Meditation is one of those things that you know you need to be doing, like dieting, exercising, getting enough sleep, and washing your face every night. But sometimes, life just gets in the way, and it's hard to find time to stay on top of your self-care. I'm here to tell you today that meditation is not like those other things, and this beginner's guide to meditation will explain why. 

Let's not consider all of the scientific evidence on why meditation is beneficial. In fact, for now, forget everything you know about meditation. Forget about the full-lotus "om," the #meditation #yoga #cleaneating #coldpressedjuice Instagram hippies, forget your past attempts and supposed failures. Forget all of your expectations and for a moment, just focus on yourself. 

Let's Talk About You

Katie Austin

You are with yourself pretty much your whole life. Every day from when you wake up to when you go to bed, you're in your head, and your head is constantly giving you thoughts. Your thoughts are an internal reaction to external stimuli. Aren't they?

I can think of a few exceptions—such as if you're philosophizing, analyzing, creating. Any time you're using your brain power, you're breaking the stimulus-reaction loop. But in your day-to-day life, you're normally right in the middle of that roller coaster.

Remember, we're all animals who depend on our instincts to survive. The external action-internal reaction cycle is fundamental to our biology. Meditation, at its very core, breaks this cycle. There's a lot of reasons to try to break it, but peace, insight, and mastery of your emotions are some of the most popular ones. 

That Sounds Great! How do I do it?

So, there are a LOT of different types of meditation. The main method of meditation that is going #viral is mindfulness. It's probably the easiest for beginners to pick up and practice. There's also the concentration method, where you're achieving a perfect state of concentration on something. The techniques I recommend in this article combine elements of both of these methods. 

Mindful meditation is basically watching your thoughts. Meditating is not about trying to stop thinking. That is hard AF, and when people try to do that, they inevitably fail and then give up. I totally don't blame anyone for feeling like they can't meditate because this state of mind is so counterintuitive to our nature. However, I believe that people who think that meditation isn't for them have a misunderstanding about how to do it. 

Imagine your brain as a highway, and all of your thoughts are cars. When you meditate, you sit along the side of the highway as the unchanging observer. You're not trying to run out and stop the cars, you just sit, and watch the cars go by. As you observe your thoughts, refrain from judging them or analyzing them. Just let them pass through your head. Sometimes you'll have lots of thoughts, sometimes a few. The trick to meditating is to remain in a position of observation. 

Easier Said Than Done

Simple in theory, hard in practice. Meditation is a skill, and like all skills, it has to develop and grow through repetition. In order to start meditating, I can almost guarantee that you will need some sort of tool. 

A tool is essentially something to focus on. As you go about your meditating, you'll eventually (maybe almost instantly) get distracted by your thoughts. Meditating, and especially learning how to meditate, is pretty much a constant cycle of observing your thoughts, getting distracted by a thought, regaining focus, and observing them again. A tool is something to focus on, to remind you that you're meditating, and works as something to bring your attention back to. This guide to meditation explains how to use a few tools that I find to be the most helpful. 

Guided Meditation

This is a fool-proof guide to meditation. Super Zen experts guide you through your session and tell you exactly what to do. You can find these all over, but it's important to find a guide to meditation that you really like.

There are two that I highly recommend. Headspace is an app, and when you download it, you get 10 free sessions, all of which are 10 minutes. If you're super into it, you can subscribe to go further in the lessons, but even if you don't, it provides you with a great foundation.

The next one I recommend is a podcast called Buddhist Guided Meditations by One Mind Dharma. These range from five minutes to an hour and cover a variety of different meditation styles based on Buddhist principles and teachings. 

Going Guide-less

Guided meditations work great for some people. They're a good starting point, but eventually, you might want to move past such a rigid guide to meditation. Or maybe you don't like them to begin with, find them unnecessary, annoying, boring, too distracting, too long or too short, too inconvenient.

There's a bunch of reasons to go guide-less, but I guess they all come down to having more ability to personalize your sessions. That's the whole point of meditation, right? To deal with your head. When you're on your own, I recommend either setting a timer for however long you'd like to meditate for or doing it right before bed so you can just meditate until you fall asleep. I'm going to go over a few different tools you can utilize to aid your solo-sessions, but first, this is a basic technique you can use before any meditation session. Think of it as a warm-up. 

coffee, tea, beer
Kate Spitler

1. Get cozy. Sit, lie on a bed, stretch out on the floor, stand, use a chair, couch, recliner, exercise ball, yoga mat, it doesn't matter. Just be comfortable. 

2. Relax your vision. This means, don't focus on any particular thing. Just look straight ahead. What do you see? What's the furthest thing you can see in your peripheral? Don't think about it, just notice it. 

3. Notice the rest of your senses. Do you notice any smells? Tastes? What is the further sound you hear, what is the closest? 

4. Scan your body. Start from your head, and work your way down to your toes. Give every body part some attention. Do you notice any pain? Any tension? Any pleasure? Don't get hung up on any part, just notice. 

5. Focus on your breathing. Try not to change it or control it. Just notice your breaths, are they deep, shallow? Are they in your chest or your tummy? Notice the coldness in your nostrils on the inhale. 

Now that you're all settled, use one of these tools to concentrate. You can try them all, combine them, or focus on the sense that's your strongest. If you're not sure about what would work best for you, take this quiz to find out your learning style. 


Using your breath as your guide to meditation is the most popular technique. Everyone breathes, and you can use your breathing anywhere without anyone else knowing that you're meditating. This means you can meditate on a bus, a train, a plane, if you're trapped in an elevator, in the middle of class if the lecture is super boring, etc.

To use your breathing, count your breaths. Inhale is 1, exhale is 2, inhale is 3, etc. all the way to 10. When you get to 10, start back at 1. Your thoughts will come. Let them move past your head, and focus on counting your breaths. If you get distracted and stop counting, or find yourself way past 10, that's okat. Just pick back up where you left off, and start counting again. If you don't remember where you left off, start back at 1. 

Breathing is definitely an important technique to learn, but sometimes it's too easy to forget that you're meditating, and you just start to let your mind wonder. Hey, it's totally okay if that happens a few times, but using other tools can help keep you on track better. Breathing can also be used in combination with other tools. 


This is the ommmm. Mantra meditation has you repeating the same phrase or sound over and over again. The mantra can be anything. You can say om, a random sylable like za za za za, a phrase in Sanskrit like Om gam ganapataye namah, a meaningful phrase you make up, like "I love, I am loving, I am loved." It could be nonsense, like "pen pineapple apple pen." Anything will do. This one is a great way to keep you focused on meditating, but is hard to do if you want to or need to be quiet. 

Visual Tools

These are things you can focus on and stare at while you watch your thoughts. You can use a candle, which is a traditional method. You can also use something like a Newton's cradle, which clicks and swings at a constant rate. You can even stare at your favorite picture, a pen, your sleeping cat, anything. Concentrate on the thing, and let your thoughts pass through. You can also count your breaths while you do this. 

Audio Tools

Tibetan bowl music is an amazing tool for meditation that has been used for centuries. A modern audio tool you can use is binaural beats, which have been known to induce relaxation and a meditative state.

You can also explore the world of ASMR, which is a physical response (tingling, buzzing, or warmth) to stimuli, it can be triggered by whispering, crunching, and a variety of other noises. Look up ASMR videos on YouTube and see if anyone of them work for you. If whispering or speaking help, listen to it in a language you don't understand, so you're not distracted by the words. As always, you can use your breathing with these tools, and when you lose focus, bring your attention back to what you're listening to. 

Tactile Tools 

These are for the people who can't stop fidgeting and can't sit still. You can rub stones with your thumb, use a finger labyrinth, which are raised or indented swirls your run your fingers over. You can also use mala beads. Use these in combination with your mantra, or with your breathing. Each time you recite/breathe, push the bead you're holding away from you and hold on to the next one, repeat.

Finally, if none of these things solve your restless leg syndrome, you can do walking meditation. Use your steps as your guide, instead of your breath. Each time your foot hits the ground, count 1, 2, 3, etc., then start over at 10. Focus on the sensation of your foot touching the ground. You should probably stick to pacing around your house or back yard, or on a path you're used to walking because you don't want to get lost or walk off a cliff or something. 

Mindful Moments

So, there seems to be a misconception that meditating takes a lot of time, but that isn't true at all. You can incorporate meditation when you're walking, commuting (unless you're driving), or any other time of the day. What's the first thing you do when you wake up? Is it looking at your phone? Take five minutes of the time you normally spend doing that to meditate instead.

You can also do it right before you go to bed as it will help you relax. Remember at the beginning of the guide when I said meditation isn't like those other self-care things? That's because meditation isn't one more thing to add to your list of daily chores, it's something that can be incorporated and combined with any part of your daily routine. Even if you can't or don't want to take time to meditate, you can sprinkle mindful moments throughout your day. When you brush your teeth, focus only the sensations. When you eat, do the dishes, shower, focus completely on the sensations. Any point of your day can be a mindful moment.  

Final Words

I am definitely not saying that these are the best or only ways to meditate. I am no expert, I've just picked up these tips from reading different books, guides, classes, and learning from different people who do know what they're talking about. I wanted to make this beginner's guide to meditation to consolidate all of these different resources. Hopefully, this will help you in some way, or at least change your mind about what meditation is and can be. Until next time, ~namaste.