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Meditation: Types, benefits, and techniques for beginners

Reviewed by Brooks Baer, LCPC, CMHP

A woman sits on a yoga mat with headphones in looking calm and meditating

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years across the globe. It’s often tied to spiritual disciplines or practices, such as worship or prayer, but it can also be practiced outside of the context of faith.

What is meditation?

Meditation involves using various techniques to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention. It typically aims to train attention and awareness to achieve mental clarity, emotional calmness, or stability.

Meditation can involve focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, activity, or sensation. It can be used to train attention and awareness, or to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. Various types may draw focus to different things (such as your breathing or a mantra) with the goal of maintaining mental focus.

Types of meditation

There are hundreds of different forms of meditation. In general, these techniques all fall within one of seven categories:1

  1. Mindful observation: Paying close attention to your surroundings or thoughts and emotions without judgment to stay anchored in the present moment.
  2. Body-centered: Focusing on bodily sensations or scanning the body to promote awareness and relaxation.
  3. Visual concentration: Either fixing the gaze on a visual object or visualizing within the mind. This is done to sharpen focus and calm the mind.
  4. Contemplation: Reflecting deeply on specific ideas or questions, often with the aim of gaining personal insights.
  5. Affect-centered: Directing attention towards emotions, often with the intention of cultivating positive feelings like compassion or gratitude.
  6. Mantra: Repeating a word, phrase, or intention silently to help focus and quiet the mind.
  7. Meditation with movement: Incorporating physical movements, such as yoga or tai chi, to engage the body in mindful awareness. This can also involve progressive muscle relaxation, where you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups to release tension.

Benefits of meditation

Meditation can help you practice mental health skills like self-care, stress management, emotional self-awareness, attention, and self-regulation. Starting a regular practice can help you:

  • Relax your body, tune into physical sensations, and alleviate tension.
  • Reflect on specific thoughts, chants, prayers, or mantras.
  • Regulate your feelings and reframe negative or unhelpful thoughts.
  • Reconnect with your sense of self, your relationship to others, and your place in the universe.
  • Redirect your energy away from anxious or unhelpful thoughts and toward the present moment instead.
  • Remember to practice compassion toward yourself and others.

In addition, it can ease symptoms of conditions including:

Meditation in therapy

Some types of therapy incorporate meditation and mindfulness to address mental health issues. They include:

Additional therapies, such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), are based on mindfulness principles but don’t specifically require meditation. 

If you’re interested in finding a therapist who incorporates meditation or mindfulness into their treatment, browse our online directory

Guided meditation

Guided meditation is a format you can incorporate into many different practices. Many of the above practices—including body scanning, prayer, or yoga—can also be done with the help of a guide.

In a guided meditation, a person verbally leads you through the meditative process. The person may be a teacher leading an in-person group, or it could be a voice on a meditation app or podcast. You can even record your own guided meditation to use later.

While guidance isn’t necessary for meditation, it can be helpful for beginners who want someone to walk them through the experience.

Meditation for beginners 

It can be difficult to know where to start with meditation. Below are some best practices for getting started.

Be realistic with your time.

It’s important to set realistic goals for yourself as you start your meditation journey. You don’t have to meditate for an hour every morning at dawn.

Be honest with yourself about your obligations and energy levels at different times of the day. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Can you spare 15 minutes a day, or do you only have an extra five? Maybe it’s easiest for you to meditate in the five minutes every night where you get ready to fall asleep.

If you’re stretched for time, keep in mind that meditation can happen anywhere. If you miss a meditation session, try counting your breaths while on a walk, or over the kitchen sink as you wash dishes. You may be surprised at how easy it is to connect to the present moment in the middle of a normal task. 

Create a dedicated space.

You can meditate anywhere, anytime—but you may prefer to create a specific space to for it. You can designate an entire room or simply reserve one corner of a convenient space for your practice. If you have the option, consider choosing a spot with a view of nature, or adding objects that symbolize relaxation and connection.

Take your intention seriously.

Set a reminder on your phone at a specific time every day to practice. Put a note on the door to prevent family or roommates from interrupting. Allow yourself to commit fully to this new practice of mindfulness. 

Commit to finishing.

When you first start, you may feel silly, or be tempted to end your practice at the first distraction. But your goal shouldn’t be five minutes of perfect, distraction-free meditation. A successful meditation is simply one you see through to the very end. 

Don’t be afraid to set an alarm for five minutes during your first few sessions. If it’s hard to get past the first thirty seconds, let go of the judgment that you’re falling short and simply return to your breath. 

How to meditate properly

  1. Settle: Find a position that’s comfortable for you. That could mean sitting cross-legged on the floor, sitting on your couch, or lying in your bed.
  2. Focus: You can either close your eyes or leave them open. Take deep breaths, focusing on how you feel as you inhale and exhale. Some meditative practices may focus on words, phrases, or prayers, but breath is a great place to start.
  3. Notice: Keep active attention on your breath. Notice where it goes, how your body feels, and what happens if you breathe more deeply. The point is not for your mind to go blank—it’s to be aware in the present moment.
  4. Return: Your mind will likely wander from your breath. That’s okay. When you notice your mind has wandered, simply bring your attention back to your breath without judgment or condemnation.
  5. End: You may choose to set a specific amount of time for your practice before you begin, or you can end when you feel it’s time. Notice your state of mind and how you feel before disengaging. Consider ending with kind thoughts or gratitude toward yourself.

If you find it challenging to practice on your own, consider using a dedicated app or podcast or podcast as a guide. They can provide structure and support as you build your practice.

Keep in mind that there’s no one right way to grow in your practice. Experiment with different techniques and find what works best for you. Consistency is key—try to meditate at the same time each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

If you’re struggling with a physical or mental health condition, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional to determine if meditation is the right path for you.

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