices: the practice of mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is a form of Buddhist meditation, having originated more than 2,500 years ago with the Buddha in the area around India and Nepal, and it has remained the central meditation practice for all Buddhists up to the modern day (Buddhist meditation techniques being the most popular, well-known, and highly developed of all meditative practices).

To learn more about mindfulness, read What is Mindfulness? A Guide to Mindfulness Meditation.

How to Meditate for Beginners via Buddhaimonia

Why Should I Meditate?

So, why should you even bother meditating? Meditation is the practice of looking deeply. Looking deeply into ourselves and the world around us. Overall, it allows us to realize the fundamental ingredients for peace and happiness.

Meditation essentially has two major purposes:

  • Complete Rest and Relaxation - A full recharge of the body. A fully rested and totally peaceful state beyond what sleep can give us.
  • Deep Insight - Once complete rest and relaxation is attained, the realization of wisdom (receiving insight) is the next stage. This is the ultimate purpose of meditation and what leads to discovering true peace, happiness and freedom.

The benefits of meditation are vast, to say the least. The major benefit is as the master tool in the practice of attaining true peace and happiness. This is because meditation is both the practice of receiving deep insight and total rest, both which help contribute greatly to our continued peace and happiness.

On top of that, scientific research has begun showing other benefits as well, making it invaluable for optimum health and overall mental and physical performance.

1. Total Rest

This first benefit is why meditation is becoming increasingly popular in the West. I love this explanation by Thich Nhat Hanh in The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation on the restful qualities of meditation:

Why should you meditate? First of all, because each of us needs to realize total rest. Even a night of sleep doesn’t provide total rest. Twisting and turning, the facial muscles tense, all the while dreaming—hardly rest! Nor is lying down to rest when you still feel restless and twist and turn.

...It is possible to find total rest in a sitting position, and in turn to advance deeper in meditation in order to resolve the worries and troubles that upset and block your consciousness.

Meditation provides for us the feeling of total rest and relaxation that so many of us crave but can't seem to get no matter what we try. Sitting down to watch TV at the end of a long day, sleeping in, taking a day just to be lazy and do nothing. We try so many different things and yet none of them really make us feel 100% fully rested.

This is because the problem exists primarily in our minds. We therefore need to use a technique that recharges our minds, not just our bodies. This is the practice of meditation.

After a session your mind is quieter and at greater peace. With continued practice, chronic stress and anxiety gradually disappears until all that's left is peace and happiness.

This is a major benefit of meditation in our modern society. We're always rushing around. Trying to get more done, in less time and better than the last time we did it.

We need to have (at least) a moment to ourselves every day in order to help us achieve total rest and relaxation. This simple practice allows us to do that.

2. Insight

But meditation has a much deeper purpose. Meditation can give rise to deep insights about the true nature of yourself and the world around you.

Insight means wisdom gained through direct (personal) experience and is a sort of realization one receives through practice. Thich Nhat Hanh had this to say:

Someone might well ask: is relaxation then the only goal of meditation? In fact the goal of meditation goes much deeper than that.

While relaxation is the necessary point of departure, once one has realized relaxation, it is possible to realize a tranquil heart and clear mind. To realize a tranquil heart and clear mind is to have gone far along the path of meditation.

The insight one receives as a result of meditative practice leads to true peace and happiness. But not just peace and happiness- freedom. Receiving deep insight into the true nature of things frees you from attachment and suffering. This is true freedom. Unbreakable freedom.

Examples of insights you can receive from practice are the insight of a deep-seated sadness, hatred, or fear. And more than just a practice which allows you to notice things, through regular practice the mind can then heal itself of this sadness or fear. This is part of why a regular practice can bring you such peace and happiness.

What other kinds of insights can you receive? They all essentially come together under the umbrella of realizing, or coming back in touch with, your true nature. I won't go into this part in too much detail because it's beyond the scope of the How to Meditate for Beginners guide, but if you'd like to read (or listen) more on this you can check out Episode #1 of the Zen for Everyday Life podcast: How to Be Yourself in Every Moment.

Wiping away all illusions to connect with the ultimate in some sense (whatever you consider the ultimate to be), this is ultimately what a spiritual practice is. And meditation is the cornerstone of all spiritual practice.

3. Additional Benefits of Meditation and the Scientific Research on Meditation:

Over the past twenty years, researchers have discovered a number of benefits linked to the practice of meditation. Such as:

  • Improve your focus and concentration
  • Lower stress and anxiety
  • Improve creativity
  • Increase empathy and compassion
  • Improve memory
  • Reduce the decline of cognitive functioning from aging

It's also been linked to large amounts of grey matter, which increases positive emotion and improves emotional stability

You can read more about the scientific benefits of meditation below:   Scientific Benefits of Meditation – 76 Things You Might Be Missing Out On at Liveanddare.com   20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today at Psychologytoday.com

Plum Village Meditation Hall Zazen - 11 Ways to Be More Like a Zen Monk

How to Meditate

So, now we know what meditation is and why we should be practicing it regularly. But how do we actually do it?

As this is a primarily beginners guide, I'll be focusing on the most fundamental of meditation techniques: mindful breathing.

But, I'll also take a moment to cover another nourishing mindfulness practice: walking meditation. Plus, I'll quickly cover a few other prominent Buddhist meditation techniques and other mindfulness techniques for you to explore.

Mindful Breathing Meditation

Mindfulness' popularity has exploded over the past decade. Nowadays, the likelihood is if you hear that someone you know is meditating, they're practicing mindful breathing. These are the basic instructions for practicing mindful breathing:

1. Find a comfortable sitting position

First, find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. You can then take one of a number of different positions. For simplicity sake, shoot for starting with the half lotus, alternating legs, and then move on to the full lotus.

If you're unable to sit in the full or half lotus position then simply sit in a chair as described below. Here are sitting instructions:

  • Full lotus: The full lotus position makes your body into a tripod, making it by far the most stable or sitting positions. To sit in the full lotus position, sit down in a typical cross-legged position. Now, take your left leg and place it on top of your right thigh. Next, take your right leg and place it on top of you left thigh. This lifting of the second leg will be very difficult at first, which is why I suggest starting with the half lotus.
  • Half lotus: In order to sit in the half lotus position, just place your left leg over your right thigh (or right leg over your left thigh). You should alternate regularly with the right leg on the left thigh. Eventually, with practice, it will become comfortable.
  • Or sit in a chair: If neither of these is possible you can also sit in a chair. Make sure to plant your feet to the ground and sit with your back straight. You can place a pillow or a zafu between your lower back and the back of the chair to keep your back straight here as well.

No matter what position you sit in, make sure to use a cushion of some kind if at all possible. I'd suggest sitting on a firm pillow or a zafu (I've included a link to the exact one I use in the resources section at the end of this guide).

Just sit on the last third or so of the zafu in order straighten your back and bring both knees to the floor, creating the tripod. If you don't do this one knee will stick up slightly while you're in the full or half lotus position, sacrificing some stability.

Once you've found a comfortable and effective sitting position for you:

  • Loosen up: Now that you're in your seated position, relax. Take a few deep breaths. Stretch your back, neck, shoulders and arms a bit. Loosen the muscles in your face by forming a half-smile and take a few deep breaths. Feel all of the tension roll off your body.
  • Adopt proper posture: This is very important. Improper posture can cause you back pain, obstruct your breathing and even effect your concentration so make sure to take the time to perfect the proper sitting posture. Your back and neck should be straight with the top of your head pointed towards the sky. Let your stomach relax. If you tilt your chin downward slightly (one inch) you will gain greater stability as well.
  • Rest your hands: Depending on the tradition, different hand positions are used in Buddhist meditation. For now, don't worry about any of that and simply place your hands on your lap, palms up, one on top of the other.
  • Eyes half-closed or closed: Look down a couple of feet in front of you and then let your eyelids drop naturally. They should end up about half to two-thirds the way shut. The reason you keep your eyes partially open is so as to not invite lethargy and doze off. You look down because it helps your eyelids lower naturally which also keeps you from blinking as often. Alternatively, if this feels funny or if you're having a hard time concentrating, you can simply close your eyes.

2. Be mindful of the breath: 

Now that you have the proper positioning and posture established, you're ready to begin meditating:

  • Be mindful of your in breath and out breath: Close your mouth and breathe in and out through your nose. If a cold or some other condition makes this uncomfortable then it's OK to breathe through your mouth. Breathe in, breathe out. Put complete focus on your breath….Your breath is your object of concentration (the thing you attempt to concentrate on). Do not attempt to control your breath, simply observe it silently. Your silent observation will slowly begin to calm your breathing naturally.
  • Count each inhalation and exhalation: Inhale…one. Exhale….two. Count the number at the end each inhale and exhale. Count to 10 like this. If a thought distracts you, start the 10 count over from 1. When you get to 10, start over and attempt to count to 10 again.
  • Count until your mind calms: Do this for as many weeks or months as it takes until you can count to 10 repeatedly with little effort. Then count each inhale + exhale as one. Then, when that becomes easy, stop counting and simply follow your breath. Don’t rush this step, progress slowly. You are building your power of concentration, which in Zen is called "joriki".

3. Acknowledge + Return:

That's essentially the entire practice of mindful breathing meditation. The only problem is, our overactive monkey minds aren't so quiet to allow us to focus on one point indefinitely, or even for more than a few seconds, are they? If you haven't noticed this yet, you will when you begin meditating.

So, what do you do when you're trying to concentrate on your breath while thoughts of dinner, the bills, and yesterday's argument keep arising in your mind? Here's the remaining instructions:

  • Gently acknowledge any thoughts and impulses: Thoughts will come, do not push them away. This is a good thing, it means you're becoming more mindful. Meditation is acceptance, not avoidance. You want those things to rise to the surface during meditation because that is when the real healing will begin. Fear, anger and stress will rise to the surface so that you can let it run its course and dissipate.
  • Bring your focus back to your breath: Imagine the thought, feeling, or sensation floating passed you like a cloud in the sky, then return back to your breath. This will be difficult at first and you’ll lose focus constantly (every few seconds). Don't become frustrated when your mind drifts, know that it's a normal part of the process. Keep at it, after a while your mind will begin to grow quieter and you will start gaining control over your it. It may take a few weeks or even months to begin noticing significant improvement, but typically you'll start seeing a difference within just your first week or two.

Like ripples in a pond dissipating, as your monkey mind becomes quieter you will begin to see everything around you more clearly. You will feel more and more connected to the world around you and discover a gradually deeper sense of peace.

Some days it will feel easy to sit and some days you'll feel as though a battle is being waged within you. No matter what happens know that it's just a part of the process.

There is no failing at meditation, only you making your best effort. If you do that, you'll see the incredible value of the practice and be better off for it.

How long should you meditate?

So, how long should you meditate for? This is arguably just as important as anything else we've covered, because the single most important effort is to make meditation a daily practice.

My general advice is to meditate for 5-10 minutes, once or twice a day, in the beginning. But, if you're experiencing any form of resistance to sitting (you're making excuses why you can't or shouldn't sit today), then simply make the commitment to sit in meditation for 60 seconds.

That might sounds crazy, but it works. And remember, the most important effort in the beginning is to make meditation a daily habit. For more information on how to make meditation into a consistent daily practice, check out this guide: 5 Steps to Making Meditation a Daily Habit.

Increase your sessions by about 5 minutes at a time whenever you feel comfortable. You should feel gradually able to sit down for longer and longer periods. Work your way up to whatever timetable is best for you, but if you'd like a recommendation I'd say somewhere around two 30-45 minute sessions per day. And there should be no reason why you can't do at least one 20 minute session per day.

Lastly, in the beginning you might find yourself counting the minutes waiting for your meditation to be over. This is the wrong mentality. I used to sit down and eventually grow twitchy and fidgety when I knew my session was almost over. If this is happening to you, try not setting a timer for a while. Just sit.

If you're too conditioned to "get results" in everything you do then a timer during meditation can be counterproductive at first because all you'll want to do is think "check! That's off my list..." There's no benefit in that and meditation doesn't work that way. Just sit.

After a while this feeling will disappear and instead you'll notice yourself feeling like you could sit forever. And it will feel wonderful.

How to Meditate for Beginners - Walking Meditation

Walking meditation

The practice of walking meditation is exactly what it sounds like, walking in meditation, and it's essentially just walking mindfully in a specific way.

Walking meditation has been done by people of various spiritual traditions for possibly as long as sitting meditation, and it's the second most common of all Buddhist meditation techniques.

Walking meditation is a simple but very nourishing practice. I love walking meditation because you can do it throughout your day. When you're walking in your home, from your car to work or vice versa, running errands, or simply when going for a short walk outside. Anywhere you walk you can practice walking meditation.

How to Practice Walking Meditation

These are the most common and basic walking meditation instructions:

  1. Decide where you're walking to: Fix your sights on a location in front of you such as your car, a building, the end of a room or street or a tree. Wherever it is, you want to walk with mindfulness and purpose. Know that is where you're walking.
  2. Match your steps with your breath: Breathe naturally, see how many slow steps you take for each natural inhale and exhale. You can say "in" for each step on inhale and "out" for each step on exhale. So "in, in, in" on inhale if you take 3 steps and "out, out, out" on exhale for 3 more. You can also say a phrase that calms you if you prefer. In that case, just match the number of steps you're taking with syllables. So 3 steps could be "be-at-peace".
  3. Be mindful of your steps: This is mindfulness meditation in action, so your point of concentration will be your steps. Put 100% of your focus into your steps. You'll want to put great care into each step you take, so walk slowly. Thich Nhat Hanh says to imagine your feet kissing the earth with each step. Take this moment in for everything that it is. There is no past and no future. Know that peace and happiness both exist in this moment.

For more information, instruction, and various different walking meditation techniques check out The Beginner's Guide to Walking Meditation.

Other forms of meditation

As I mentioned earlier, there are many different Buddhist meditation techniques and even more forms of meditation and techniques in general. Listed below are various guides and posts to different practices you can explore (Loving-kindness meditation being the second most well-known of all Buddhist meditation techniques):

  1. How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
  2. How to Find Peace and De-Stress with a Simple Tea Meditation
  3. The Mindfulness Survival Guide: 10 Powerful Practices for Overcoming Life’s Challenges and Living Mindfully

What's the Difference between Mindfulness and Meditation?

OK, so you're probably wondering at this point- what exactly is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

To put it simply, mindfulness is itself a form of meditation. Mindfulness is something you do as a form of sitting meditation practice, but it's also something you can do outside of sitting meditation, during your everyday life.

So, what exactly is mindfulness then? It's two things- mindfulness is both the quality of being, as well as the practice of keeping yourself, alive to the present moment (or present moment events). That's why it's used as a meditation practice (the most fundamental of all meditative practices) but also something you can so outside of sitting in meditation.

If you're walking, you're fully awake to the act of lifting, swinging, and placing each foot down and you're aware of any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that arise while you're walking. Living fully in the present moment, not reflecting on the past or planning for the future.

So, why sit down to practice mindfulness if you can do it while walking, cleaning and eating? Sitting meditation is the most concentrated form of all mindfulness practices.It allows us to enter what's often called in meditation, the highest state of "absorption".

Sitting meditation allows for the necessary level of "concentration" or absorption, for deep insights to occur. That isn't to say that you can't receive insight any other way, just that sitting meditation is the best vehicle.

Frequently Asked Questions About Meditation

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about meditation. Have a question but don't see it here? Feel free to contact me here and I'd be happy to help.

1. I can't sit still, how on earth am I supposed to meditate?

All the more reason that you need to sit! Those who have the greatest difficulty in meditation are typically the ones who get the most out of it. This excerpt from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind sums up this point well:

When you are determined to practice zazen with the great mind of Buddha, you will find the worst horse is the most valuable one. In your very imperfections you will find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind. Those who can sit perfectly physically usually take more time to obtain the true way of Zen, the actual feeling of Zen, the marrow of Zen. But those who find great difficulties in practicing Zen will find more meaning in it. So I think that sometimes the best horse may be the worst one, and the worst horse can be the best one.

2. The same thought keeps coming into my mind while meditating, what does it mean?

Don't worry, this is perfectly natural. Mindfulness is more than just being aware of your breath. It's about being fully aware of everything occurring in this moment. Your thoughts, feelings, and various sensations being a part of that.

If the same thought keeps creeping into your mind during meditation then, as you do with any thought, simply acknowledge it each time it comes to the surface and then bring your focus back to your breath. Do this as many times as necessary. You're letting the emotion run its course.

Whether it's fear, anger or stress, this is a good thing because it's a clear sign that your mindfulness is improving. If you stick to your practice you will slowly and gently unfold your mind, watching all your fear, anger and stress arise and allowing the natural healing process of mindfulness to unfold.

Keep in mind though that to really work on this fully you should practice mindfulness in your everyday life, not just when sitting in meditation.

3. How long can I expect to meditate before seeing results?

It depends on what you consider results. In the most real sense, most of us sit to acquire peace and happiness. This is the wrong way to look at meditation, but I'll talk about that in a moment.

If you're looking to cultivate peace and happiness, the very first day could make you feel more happy and peaceful. In all likelihood though your first couple of weeks will be tough. You'll experience the "monkey mind", as it's called in Buddhism, at its greatest intensity.

Ultimately it all depends on how quiet (or loud) your mind is going into meditation practice. Either way, don't judge yourself. It doesn't matter how quiet or loud your mind is, just that you sit diligently. For the most part, the "rewards" of meditation come on their own timetable so you'll need to practice patience.

For me in my own practice, at the beginning seeing my mind gradually quiet and feeling the increasing sense of peace within myself was more than enough confirmation and encouragement for me. That started happening after just a few weeks and was significant.

You shouldn't sit down to meditate expecting anything, but of course it would be wrong to say that you started your meditation practice for no reason. That just doesn't make any sense. Know why you began your meditation practice, find confirmation of your practice in that and then let go of it.

Sit without any expectations. Only then will you see the true value of the practice.

4. How exactly is slowing down and taking time to do something completely unrelated to my work supposed to make me more productive?

I completely understand this mentality because I was that guy too. I didn't understand how doing something completely unrelated to my work could actually make me more productive.

I was the epitome of a productivity junkie. Everything I did that I felt wasn't naturally productive towards my work I tried to do at the same time as something that was. When I did work I tried to be as quick as possible and was constantly looking for ways to squeeze more time out of each day to get more work done.

It turns out none of those things make you all that more productive, and in fact, they can make you far less productive. When you allow your mind to rest, to step away from a particular project or thought for a period of time, you will notice yourself as being far more creative and productive when coming back to it. It's just the way the mind works, there's nothing more to it.

You don't have to take my word for it though, there have been studies done. And another article here that nicely sums up this point.

5. Can't I just sit down however I want when I meditate? A simple cross-legged position? 

Absolutely, meditate in whatever sitting position you'd like. But be careful, a stable sitting position and proper posture are very important in a regular meditation practice.

The full lotus is the most stable position and, once you get used to it, a comfortable position to meditate in. So you should strive to sit in the full lotus.

This is a difficult position to sit in even with practice for some which is why I mention that you can sit in the half lotus or even sit on a chair if neither of those is comfortable for you.

If you'd like to sit down but prefer not to sit in the full or half lotus positions, you can take the seiza position. The seiza position is one I use often and it's essentially just dropping to your knees from a standing position and then sitting back with your butt touching your feet (spread your knees out a bit for greater stability).

In the seiza position you form the same tripod as in the full lotus and while you can do this position with a meditation pillow (the pillow between your feet), this is also the best position to sit in when you don't have a pillow handy on a flat surface. Keep in mind that if you sit like this without a cushion for too long though (10-20 minutes), your legs will go numb as you're sitting on your sciatic nerve.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources to help get you started. Some of these I mentioned above throughout the guide, but I'll mention here again for good measure.

With the exception of the meditation cushions, these are all located on Buddhaimonia, be it posts, podcasts, guides, or books:

More Guides and Posts

  1. Tools to Help You Start Your Home Meditation Practice
  2. The Beginner’s Guide to Walking Meditation
  3. What is Mindfulness? A Guide to Mindfulness Meditation
  4. 5 Steps to Making Meditation a Daily Habit
  5. 50 Awesome Meditation Tips for Beginners

Step-by-Step Guides

Below are short summaries of two of my books, which are some of the best resources I've written on meditation practice. The Little Book of Mindfulness is a "mindfulness A-to-Z" beginners guide while the other is an in-depth moment-to-moment everyday mindfulness practice guide. Here they are:

The Little Book of Mindfulness

As I mentioned, this is a "mindfulness A-to-Z" beginners guide. It's extensive, coming in at about 130 pages, and will give you everything you need to begin your mindfulness practice.

It's also free! All you need to do is sign up for email updates (where I'll send you post, podcast, guide, and book updates weekly) and you'll get access to the complete book:

Read The Little Book of Mindfulness

Zen for Everyday Life

Zen for Everyday Life is an in-depth moment-to-moment mindfulness practice guide. It's all about showing you how to establish a daily mindfulness practice from beginning to end, not only from practice instruction (across nearly a dozen everyday activities) but expanding your practice to your relationship with others as well as to developing and maintaining your practice to keep it healthy and consistent.

If you'd like to learn more about Zen for Everyday Life, click the book image or the link below to go to the official book page:

Learn more about Zen for Everyday Life

 

Meditation Cushions

Depending on the surface you meditate on and what's readily available to you, meditation cushions can be very helpful. In Zen, practitioners usually use two different types of cushions at once: a zafu (a little round pillow, the pillow they sit on) and a zabuton (a wide square-like mat that is placed between the ground and your meditation pillow/zafu, which helps protect your knees on a hard surface).

Here's the meditation pillow (zafu) that I've personally used for years and suggest: buddhaimonia.com/cushion

And here's the meditation mat I suggest as well: buddhaimonia.com/mat

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Get the How to Meditate for Beginners PDF (the complete guide in a beautiful PDF format) free by entering your name and email below:

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The Time is Always Now

We all come to the practice of meditation for different reasons. Whatever brought you here, I hope you found this guide useful in beginning your meditation practice and that you discover the full beauty of the practice.

The Beginner's Guide to Walking Meditation

The Beginner's Guide to Walking Meditation via Buddhaimonia image
In order to have peace and joy, you must succeed in having peace within each of your steps. Your steps are the most important thing.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

It might sound funny, but the very first time I practiced walking meditation was when I was walking my oldest son to sleep one night in a baby carrier.

For quite a while before then I had sat in meditation, practicing zazen (the Japanese word for sitting meditation in Zen).

But it was really after beginning to read Thich Nhat Hanh that I was introduced to the idea of bringing my practice into my everyday life.

The first time I was introduced to walking meditation, I didn't make any immediate effort to practice it and just thought it would be a nice thing to add to my practice at some point. Well, one night that opportunity presented itself most clearly.

As I was walking my son around one night, back and forth across the room to put him to sleep, it hit me: my mind was off in la-la-land.

I then remembered what I had read about walking meditation, and decided to give it a try. That's when I discovered how amazing walking meditation, and really mindfulness practice throughout everyday life, was.

I can't really describe what it feels like to walk mindfully. To walk intentionally, closely and carefully aware of each step that you take.

Each step that you take you're fully present in that moment with all of your being. It instills in you a quiet sense of peace that I find very hard to describe.

The words that most come to mind are: peaceful, harmonious, and connected.

This is a guide intended to help you discover that same sense of peace I feel when I practice walking meditation in my own life.

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Get the Ultimate Guide to Walking Meditation PDF Guide

Click below to download the Ultimate Guide to Walking Meditation PDF and take it on the go:

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What is walking meditation?

So, what exactly is walking meditation? Is it just walking around mindfully? For the most part yes, it's really mindful walking, but depending on how you practice it there's more to it than just that. And there's definitely more to it than simply the practice in itself.

Walking meditation is something which has perhaps been practiced for thousands of years in some form. Indeed, moving meditation of various kinds has always been popular (which includes walking meditation, other mindfulness practices, Yoga, Tai Chi, and others) and walking meditation is one of the most popular.

During the Golden Age of Zen in China, practitioners would travel all across China searching for a teacher who was a perfect fit for their style of learning and who could transmit the highest awakening to them (meaning essentially that they could communicate clearly to them in a way that resonated with them, a sort of chemistry). Because of all the traveling they did, walking meditation was the most common form of meditation at that time in China.

Indeed, as long as you're walking, you might as well walk mindfully. On the surface, there really isn't anything more to walking meditation than to walk mindfully. But just as with sitting in meditation, it's deceptively deep and profound.

To understand that more clearly, let's go over why walking meditation is so significant.

Why practice walking meditation?

Walking is one of the single most common activities in everyday human life. Across all countries, cultures, and lifestyles, walking is a major part of daily life.

We walk from our bed in the morning to the restroom, from our room to our kitchen, to our kitchen back to our room, from our home to our car/bus/bike, from our mode of transportation to work, from work back to our mode of transportation, from there to whatever stores or locations we visit along the way, back from our car/bike/bus to our home, and within our home constantly (all depending on your own specific daily schedule of course).

There are few things we do more often than walk, and so walking meditation is one of the single most powerful and nourishing practices you could ever adopt.

But there's more to it than that. Walking meditation can work as a highly effective "bridge" for bringing mindfulness into your daily life. After long sessions of zazen (sitting meditation), Zen practitioners will get up and practice sessions of kinhin (walking meditation in Japanese).

Why do they do this? The intention is to bring that state they've cultivated during their sitting meditation practice into motion, into their everyday actions. And walking provides the best gateway for doing just that.

Using walking meditation as a bridge for making meditation a way of life, instead of just sitting for a few minutes a day, is invaluable. And for that reason, walking meditation is probably the most important thing you can begin doing if your intention is to take your meditation practice to the next level.

But even if you've never practiced meditation, walking meditation can be an incredible introductory practice. Mindfulness practice of all kinds, especially walking meditation, is highly nourishing and allows you to find a moment of peace and a sense of being grounded or "balanced" each day that's invaluable for our well-being.

I would still suggest beginning with sitting meditation, but if you're naturally very active and tend to find it difficult to sit still for even short periods of time, walking meditation may be the perfect practice to begin with (or preferably to mix in with your sitting practice).

How to practice walking meditation

Walking meditation is simply mindful walking, but depending on whether you're a beginner to mindfulness or you've practiced for a bit, and depending on the situation, the actual practice can vary.

Detailed below are really the 3 major walking meditation techniques along with instruction. Keep in mind, there isn't much of a hard rule about how you're supposed to practice walking meditation, but the first 2 practices listed have been practiced for a very long time, and so I'd suggest following the walking meditation instructions below at least for a time, until you really get the idea.

Counting your steps

The first walking meditation technique is counting your steps, and it's the most common. Counting your steps, like counting your breath, is the easiest walking meditation technique and so the form I'd suggest starting with.

Like counting your breath, counting your steps is all about counting each step as 1 (left 1, right 2, left 3) until you get to 10. Unlike following your breath though, there's an extra step to walking meditation: matching your steps to your breath.

Let's get into the steps exactly:

1. Begin walking at a naturally slow pace. Walk slowly, but naturally.

2. Posture & positioning. Walk with good posture and bring your hands up to around your diaphragm. Place your left hand up against your diaphragm and your right hand directly in front of it, then allow your thumbs to cross so that your left thumb is in front and your right thumb is against your body. Your forearms should be horizontal with the ground.

This hand positioning helps balance and stabilize you while walking.

3. Match your steps to your breath. Breathe naturally and pay attention to how many naturally slow steps you take for each in-breath and each out-breath. The in-breath tends to be shorter, so keep that in mind (in-breath may be 3 steps, while out-breath is 4).

4. Count your steps. Now that you know how many steps you're taking for each in-breath and out-breath, count them. 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4. Left-right-left, right-left-right-left, right-left-right, left-right-left-right. In-breath, out-breath, in-breath, out-breath.

5. Be mindful. Be fully present as you count each left step and each right step. You're being mindful of the count here most of all, that's what you're focusing on. You can be mindful of the movement of your legs in between counts as well.

6. Acknowledge that which arises. Throughout your walking meditation you'll be concentrated(*) on your steps, but because this is mindfulness practice your awareness should be open and welcoming.

What this means is that as thoughts, feelings, sensations, and even sometimes outside distractions come into focus, gently acknowledge them nonjudgmentally (which is code for: don't intentionally think anything about them. You're just noticing them. Not judging them) so that you can observe them clearly, and then shift your focus back to your breath.

If you're new to meditation, you may find yourself interrupted constantly. This is perfectly fine and will wear off in large part over time. No matter how often a thought, feeling, or sensation arises acknowledge it mindfully and then shift your focus back to your breath.

*A note on concentration: By concentration, I don't mean a head-splitting, vein-popping concentration. I'm referring to a light concentration which still allows your open mindful awareness to take in everything that arises.

Following your steps

Following your steps is the natural progression of counting your steps and is a slightly more difficult walking meditation technique.

If you find it difficult to go directly from there to here, you can always try counting your left (or right) and following your right (or left). In this way, you're doing a practice which is in the middle of the two, which can sometimes be easier if you're finding it hard to transition to this version.

Like sitting in meditation and counting your breath, after you get to a point where you've gotten used to counting your steps and can do it relatively effectively, I'd begin simply walking and following the full length of each individual step.

It's at this point that it's important to really break down the act of walking, because in mindfulness practice it's important to know exactly what you're doing in each moment so that you can be fully present for that moment.

When walking, are you just moving your legs forward, one step at a time? Not quite! Walking is a gross movement, meaning there's multiple movements included within the greater action of walking.

What specifically? The act of walking can be broken down as follows:

Lifting the foot up -> Swinging the foot forward -> Placing the foot back down

And this is really what you should be paying attention to as you follow the length of each complete left step and each complete right step.

To practice walking meditation by way of following your steps, follow these instructions:

1. Begin walking at a naturally slow pace. Walk slowly, but naturally.

2. Posture & positioning. Walk with good posture and bring your hands up to around your diaphragm. Place your left hand up against your diaphragm and your right hand directly in front of it, then allow your thumbs to cross so that your left thumb is in front and your right thumb is against your body. Your forearms should be horizontal with the ground.

This hand positioning helps balance and stabilize you while walking.

3. Match your steps to your breath. Breathe naturally and pay attention to how many naturally slow steps you take for each in-breath and each out-breath. The in-breath tends to be short, so keep that in mind (in-breath may be 3 steps, while out-breath is 4).

Why do we match our steps to our breath, even though we're following our steps in this version? Because bringing our steps in line with the rhythm or our breath creates a sense of unity with our mind and body, and this is a very important principle in meditation.

4. Follow your steps. This is really the essence of this version of walking meditation. Follow the movement of your left foot from the time you begin lifting the foot, as you transition to swinging it forward, and then as you place it back down. Then the same with the right foot back-and-forth.

It's 3 movements, but you'll quickly realize that the act of following your steps is very fluid and that there is no separation between the movements.

5. Be mindful. Be fully present as you count each in-breath and each out-breath.

6. Acknowledge that which arises. Throughout your walking meditation you'll be concentrated on your steps, but because this is mindfulness practice your awareness should be open and welcoming.

What this means is that as thoughts, feelings, sensations, and even sometimes outside distractions come into focus, gently acknowledge them nonjudgmentally (which is code for: don't intentionally think anything about them. You're just noticing them. Not judging them) so that you can observe them clearly, and then shift your focus back to your breath.

The Ultimate Guide to Walking Meditation via Buddhaimonia

Simply walking (in everyday life)

This is both a simple practice and at the same time the most advanced walking meditation technique.

Sure, nothing is technically required for you to get up and begin walking down the street mindfully. But, without some practice with one or both of the first two forms of walking meditation, walking effectively in a typical everyday situation can seem altogether impossible.

First, there's the fact that when you begin your walking meditation practice you generally walk rather slowly so that you can maintain mindfulness (something which won't be a problem with practice, but at first a slow pace is required). This obviously isn't the pace you ever walk in your everyday life.

Then, there's the fact that there's a million other things vying for your attention as you walk: passing cars, street signs, advertisements, store windows, and other people.

So, what do you do? The best advice I can give is this:

1. Continue to practice. Just make the effort to be mindful while walking at a normal pace in your everyday life. This won't be all you need to help you get the hang of it, but it will help.

2. Allow some of those other objects to come into your awareness from time to time, acknowledge them, and gently shift your awareness back to your steps. Even if this happens repeatedly at first, this will still help overtime to improve your practice.

And besides, as long as you're being mindful of what's going on in the present moment, you're practicing mindfulness to some degree (even if it's not of your steps).

3. Have a dedicated walking meditation practice. A dedicated walking meditation practice is different from walking in everyday life. I suggest both striving to walk mindfully throughout your daily life as well as having a dedicated time for walking meditation (preferably right after your sitting meditation practice). In this way, you help support your effort to walk mindfully throughout your daily life.

As far as actual instruction, this is simply the act of walking in the way you walk every single day of your life and at your normal pace, so nothing needs to actually be done except to be mindful of each complete left step and right step. Although that's easier said than done as noted above.

Just use the instructions for 'following the length of your steps' and walk at your normal everyday pace (you may not have your hands up in the kinhin position too, and that's fine).

If at first it seems too difficult to do, just practice for a few minutes at a time and then let go of it. With time it will become easier and your practice will be more fluid.

Additional practices

Aside from the traditional walking meditation instructions, there are other highly beneficial practices you can do.

I'd urge you to get creative and realize that any and every opportunity to walk is an opportunity to practice walking meditation. Some opportunities might make for deeper and more nourishing versions of the practice, but there's many ways to practice and some of those ways have added benefits which I haven't yet listed.

Here are 2 other very powerful walking meditations techniques:

The Ultimate Guide to Walking Meditation via Buddhaimonia

Walking in nature (Walk of Life walking meditation)

Walking in nature can be done simply as-is, meaning as walking meditation is usually practiced, or you can integrate it with your surroundings to create an even more nourishing and balancing meditation.

That's what walking in nature is all about. This is a variation of a simple meditation from my guide, The Mindfulness Survival Guide:

1. Discover the path. To practice the walk of life walking meditation, find a nice quiet place to walk, preferably in nature. If you know of a local park, hiking trail, or somewhere else close to nature you can walk that would be ideal.

2. Connect with the Earth. It's also preferable that you take your shoes off and walk barefoot so that you can feel the Earth beneath your feet. Both above mentioned points will enhance the meditation but are not required.

3. Walk the path. Simply begin breathing mindfully. Once you've taken a few breaths, begin walking. Walk relatively slowly.

4. Walk mindfully. Continue to walk and breathe naturally, don't force a certain pace. Your focus during this meditation is the raising, swinging, and placing down of each individual foot. Be mindful as your left foot raises, swings, and lowers. Then, once your left foot has been placed down on the ground, be mindful of your right foot being lifted, swung, and lowered as well.

5. Breathe the walking. Walk the breathing. Try to match your steps with your breath to create a sense of unity within your entire being. If you can do 2 slow steps for each in breath and another 2-3 steps for each out breath, then say to yourself silently, "step, step" on each in breath, and, "step, step" to yourself on each out breath (or just count 1, 2, 3).

6. Become the tree. Take a moment from time to time to stop and imagine your feet extending down into the Earth, like the roots of a great and immovable tree (you could continue walking and do this as well, but that sense of stability is easier to get while standing with both feet on the ground).

Continue to imagine yourself expanding out indefinitely, your legs as roots, your arms as branches, and many leaves blooming all around you. Focus on your abdomen for a moment, keep your feet planted firmly on the ground, and feel your sense of stability and groundedness.

The Ultimate Guide to Walking Meditation via Buddhaimonia

Walking with others

Walking with others mindfully can be a great joy, although it can be difficult to do at first and therefore is relegated to a rather advanced walking meditation practice.

Walking with others has huge benefits: we're walking mindfully, spending time with others, getting outside (usually), and getting a little exercise while we're at it. It's really a quadruple whammy for our well-being.

While walking with others, I'd suggest keeping it as simple as possible and simply following the length of your steps. Get a little practice in counting your steps in first, then once you're accustomed to this move on to following your steps. Then, if you've done this for a week or two every few days (or every day, better yet), you should be ready to try this.

While in conversation, be mindful of the words the other person is speaking. When speaking, be aware of the words you're speaking. Don't think you have to continue to focus on your steps during that time. There is a way to walk more mindfully while still hearing the other person's words though, which you'll realize with a little practice.

So, where should you walk? If it's a dedicated walk with a friend or loved one, I'd suggest a natural setting outdoors such as a park or hiking trail (suggested in the Walk of Life meditation). Being in a natural setting such as that has many added benefits for our well-being. Simply feeling more connected to the Earth has a powerfully nourishing effect.

So take a moment and try mindful walking with others. You could even get them in on the practice of walking meditation as well and have a silent walk. Walking together mindfully, silently, is a truly beautiful experience (even if for only a few moments).

Walking Meditation FAQs

There are a few things I wish I had known when I began my personal walking meditation practice (which few people seem to be very clear about), and it's here that I seek to clear those questions up for anyone else looking to adopt a regular walking meditation practice.

You might notice some overlap between these questions and some of the information in the guide, that's intentional. I wanted to make sure I mentioned them repeatedly to get the point across, because they tend to be pretty important points.

Here they are:

Q: What pace do I walk while practicing walking meditation?A: It's a common misconception that when you do something mindfully you have to do it slowly. While this isn't true, it is true that:

  • It can be very nourishing to do things in mindfulness slowly.
  • When first beginning a mindfulness practice, it's better to start slow to get the practice down.

So, how fast/slow should you walk? These are my suggestions:

1. At first, walk slowly. About 1 step every 3-5 seconds.

2. After a while, you can practice your dedicated walking meditation practice a little more quickly. About 1 step every 2-3 seconds. I prefer a bit of a slower pace for my dedicated walking meditation practice, but you can choose to walk at a completely normal everyday pace. Many Zen monasteries do so, depending on the school and monastery itself.

3. When walking in everyday life, after doing your dedicated practice for some time, walk at your normal pace. Don't purposely slow yourself down. At first, you may feel the need as you're getting the hang of things. This is OK, but quickly work to be able to walk at a normal pace mindfully.

Q: I find it really difficult to match my steps to my breath. It feels unnatural. Am I doing something wrong?

A: This is something I really wish I had an answer to at the beginning of my personal practice.

No one really goes over this, but it may feel highly unnatural and uncomfortable to try to match your steps to your breath when first practicing walking meditation. Don't worry though, this is perfectly natural and will wear off with practice (and you'll begin to feel the rhythm instead). These are the important tips to keep in mind:

  • Both walk at a natural pace and breathe at a natural pace. Don't force either.
  • Try to notice how many natural steps you take for each natural in-breath and out-breath. This is the number you should be counting if you're counting your steps.
  • Oftentimes, your in-breath will be shorter than your out-breath. This is natural and perfectly fine, but the point is you won't be counting 3 then 3. You'll be counting, say, 3 (3 steps on in-breath) then 4 (4 steps on out-breath) for example.
  • Sometimes, it can be best to just let both go for a while until you feel you're doing both naturally, and then after a minute to come back and simply focus on one, like your steps, and to focus on bringing them in sync.

Q: How long should I practice walking meditation?

A: Like sitting meditation, there's no specific amount of time that you should practice walking meditation. If you find yourself with 5 extra minutes in your day, practice walking meditation. If you have 1 minute, practice walking meditation. For your regularly scheduled practice of walking meditation, I'd suggest starting out with about 10 minutes.

If you feel any sort of mental resistance to this, you can lower that amount down to 5 or fewer minutes while you develop it into a habit. I'd suggest doing your dedicated walking meditation practice right after your sitting meditation practice, to begin bringing the essence of that single-pointed awareness, mindfulness, that you're cultivating if you're sitting in meditation regularly.

Q: What do I do when I'm taking a walk with someone else? Practicing walking meditation? Or be present for them?

A: This can be really confusing at first, and again few people, if anyone, really answers this question. Here are my tips:

- Sometimes you're posed with difficult situations in your mindfulness practice where you're seemingly being asked to choose what to be mindful of. During these moments you have to use your best judgment and primarily be mindful of the most important thing in that moment. If you're walking with a friend of loved one, it's most important to be present for your conversation with them.

- You should though begin practicing with the expanded levels of awareness, which essentially means broadening your awareness to encompass more objects of focus during your meditation and sort of "shifting" or bouncing between the two as each moment is different. While your friend may be talking one moment, there may be a moment of silence the next, and knowing when and what to be mindful of is key to an effective practice.

The expanded levels of awareness are a bit beyond the scope of this guide, but if you'd like to learn about them in detail I'd suggest either my book Zen for Everyday Life, or my online course Journey to the Present Moment.

Additional Resources

If you'd like to take your mindfulness practice further, including the beautiful practice of walking meditation, my books below are the most complete resources I've created for both beginners and experienced practitioners alike:

Zen for Everyday Life

Learn how to live with the energy of mindfulness throughout your everyday life with this moment-to-moment practice guide. You can get the first 2 chapters free by clicking here.

 

 

The Little Book of Mindfulness

Discover the power of mindfulness meditation in simple, straight-forward, and crystal clear language. You can get a free download of The Little Book of Mindfulness exclusively on Buddhaimonia by clicking here.

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Get the Ultimate Guide to Walking Meditation PDF Guide

Click below to download the Ultimate Guide to Walking Meditation PDF and take it on the go:

Walk It Off

I hope you've enjoyed this guide to the beautiful practice of walking meditation. It's time to get out there and begin your own practice of walking meditation. However you decide to do that, if you let this beautiful practice into your life, it's sure to have a powerful effect.

What is Mindfulness? A Guide to Mindfulness Meditation

What is Mindfulness? A Guide to Mindfulness via Buddhaimonia, Zen for Everyday Life

What is mindfulness?

So, what is mindfulness? In a nutshell, mindfulness is a complete and nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment.

But perhaps my favorite mindfulness definition is this:

“Moment to moment awareness of present events”.

Keep in mind, there’s no one agreed upon way of defining mindfulness. This is because it's is a state of being beyond words or concepts. One must practice mindfulness in order to truly understand what mindfulness is.

The origin of the word mindfulness is in the Pali word “sati”, and its Sanskrit counterpart “smrti”, which both literally mean “memory”. But perhaps more precisely they represent “presence of mind” or “attentiveness to the present”.

This is what the Buddha was referring to when he said, "When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating." He meant that when he and his disciples sat, walked, or ate they were fully present for the act of sitting, walking, or eating.

Even when becoming lost in thought, while practicing mindfulness the practitioner is fully aware that they just became lost in a particular thought and are mindful of the thought itself. This is because mindfulness isn’t just mindfulness of an object in the present moment such as one’s breath, steps, or food. It’s also mindfulness of anything which might arise in the present moment while concentrating on an object.

In a way, mindfulness is the observer of change. While concentrating on the object of meditation, such as one’s breath or steps, we become distracted by thoughts, feelings, and other sensations. These are “changes” in the field of mindfulness, the area which mindfulness observes.

In this way think of mindfulness as a motion detector. If nothing moves, if nothing changes, then nothing is detected. You're still there observing, just as the motion detector which detects no motion is still there observing its area of detection, but until a thought, feeling, or some other sensation arises the practitioner just continues to concentrate on the object of meditation. When this happens is when the real work begins.

Mindfulness is a complete and nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment.

Think of mindfulness as a “field of attention” with a point of concentration in the center acting as an anchor to the present, rather than just a pointed concentration on something while pushing away everything else around you.

Imagine a dream catcher. The idea behind a dream catcher is it’s supposed to “catch” your bad dreams as you’re sleeping. Just as a dream catcher catches your bad dreams, imagine each thought, feeling, and sensation being caught by your “field of mindfulness”. Except in this case, you don’t label any thought, feeling, or sensation either good or bad.

While in mindfulness, each thought, feeling, and sensation that arises automatically enters into this field and, this is the important part, is gently acknowledged and accepted “as it is”. By “as it is” I mean without judging it in any way.

If this is hard to imagine, don’t worry. For the most part this nonjudgmental awareness happens naturally when you practice correctly. The important thing to remember for now is that mindfulness is not a rejection of anything.

Mindfulness is an open acceptance of everything that comes into your awareness. If you’re practicing mindful breathing, don’t reject thoughts that come into your mind just because they interrupt your mindful breathing. Observing these thoughts, which are typically unnoticed but always dispersing our awareness and coloring our perception, is a major part of practicing mindfulness. So this is perfectly fine.

Simply acknowledge the thought in mindfulness, just as you were doing with your breath, and then let the thought pass. Then bring your focus back to your breath. As time goes on your ability to concentrate on one point for a period of time as well as your ability to detect things with your mindfulness will improve. And with it, the quality of your mindfulness practice will improve as well.

Mindfulness has a number of different “qualities”. It's for this reason that a simple mindfulness definition doesn't really suffice. But, If you break mindfulness down based on these qualities it becomes much easier to understand it as a whole.

We’ve covered the basic workings of mindfulness so far, but in order to gain a deeper understanding of mindfulness let’s break it down and look at each quality individually. There’s 6 key aspects of mindfulness which I’ll cover below.

But first, before I continue, this post is an excerpt from my eBook, The Little Book of Mindfulness. You can get The Little Book of Mindfulness free by entering your name and email below:

Let's continue...

Mindfulness is…

1. ...mindfulness of something

Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. It’s not just a conscious directing of your awareness to the present moment, it’s a conscious directing of your awareness to something which is occurring or existing in the present moment.

Common centers of focus are your breath, steps, or some other area or areas of the body. Concentration, or samadhi in Sanskrit, is a force which works in tandem with mindfulness. Concentration is “single-pointedness of mind” and it’s just that- the act of focusing on a single point.

While practicing mindfulness, you will be developing your power of concentration as well as your mindfulness. There is no separating mindfulness and concentration. They’re partners on the path to attaining a tranquil and clear mind.

Think of concentration as the “hard” force and mindfulness as the “soft”. Concentration is exactly what it sounds like, it’s the forceful act of focusing on a single point.

Imagine your field of mindfulness enveloping everything within your perception in a soft glow. Next, imagine a thin line piercing out from your mindfulness directly to an object. This is your concentration. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a sort of soft awareness.

Remember the dream catcher? Mindfulness is the field of awareness which then “sees” everything that arises while concentrating on an object. Mindfulness is what notices when your concentration lapses and your thoughts stray.

Think of mindfulness as the ultimate, voiceless, and nonjudgmental observer. It judges nothing. It makes no distinctions. It simply observes everything that comes into its field of awareness. Your concentration, the force anchoring your mindfulness to some object in the present moment (the object of meditation), is the instrument of mindfulness.

Mindfulness decides where the point of concentration will be. It observes the anchor point (the point of your concentration), notices when concentration strays, and where it strays to. This might be difficult to imagine at first, but for now just know that the act of practicing mindfulness will feel much like concentrating on an object, such as your breathing, and then doing your best to notice or acknowledge when your thoughts stray.

Just being able to acknowledge when your thoughts stray will take some time. In the beginning, your practice will look and feel like this:

  1. Concentrate on your breath.
  2. Lose concentration within a few seconds, sometimes aware of the thought or feeling you strayed to, most of the time not.
  3. Back to concentrating on your breath.

That’s it. But after a while, you’ll begin to notice these thoughts and feelings more often, more clearly, and that will allow you to acknowledge them with your mindfulness.

2. ...mindfulness of something in the present moment

Moving on from the last point, mindfulness is always mindfulness of something in the present moment. If you think hard on this, you'll realize that this goes without saying, because there is nothing but this moment. Any recollection of the past or imagination about the future occurs in the mind, within the present moment.

As we spoke about earlier, that can be mindfulness of a thought that arises in the present moment while concentrating on your breath, body or some other object. What mindfulness isn’t is consciouslyreflecting on the past or thinking about the future.

When reflecting on the past or thinking about the future, you’re consciously directing your attention to the past, future, or some altogether imagined place. But, you can always be mindful of what arises after contemplating the past or future. In any case, mindfulness is always the observing of what is occurring in the present moment.

As we go about our daily lives, we often don’t notice how our perception or mental filters, such as bias, affect how we see the world around us. And we think that what we’re thinking and seeing with our eyes are two different things. But they aren’t. What we see with our eyes passes through our perception before we even realize we see the object.

It’s like we have an internal checkpoint which we’ve built up from our life experiences. And this checkpoint has, over the years, gotten filled with both good and bad things which “color” our perception and affect our experiences.

In this way, you and your mindfulness are like the house cleaners come to clean up this internal checkpoint and empty it of all those things keeping you from experiencing reality in its true form.

Imagine someone offers you a piece of food which you’ve never tried before. This food somewhat resembles, say, Brussels sprouts (bleh!). As soon as you lay eyes on it you have a negative sensation. Maybe you get a bad taste in your mouth, your body cringes a little, and a bad memory of eating Brussels sprouts flashes into your mind.

This new food item could be amazing. You have no idea if it is or isn’t. You’ve never actually tried it. But your perception has already completely colored your experience to the point where it can even affect how it will taste.

This is an example of how our perception colors everything around us. Everything you perceive is your mind. You might think you’re observing your breath, a Brussels sprout, or a flower. But what you’re really observing is your perception of those things.

Mindfulness is about observing what is occurring in the present moment so that you can pierce through perception itself to witness reality as it is without any mental filters getting in the way.

This is why mindfulness is mindfulness of something in the present moment. The point of mindfulness is to experience reality as it is, allowing you to touch the true nature of a thing in that moment.

3. ...a conscious decision

Mindfulness is a purposeful directing of your consciousness to the present, it doesn’t happen on accident. To be fully awake to the present moment you have to decide “I am fully awake to this moment” by directing your consciousness to an object in the present moment. You decide to be mindful in any given moment. It doesn’t happen by accident.

I mentioned earlier how the point of your concentration, or object of meditation, works as your anchor point to the present moment. The starting point for the anchor and the eventual anchor point is this conscious decision.

Think of mindfulness as a ship and you’re the captain. You make the conscious decision to place the anchor down and where to place it. You then throw the anchor, your concentration, off the ship. The anchor then hits the intended anchor point, or object of meditation, where it will rest.

Of course, at first, this anchor won’t be very strong. It will be made of, say, plastic. Not a very good anchor. But with time, it will develop into a heavy and resilient anchor.

4. ...a nonjudgmental awareness

All spiritual practice in an overall sense is about realizing our connection with the ultimate and finding true peace and happiness through accomplishing total liberation (or freedom) from the various factors that hold us back from it. And so we become liberated by discovering the truth. That is, by uncovering all those things which cloud our vision.

This is the ultimate purpose of mindfulness. It’s this nonjudgmental awareness that makes mindfulness so important in finding true peace and happiness.

Mindfulness accepts everything as it is. As I mentioned earlier it makes no distinctions, holds no bias, and is completely separated from all mental filters which distort your perception of reality.

Mindfulness allows you to experience true reality. This is liberation. And as I also mentioned earlier, if you’re not sure how to do this at first then don’t worry.

Mindfulness is itself nonjudgmental. It’s helpful to keep this point in mind at times, but you’ll find this will happen somewhat naturally. If you sense bias or get the feeling that you’re somehow coloring your perception of something while practicing then this is a good thing. Simply noticing this is to become mindful of your various mental filters.

If this happens, know that you’re on the right path. As always, simply acknowledge it and bring yourself back to your object of meditation. It’s not wrong that you lose your concentration. What’s wrong is not observing the distraction with mindfulness.

5. ...developed like a muscle

Mindfulness works like a muscle. At the beginning, your energy of mindfulness will be very weak. But over time, your mindfulness will strengthen and you’ll notice a significant difference both in your ability to concentrate and in your ability to see with mindfulness.

This is important to know at the beginning because it’s at the very beginning stages where things are most difficult. While trying to establish the practice of mindfulness as a part of your life, you’ll be constantly fighting old habits.

In Buddhism, this is sometimes called “habit energy”. Imagine everything you do carries with it a certain energy. The more you do something the more energy it develops, and with it, the more “pull” it has.

You can develop energy anywhere in your life, in both positive and negative places. So when starting out don’t become discouraged when you’re having a hard time sticking to your mindfulness practice, such as when you forget to practice for an entire day altogether.

I went through this constantly at first and it’s just part of the challenge. But I promise you that if you just make your best effort, you'll make your way and establish a strong daily practice over time.

6. ...like turning on the “HD” switch to your life

Most of the time, without us even knowing it, our consciousness is split in many directions. It’s split between various sensations in the present moment and various thoughts in our mind.

When sitting at your computer at work, for instance, you could be typing up an email, but really, you’re typing up the email while semi-listening to two people talk a few feet away from you, noticing how cold you are, thinking about that episode of Lost you watched last night, and thinking about the fact that you feel like you’re gaining some weight.

That’s really what the “present moment” looks and feels like for most of us: our consciousness, bouncing constantly from one place to another. As you begin practicing mindfulness, you’ll start to observe this very behavior for yourself. This bouncing around makes us live in a way to where we’re only half-awake to anything that occurs around us.

Let’s call this life in “standard-definition”. More on this in a bit.

The last point I’d like to cover in this chapter is that it’s important for you to know what mindfulness feels like. I can put as many words as I’d like on a page describing how it works, how to do it, the benefits of doing it, and you could read it all, but if I don’t clearly explain how you’ll feel while truly being mindful then you won’t have much more than a guess at whether or not you’re really practicing mindfulness properly or not.

So what does mindfulness feel like? In a few words…it feels like turning on the “HD” (High-Definition) switch to your life.

By that I mean that the moment you make the conscious decision “I’m now fully aware of what I’m doing and what’s happening to me in the present moment” you should feel as though you’ve come alive. As though, before you made that conscious decision and “activated” your mindfulness, you were half-asleep. With time, you’ll notice things you never noticed before and everything around you will be magnified.

Don’t expect the feeling to be that intense at first, though. When you first start practicing the feeling will be subtle, which is all the more reason why one of the first mindfulness practices you adopt should be mindful sitting (traditionally just called sitting meditation, which we’ll cover in Part 2).

While sitting quietly in meditation, you’ll make the greatest progress towards improving your concentration and developing your mindfulness, as opposed to doing a more difficult activity before you’ve really developed your skill level.

This is because you’ll have fewer distractions and will be able to “hone in” on the feeling I described in the last chapter better. Once you’ve developed your mindfulness though it will be highly beneficial to practice mindfulness of more difficult tasks in order to develop your skill.

One last note: Even if you’re just beginning with mindfulness, while you might not be able to tell exactly what thoughts arise in your mind, you should still begin noticing these distractions as they arise. Simply noticing that some sort of distraction just arose in your mind is the second feeling you should look out for, even if at first you don’t know what the thoughts or feelings are exactly.

Take these two feelings described together and you’ll have a much clearer picture of what mindfulness should feel like. Use the information I described in this point to guide your practice in the beginning.

Breaking down mindfulness into parts helps us understand how it works. But we need to make sure not to make the mistake of actually thinking of mindfulness as a bunch of separate things.

Mindfulness is one thing: it’s the conscious act of bringing one’s complete awareness into the present reality, which allows us to see the world in a way we’ve never seen it before- beyond our wrong perceptions (and perception itself), preconceived notions, deep-seated emotions, and beyond the ego. Seeing reality in its purest state, filled with a limitless peace, joy, and freedom.

The moment you make the conscious decision “I am going to be fully aware of what I’m doing here and what’s happening to me in the present moment” you should feel as though you’ve come alive. As though, before you made that conscious decision and “activated” your mindfulness, you were half-asleep.

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FAQ : What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

At this point you might be wondering: what exactly is the difference between mindfulness and meditation? Mindfulness is itself a form of meditation. One of various forms of meditation. Which is why, as you might have noticed, the word meditation has been used in place of, or alongside, mindfulness at various points in the book thus far. There’s just certain more traditional ways of referring to different types of mindfulness practices which can often make things confusing for a beginner.

Mindful sitting is traditionally called sitting meditation, simply meditation, or more recently mindfulness meditation. Mindful walking is traditionally called walking meditation, not mindful walking. Things like this can make it confusing for someone just starting out, especially someone who’s learning on their own without the guidance of a formal teacher, which is common in the age of the internet.

So, if mindfulness is a form of meditation, what is meditation? Meditation covers a pretty broad spectrum of techniques. But there is a central theme. All meditation has to do with developing the mind through becoming absorbed with something. In a nutshell, meditation is:

A mental technique characterized by absorption of the mind on an object (either mental or physical) and used to develop or maintain the mind. 

Like mindfulness, meditation can be defined in a number of ways. What’s important is just that you get the general idea. Your true understanding of meditation will come when you actually begin to meditate.

Why Practice Mindfulness?

"Mindlessness is the primary cause of our unhappiness. Mindfulness is the cure. "

The Buddha considered mindfulness a matter of life and death. Not a matter of whether we'll stay breathing or keel over and die from one day to the next, rather this means that whether you're truly alive and in control of your destiny or not is a matter of mindfulness. Mindfulness gives you back control of your life.

When mindless, you're not in complete control of yourself. Your deep-seeded limiting beliefs take control and direct you in a way that attempts to protect the ego. The ego has no concern for our happiness and well-being nor any care for reconciliation with our deep-seeded anger, sadness or any other limiting belief we may have.

On top of that, the outside world constantly pulls and pushes you wherever it likes. Life happens, and naturally, your mind reacts to it. That is unless you practice mindfulness.

When mindful, you awaken and see through all illusions. You see your limiting beliefs rise to the surface. This allows your body and mind's natural healing process to take effect.

Think of mindfulness as your anchor point. The way most of us live our lives, we're physically in one place but mentally in another. We're dispersed between what's actually going on in the present moment, what already happened (past) and what is yet to happen (future).

Without even knowing it, we're causing ourselves a lot of pain. We live unreasonably expecting or wanting something other than what's in front of us, we regret what happened in the past even though we have no control over it and then disconnect from what is because the pain of both of those things makes it more enjoyable to live in our imaginations. This is a major cause of unhappiness.

This mind dispersion, or mindlessness, heightens stress and anxiety, decreases our productivity, restrains our creativity, disconnects us from the world around us including our loved ones and overall makes us less happy. Instead of being at peace, when we're mindless instead of mindful, our minds are often in chaos.

In Buddhism this mind dispersion is referred to as "monkey mind" and is something we've all experienced at one point or another. Some more than others. This is the mind that bounces around from one thought to another uncontrollably. Mindfulness calms our monkey mind by creating an anchor point in the present moment.

At first, the monkey mind will resist, but with time you will tame it and gain back full control over your mind. This is the path to true happiness.

This is also the major reason mindfulness and mindfulness meditation is so powerful and attractive to us in our modern plugged-in 24/7 world. More than ever it's so easy to live in a mindless, disconnected, state of being. Mindfulness brings us back to ourselves. And it turns out, that's all that we ever needed in order to be happy.

Mindfulness is the practice for everyone. Children, adults, men, women, soldiers, athletes, scientists, teachers and everyone in between.  It's the most basic practice of peace, happiness and self-healing. And as I'm about to show you, there's a lot of science to back up this point.

The Science of Mindfulness

As if that wasn't enough reason to practice mindfulness, there just so happens to be A LOT of science to back its effectiveness. Below is a list benefits, many stretching beyond what I mentioned above. All of this comes back to the same thing-when we're fully awake to the present moment we become our best selves. Our true selves.

I mentioned earlier that mindfulness has become the focus of hundreds of scientific studies. I also mentioned that the results have been so positive that even Wall Street, Silicon Valley as well as medical centers, hospitals and even parts of our education system all across the U.S. have adopted the practice of mindfulness.

With that impressive list, it's needless to say that the scientific findings on mindfulness have been pretty stellar. Here are some of the scientifically validated benefits of mindfulness:

The Scientifically Validated Benefits of Mindfulness:

How to Practice Mindfulness + Getting Started

This is the fun part. Now it's time to begin learning how to practice, and feeling the effects of, mindfulness. Before you read through this section and dive into the material though, remember the working mindfulness definition we covered earlier. It will help you initially get into the right mindset for practice.

As you go about your day you should begin to closely examine everything you do. Create the habit of "checking" yourself throughout your day. Ask yourself at random points in the day: "Am I here, or somewhere else?". Many times we don't even realize we're not being fully awake to the present moment. Let me give an example.

In The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, ThichNhatHanh tells a story of how one day he and his friend Jim shared a tangerine under the shade of a tree. Jim began talking about what they would be doing in the future, attractive future projects and the like.

Jim became so immersed in this thought that soon he forgot altogether what he was doing there in the present moment. He'd put a section of tangerine in his mouth and, before finishing the piece he was chewing, would have ready another piece to put into this mouth. NhatHanh said:

You ought to eat the tangerine section you've already taken.

Jim was surprised. He hadn't realized it, but he wasn't really eating the tangerine at all. As ThichNhatHanh puts it:

If he had been eating anything, he was "eating" his future plans.

Why do I tell this story? Because in order to know how we can cultivate mindfulness it helps for us to be able to identifywhen we're not being mindful.

This story aptly sums up the way most of us live our lives. Everyone can relate to doing this at some point. We do this on a daily basis and many of us constantly throughout the day. This story does a great job of helping us identify what a lack of mindfulness looks like in our everyday lives.

This is a process, it will take time to notice when you're not being mindful and to build the habit of practicing mindfulness throughout your day. But, it's worth it, as you saw from the previous section. This isn't a race, so don't try to do everything at once. Take it one step at a time and you'll begin feeling the effects of mindfulness on your mind and body.

Let's go over some basic ways to add mindfulness into your everyday life:

Sitting

Sitting meditation is how most people are introduced to mindfulness. Many think mindfulness is just a form of sitting meditation, but to think so is to greatly misunderstand the purpose and downplay the importance of mindfulness.

In order to create new mental habits and condition your mind you need to be mindful throughout your day, not just during meditation. It can be beneficial to think of mindfulness as an extension of your meditation practice and sitting meditation as the foundation.

Walking

Walking meditation is great because you can do it anywhere and at any time. It's absolutely one of my favorite mindfulness practices and pairs well with being in nature. But, as long as you're walking you can practice walking meditation anywhere.

Resource:The Ultimate Guide to Walking Meditation

Following the Breath

This can be done anywhere and at any time and is really an extension of your meditation practice, yet still it's own distinct technique and worth mentioning here. All you have to do here is pay attention to your in-breath and out-breath. Make sure your breaths are easy, light and even. As you breathe be aware of where you are and what you're doing.

Feel the breath coming in and out. Don't attempt to control your breath, just pay attention to it (although your attention on it will calm your breathing somewhat naturally). During this moment, whatever you do, don't lose attention on your breath. Your breath is the most effective tool we have for practicing mindfulness. It's always there with us so it works as the perfect anchor to the present moment.

This exercise is great used as an occasional pause button in your day. When you first begin practicing mindfulness you'll have to remind yourself to practice, so pausing a few times throughout the day to do this is perfect as it begins to establish the habit.

Other basic activities

Other basic activities such as sweeping, doing the dishes, brushing your hair and teeth, gardening, drawing or painting and others can be very nourishing mindfulness activities. These types of activities are much easier to do in mindfulness than, say, having a conversation with someone, which won't be possible until you've built up a certain level of concentration.

You can pick to do any of the above activities in mindfulness once you've practiced mindfulness of breath for a bit. Just make sure you do these activities slowly so that you stay in mindfulness from start to finish. Be 100% fully committed to the task at hand.

If you're sweeping the floor, sweeping the floor becomes the most important thing in the world. Don't sweep the floor so that you can be prepared with a clean floor for when company comes over later. That isn't sweeping the floor in mindfulness. Sweep the floor to sweep the floor. That is mindfulness.

Get a free download of my book, The Little Book of Mindfulness

My first book is a complete 130-page A-Z guide on mindfulness that expands on this guide and gives you practical tips and strategies for effectively bringing mindfulness into your everyday life.

To get The Little Book of Mindfulness, just enter your name and email below, click the yellow button, and you're good to go:

 

Additional Mindfulness Resources:

Here's a list of additional resources, all to help you deepen your understanding of mindfulness, develop your practice, and make it a daily habit:

  1. How to Practice Mindfulness: The Quick and Easy Guide to Learning Mindfulness Meditation
  2. 6 Great Ways to Implement Mindfulness in the Workplace
  3. The Mindfulness Survival Guid
  4. How to Meditate for Beginner
  5. ZfEL Ep. 8: How to Create a Home Meditation Practic
  6. 5 Steps to Making Meditation a Daily Habi
  7. 5 Tools to Help You Start Your Home Meditation Practice
  8. ZfEL Ep. 6: How to Make Mindfulness a Way of Life: 7 Keys to Living a More Mindful Life
  9. 7 Ways to Live More Mindfully in the Busy, Fast-Paced, and Plugged In Modern Worl
  10. Free Guided Meditations for Greater Peace and Clarity

I hope this guide was able to give you a clear definition of mindfulness and answer the question "what is mindfulness?" fully and completely.

If you have any questions about the practice or about mindfulness itself, feel free to contact me here and I'll be more than willing to help.

Peace,

Matt

Notes:

  1. Thanks to Greatergood.berkley.edu for putting together great high-quality articles on the various scientific studies on mindfulness.

50 Meditation Tips for Beginners

50 Awesome Mindfulness Meditation Tips for Beginners via Buddhaimonia, Zen for Everyday Life

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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Enter your name and email below to get the 50 Meditation Tips for Beginners in PDF format free:

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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.

This stage is the goal, but there's no rush to get there. Take your time, and don't sit longer than you feel you can.

21. Start sitting for 5 minutes

When you begin your sitting meditation practice, simply sit for 5 minutes. Don't attempt to sit for 10, 20, or more even if you think you can.

Don't think you're Mr. or Ms. hot-shot and go into your practice ego-first, that's a sure way to stumble hard right from the get-go and lose the motivation to keep practicing. Just do 5 minutes and then expand later only IF you feel comfortable enough to do so.

By sticking to this, even if you feel you can do more, you make the idea of meditation a simple and quick practice in your mind, and this helps establish it as a daily habit.

22. Work in blocks of 5

With that being said, it's generally best to increase your meditation in series of 5-minute blocks.

Let's say on Monday you begin meditating, and one or two Mondays later you begin feeling pretty comfortable while meditating for 5 minutes, no longer feeling the intense restlessness you once felt after a few minutes of meditating.

That's a good sign you're ready to begin meditating for 10 minutes, at which point you should test it out and see how it goes. If you feel it a little tough towards the end, you can always push through it.

But if the difficulty is intense, as I mentioned earlier, there's no reason to push it, so just go back to 5 minutes for another couple of days.

23. Have a meditation space

It's important, at least with your sitting meditation practice, just as with work and family, to have a space designated for the activity.

By doing so, when you go to sit down in meditation distractions go away, you become focused, and overall become more able to cultivate a strong meditation practice.

You shouldn't limit your meditation practice to this one place, but it's still important to have a place like this you can go to that's reserved for your practice. This is your Zen space, as I discussed in a previous post (which was an exclusive preview of a Zen for Everyday Life chapter as well).

24. Read a book, or get instruction

You don't have to get personal instruction, but it's important to at least read a book on meditation to get detailed instruction on the practice, preferably various forms of meditation you can use throughout your life and for various purposes (focus on one at first though).

This is all but necessary, as otherwise you're shooting in the dark and aren't completely sure if you're doing it right.

25. Don't restrict your practice to the meditation cushion

By this I mean don't restrict your practice to sitting meditation only. As I mentioned, you can meditate anywhere and at any point in your day, no matter what you're doing. But it can be easy to get comfortable and just stop there.

This is greatly limiting your practice. Once you get the hang of sitting in meditation, begin to try out other forms of meditation.

Most importantly, bring mindfulness into your everyday life.

26. Get a good audiobook (or a couple)

This will really help you take your meditation practice beyond the cushion and into your everyday life, on top of being the perfect complement to your book. With audio, you can take your practice with you wherever you go.

I love listening to audiobooks in my car (mostly Alan Watts right now) and still occasionally use them elsewhere as well. Test it out for yourself and see how it helps.

27. Try guided meditations

Rolling off of this point, in the beginning, it can be beneficial to try out some guided meditations. These are enjoyable at varying levels of practice but are especially helpful for anyone beginning with meditation.

Guided meditations are also nice for the same reason audiobooks are- you can take them anywhere and listen to them at just about any point in your day.

28. Let others know you're serious

Let your friends and family know that you're serious about your meditation practice. This is important for a few reasons, but an example would be letting those you live with know not to interrupt you during your sitting meditation practice.

For that purpose, if you live with others and you meditate, say, in your room, then you can hang a sign on your doorknob once you begin your meditation. There are various ways this can manifest, though, so you'll have to look at your own life and take the necessary steps to let those around you know how important your practice is to you.

29. Reduce distractions

I'm talking specifically about sitting meditation here, but if you have a scheduled time for walking meditation, or even just plan to eat your lunch or another meal in mindfulness, then it's important to reduce distractions as much as possible to improve your practice.

30. Meditate with friends and family

You might think that meditation is a private affair, but it's not. Meditation is greatly enhanced when two or more people sit, walk, or meditate in any other way, together. Try it and see for yourself.

31. Sit in the morning

Whether you're a night owl or an early riser, it can be very beneficial to begin meditating once you rise in the morning. A daily morning meditation practice is probably the single most powerful morning ritual you can adopt. It will literally transform the rest of your life with a consistent daily practice.

32. If your interest begins to wane, reaffirm your practice

This might happen, and it might not. Due to the sometimes difficult nature of meditation, but probably more importantly just because sticking to anything for any length of time can be difficult, it may be necessary at times to reaffirm your practice.

By this I mean remember why you began meditating in the first place. Typically, coming back to your book or audio can be highly beneficial in these cases as they'll remind you of how powerful and beneficial your practice can be and usually be mixed with enough encouraging words to keep you going.

In general, if this does happen, it will only be a phase. So stay strong, reaffirm your practice, and keep moving. It will wear off. Once this happens, your practice will be stronger than ever.

33. Discover the power of silence

You might be compelled to listen to some peaceful music or something while meditating, and at times this can be OK, but in general I'd suggest you learn the value of silence.

Silence is a powerful and almost mystical thing really which can often leave us with no real way of describing the experience itself (of sitting in silence, for instance). Silence is healing and revitalizing, so learn the power of silence now. Not just in sitting meditation, but in all forms of meditation: silent walking, silent eating, silent driving, etc.

Test it out- it's a beautiful and highly nourishing practice.

34. Use bodily signals to uncover and deal with strong emotions

It can be difficult to sit with strong emotions, like sadness or anger. To help this, it can be valuable to focus your concentration (or object of meditation, where you place your attention- typically your breath, steps, etc.) on your body.

Practicing mindfulness of the body can help detect these strong emotions, and sometimes, when you're feeling restless and don't even exactly know what you're feeling, identifying where on your body you're feeling changes can help you identify what emotion it is that you're feeling.

Overall, whether you've already identified the emotion or not, practicing mindfulness of body can help to bring these emotions into perspective.

It helps you see that these emotions aren't any different from the rest of your body's natural processes and helps shed their sometimes monstrous cloak which make them feel to us like they're these impossible forces to overcome (which they're not).

35. Don't jump up

Once you've finished your meditation session, don't immediately get up and rush off to the rest of your day. It's important to take a moment after your meditation to stay in this relaxed state, look around, let your thoughts come back to you slowly, and get up only once you feel you're ready.

Doing so will make your practice more enjoyable and help break the habit of rushing from place to place.

36. Have fun

Ultimately, your practice should be a great sense of joy. You won't always enjoy it, as we talked about earlier you may run into problems or your motivation to keep practicing might wane, but these things will be temporary and you'll soon go back to your "usual" practice.

And this practice should be highly enjoyable, bringing you in touch with the limitless beauty and peace of all the things within your everyday life.

37. Find a community

This is in no way required, but finding a meditation community can be both highly beneficial to your practice and greatly rewarding in your life as a whole.

Meditation done in groups is far more effective than alone, so even just one weekly group meditation session with people can be of great benefit. This could mean simply bringing your friends and family in on your practice as I talked about earlier, or it could mean joining a local meditation group. 

Whatever you decide to do, finding a group of people to practice with is something to strongly consider.

38. Mindfulness isn't about quieting the mind

Know that mindfulness isn't about getting to a point where your mind is literally quiet like the dead of night, so don't get frustrated if even after a year of meditation you still have thoughts popping up regularly.

The purpose of mindfulness is to calm your mind to the point where you can observe it with clarity. You'll never completely quiet the mind, and nor is this the point.

You'll greatly calm the mind and derive a great source of peace from your meditation despite this. This is definitely one of the most important points on this list because it's not just a common mistake beginners make but also a common misconception even among those who practice (at least those who haven't practiced for long).

39. Meditation forms are generally separated by position, but there are various forms of meditation for each position

Let's take walking for instance. You might think that there's only one form of walking meditation. That is, walking while being mindful of your steps.

This is the most common, but while walking you can also be mindful of the sensations you're experiencing, especially if you're outside, such as the wind hitting you and the heat from the sun on your body.

The most common forms of meditation are generally the most common because they're the most universal and straightforward, but it doesn't mean there aren't ways to mix it up. Doing so can really take your practice to a different level, allowing you so many other varied methods of living with mindfulness and offering new opportunities to deepen your practice.

40. Stick with it

Meditation, in all its forms, is like anything else in life. If meditation is something you want to make a daily practice, you'll need to work to establish it as a habit, and that means wrestling against all those negative habit energies that will likely try and get in the way.

It won't take long to really start cementing meditation as a daily practice, but things will come up from time to time that will try to throw a wrench in your practice.

Just stick with it, the longer you take your practice the more consistent you'll become and the less effort it will take to stick with it.

41. Create a lifestyle and a daily practice, not a habit

The whole "21 days to create a habit" myth has been handily debunked in recent years, but in general anything you want to make a new habit is something you've decided you'd like to be a new part of your life for at least an extended period of time, if not the rest of your life.

Because of this, it's better to stop thinking about creating habits in a short term sense and to start thinking about designing your life as a whole. This will help give you perspective and instill patience in you and is more accurate to what you're trying to do.

We tend to focus too much on what it takes to create a habit, when in reality even once you've gotten to that point (whatever that point is), that thing still requires consistent upkeep or else you'll fall off.

There is no magical point where a habit is just automatic for the rest of your life, only varying levels where something becomes easier and requires less effort. Have a long-term vision for your practice, and stop being pulled along by the "get it done" attitude so many of us have.

42. Your mindfulness is nonjudgmental, thoughts themselves are not

Don't get confused, while mindful awareness itself is nonjudgmental- that is, while being mindful you're simply observing without purposely thinking anything and making any judgments- it doesn't mean judgmental thoughts won't arise while being mindful.

Mindfulness and mental activity are two totally separate things. Mindfulness observes this mental activity nonjudgmentally, but the mental activity itself sprouting from you while meditating encompasses all of you, and that includes thoughts that have to do with your beliefs and opinions.

If you notice a thought like this pop up during your meditation, don't think you're doing it wrong. As long as you're acknowledging the thought itself nonjudgmentally with your mindfulness, you're right on track.

The point is, in a way, to make no purposeful effort to think or enter your mind. But your thoughts are their own monster, and they'll continue to bubble up whether you try to think about something or not. Your "effort" is to observe nonjudgmentally, not to condemn judgmental thoughts which arise.

43. Don't take your thoughts, well...personally

Your thoughts are not the "you" you imagine them to be. This might be difficult to see for now, but know that your thoughts are their very own monster. As I just mentioned, without even trying, while meditating thoughts will pop up. And these thoughts can sometimes be uncomfortable.

But begin realizing now that those thoughts are not you, so you should in no way judge yourself for what thoughts arise. Not just while you're being mindful, but ever.

Thoughts arise because of our life experiences, the effect they have on us, our interpretation of the whole thing, and general imagination which when broken down we see is hardly the "us" we imagine when thinking of ourselves.

Don't take your thoughts personally, know that they'll pop up no matter what you do and involve a lot more than "you" and you'll be able to begin distancing yourself from them. If you can learn to do this, which meditation will naturally do, you'll experience a great sense of relief.

44. Stop trying to win at meditation

Most of us are so productivity-obsessed and goal oriented that when we begin to practice meditation of any kind we tend to apply these same ideas to our meditation practice. This isn't in any way your fault, it's just something that's been ingrained in most of us since we were little (it certainly was for me).

But this can only damage your practice and lead you to take less from it than you could, ironically. You can't win at meditation, plain and simple. It isn't a game, and there are no shortcuts. No matter how hard you try, aside from dedicating yourself to a daily practice and striving to be mindful during each moment in your everyday life, you have to let your practice develop on your own.

You'll only discourage yourself and quit if you try to apply this same productivity mindset to meditation because it just doesn't work that way. Stop trying to win at meditation and rest simply feeling the peace of the present moment.

45. You can just be, too

You don't have to be doing anything in particular to meditate, you can literally just sit or stand and be fully awake to everything around you. A sort of "global awareness", this form of mindful awareness is the act of simply letting everything within your field of awareness come to you equally.

It's a highly nourishing practice which can often leave you feeling a profound sense of interconnectedness with everything around you. This is a nice practice to do from time to time, the literal expression of non-striving, and simply being one with the moment fully.

46. Start where you zone out

Once you've practiced some basic form of meditation for a few weeks, it can be highly beneficial to target some other activity during your day where you tend to zone out and bring mindfulness into it.

This won't just have the "usual" impact. Making a typical zone-out activity, such as driving, into a meditation can completely transform the rest of your day for the better. The great part about this is the activities you usually zone out on are the activities you do most often, so if you pick something like walking or driving you'll also be targeting a major part of literally every single day. This can have a hugely beneficial effect on your entire life.

47. Look for "moments of nourishment"

Find it difficult to carve out time to sit and meditate? One of the great things about mindfulness is you can do it anywhere, and that means even those times you typically feel are wasted like sitting in a waiting room or in your car during a long commute.

These are what I call potential "moments of nourishment", little bits of time in your day where you can slip in your meditation practice that would otherwise be unproductive or just boring wastes of time.

Of course, your goal should be to practice mindfulness throughout your day, but practicing in this way is a really effective way to grow your practice in the beginning and can have a big impact on your stress level and help you find a sense of peace between the chaos and craziness of your everyday activities.

48. Use a book to remind you

I carry a Moleskine book I call my "book of mindfulness", which has various verses and phrases meant to help instill greater awareness in me throughout my day. It's a great little book which has been of much use to me.

But the greatest part about the book? Because it sits in my pocket, it reminds me to be mindful throughout my day. Reminders such as these are powerful, and can really help you establish a daily meditation practice. You can read more about my little notebook in The Little Book of Mindfulness.

49. Be in nature

Simply sitting or walking in nature and being mindful of the many sights or sounds within your field of awareness is highly nourishing and helps to improve your mindfulness practice. With the high amount of stimuli you can't help but be fully present for what's going on around you, and this helps you develop your mindfulness and gives you a reference point for when you practice during your everyday life.

50. Focus, work in chunks

Once you've begun meditating and really seen some positive effects from your practice, it can be pretty exciting. That is, the idea that you can meditate with your whole life and bring more of those feelings into so many of the other activities you do in your everyday life.

You can be mindful anywhere and everywhere and throughout your entire day. But, at least in the beginning, what actually ends up happening is usually a bit rockier than this attractive fantasy of a day filled with peace and joy.

The likelihood is, you'll forget to me mindful constantly and have a hard time developing a strong daily practice. The universal application of mindfulness is great, but it also tends to make us feel lost in the beginning. Where do we begin?

Even if we know that we should start by practicing sitting meditation, or at the least following our breath, the next step can be fuzzy. Unless we focus on one or a few activities at a time, we tend to end up overwhelmed and don't practice it at all (or sporadically, and never make it a daily habit).

For this reason, it's highly beneficial to work in chunks. For instance, after you've practiced mindful breathing for a few weeks, you can then add walking and driving meditation to your daily practice.

Don't worry about being mindful at any other point in your day, even if you know that you can. Simply take the next 4 weeks to practice walking and driving meditation at every chance you get and make those activities new mindful habits.

Once you've established those, or at least gotten them to a point where you generally remember to do them consistently and can then add something else in, pick one or two more activities and tackle those.

After a while, you'll start becoming mindful throughout large portions of your day and often remind yourself to practice without any effort at all, but at first it's important to focus on just a few activities at a time to gradually build the foundation of your practice.

Learn to Meditate

Below are resources to help you learn the practice of mindfulness meditation and associated practices:

Creating a home meditation practice:

  1. How to Meditate for Beginners
  2. ZfEL Ep. 8: How to Create a Home Meditation Practice
  3. 10 Ways to Make Meditation a Daily Habit
  4. 5 Tools to Help You Start Your Home Meditation Practice
  5. My free eBook: The Little Book of Mindfulness
  6. What is Mindfulness? A Guide to Mindfulness Meditation
  7. The Buddha’s Guide to Mindfulness Practice
  8. 10 Awesome Tips and Tricks for Beginning with Mindfulness
  9. The Beginner’s Guide to Walking Meditation

Free Guided Meditations:

Below are guided meditation episodes made freely available for your use. Learn to meditate with these guided meditations:

  1. Mindfulness Meditation / Mindful Breathing
  2. Mindful Walking (formal practice)
  3. Mindful Walking (out-and-about in your daily life)
  4. Mindful Welcome
  5. Mindful Driving

*This list will grow quickly in the future. Each week I feature a new guided meditation on the Zen for Everyday Life podcast. You can listen to the podcast on the blog here or on iTunes here:

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So, what tips did you find most helpful? I'd love to hear from you. :)